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Defining Social Media

Social Media Internal and External Policies

Social Media Internal and External Policies

Every social network company establishes its own rules for using their service. The rules — usually called Terms of Service (TOS) or Terms of Use — are meant to manage the liability the company could have when they can’t fully control how others use their online service. These rules can range from who owns the content published on their network to how members of each service should behave and what is not allowed.

Your company should have your own rules, guidelines, and policies, not only for the general public interacting with your company on your social media presences but also for your internal team.

Before social media, the most common policies posted publicly on websites were privacy policies, security policies, and in the case of e-commerce, return policies. Privacy and security policies were created to address people’s concerns about how their personal identifying information and credit card data was being gathered, handled, and protected.

If you have a website where you ask visitors or customers to provide you with personal, identifying or financial information online, compose and post, at a minimum a privacy policy to explain how you will use the data that is submitted. Keeping customer information private is a best practice in both ecommerce and social media.

You don’t have a great deal of control over what happens on your Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter Pages. Carefully explore the privacy and security policies of the social networks and apps where you set up accounts. Understand what protections the host company offers in terms of protections and who owns the content that you – and others – post to the social network. Your company is generally at the mercy of the social networks hosting your account so make sure you’re comfortable with their Terms of Service.

Getting Started

When developing your company’s Terms of Service (TOS) for your website and other online presences, first establish your own internal policies alongside your external ones so that they complement each other. Start by articulating what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behavior when others interact with your company online in the sites and networks that you manage, regardless of where they are hosted. Unacceptable activities or behavior might be infringing on other people's copyrights and trademarks, linking to pornographic material, or hate speech.

Here's an excerpt from an actual TOS addressing consequences:

We reserve the right to ask you to leave or to block you from our network if you are unable to “play nice.” We will always provide a reason if we delete a comment or block someone – as long as they provide their correct email address. And we will be open to valued members of our community as to why we do what we do.

If you use general statements such as “treat people in the community with respect,” spell out what will happen if someone doesn't follow your rules. Will you give them a warning? Will you delete their post or comment? Will you ban them from the site? Note that every social network will either let you to ban someone from your Page or you may have to report individuals to the network’s customer support.

Both your external and internal TOS should be written in clear, easy-to-understand language instead of dense legalese, however, you can link to more details terms written by your legal counsel.

Here are some examples of rules for an external TOS:

Be kind. The Golden Rule applies here. We are looking for comments on content or issues, not individuals.

Be transparent. We don't appreciate anonymous comments, however, will allow them if they follow The Golden Rule as we understand there are some valid reasons for maintaining anonymity.

Be truthful. We work hard to check our facts and tell you what we believe to be true. We ask that you do the same.

Don't spam. If you come to our website, blog, or social networking presence to promote your company, service, or product, chances are we will remove the post unless it is relevant to the conversation and does so in a non-commercial fashion.

External rules can be posted to your website and pointed to from the bio or about section in each social network. Include a link in the footer of your company website so it can be accessed from any page on your site.

Internal Rules

When thinking about your internal guidelines and policies for your staff, don't discount the value of your team participating in social media on behalf of your company. Instead of forbidding social media use by employees, educate them and provide clear rules in your Employee Handbook. Specify who is allowed to publish content on your company’s behalf and how each team member can interact on social networks during business hours.

Here are a few rules you might want to include in your internal policies and guidelines:

Be transparent. No matter what, always be clear who you are. We are not blogging or posting online anonymously, and we do not encourage our team members to be anonymous either.

Be truthful. Honesty is the best policy. Do your best to check facts, be accurate, and above all, tell the truth. When in doubt, consult your supervisor.

Be kind. Even if you are being critical about a product, a service, or a company, do so in a respectful way. Make sure your criticism is constructive.

You cannot expect your online community members to adhere to rules that your own team ignores.

Look for templates for TOS on the web and use them to shape your own company rules. However, consult your legal counsel before publishing them.

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