“We don’t need a social media policy. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all other social networking sites are blocked in the office”.

This type of statement is usually a recipe for disaster.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the above statement. I don’t want to mention any names, but I’ve even heard this from agencies who supposedly offer social media services to clients.

We can no longer bury our heads in the sand and avoid social media.

Whether your company is active on social media or not, it doesn’t let you off the hook for not having a social media policy.

Most of your employees are probably using social media. Even if social media is blocked in the office, your employees are bypassing the firewall and accessing social media on their mobile phones.

Whether you like it or not, it’s time to develop a social media policy for your organization and here are 5 tips to get you started.

1. Introduce the Purpose of the Policy

The purpose of a social media policy is to protect both the employer and employee amidst the conversations that occur on the social web.

However, most employees don’t initially understand the need for a social media policy. Some even feel that such a policy is an invasion of their privacy. They can’t understand why their employer wants to influence their personal activity on Facebook.

It is our job to explain to them that they are a representative of their company, both online and offline. We must explain how our business and personal lives have become more overlapped than ever because of social media.

It must be explained to employees that they are now brand ambassadors, whether they are aware of it or not. An employee who talks about their employer, job or industry to their friends on social media is indirectly impacting the organizations brand.

If employees understand the reason for the policy, they are more likely to abide by it.

2. Customize the Policy for your Organization

One size does not fit all. The social media policy that works for another company may not necessarily work for yours.

A social business that leverages social media when communicating internally or externally with customers will require a different social media policy from a company that is not active on social media.

Make it easy for employees to use social media in a positive manner. Provide specific examples of what to do, what to avoid, and explain the reasoning behind it.

The social media policy can and likely will evolve over time and can be a living breathing document.

3. Establish an Escalation Path

While your social media policy will cover most of the possible scenarios that can occur, it is a good practice to also leave a buffer for any unexpected issues or problems.

Employees must know how to escalate issues or who to approach for questions. An escalation path will help employees determine how to respond in the event of an unprecedented situation.

Acknowledging that such occurrences are possible and ensuring that this information is easily available will make the social media policy that much more effective.

4. Keep It Simple

Who wants to read through lengthy documents that are filled with corporate jargon or require a degree in law to understand?

Keeping it simple makes it easier for employees to digest. It can be as simple as a single page document or a short powerpoint presentation.

A few organizations have even put together a short video. Some good examples are Victoria Department of Justice and Salesforce.com

The more simple and easier to understand your social media policy is, the easier it becomes for employees to understand and embrace it.

5. Integrate the policy into multiple touch points

Establishing the social media policy is the easy part. Implementing the policy can be difficult. The larger your organization is, the more challenging it can be to roll out a new policy. It usually does not happen overnight.

Once the policy is ready, the next step is to develop a training program for your employees. Partnering with the HR or Learning & Development departments is a good practice because they may already have access to resources and process for rolling out such a policy.

Some tips:

  • Integrate the policy into new hire orientation to ensure new recruits are up to par
  • Incorporate the social media policy into existing learning and development plans
  • Launch a series of informal lunch and learn sessions to introduce the concept and importance of a social media policy