Today, social media surrounds almost every facet of our lives, including the workplace. While sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook offer many opportunities for companies to connect with customers and clients, they also can damage reputations when not addressed properly.

“Most companies see value in having a social media presence, but it is important to first develop a social media strategy and formulate a plan for how your business will leverage social media,” says Chad Spears, senior employee relations consultant at TriNet, Inc. “Address your social media policy first. Make sure all employees understand the parameters of what you expect in their communication on company-sponsored sites, as well as their personal use of social media during working hours.”

Smart Business spoke with Spears about what to address in a social media policy to avoid common mistakes.

What should a workplace social media policy include? Does it vary by company?

There are differences, depending on the company size or industry. A small public relations or marketing firm wouldn’t need the same policy as a publicly traded company that is more closely regulated. Every organization should first look at its existing policies, including code of conduct or Internet use, and make sure the social media policy is in line with what is being allowed and is consistent with other polices.

Also, make sure employees understand that even though they may not speak on behalf of their employer, their actions and statements reflect on the company. Inform them there should be no expectation of privacy when using company equipment or sites. As far as personal use on company time, that depends on the job level and organization type. Many companies don’t allow any personal use during business hours, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution. This should be determined based on company culture, and the type of work employees are doing.

Create a good policy that acts as a resource for questions or concerns. It should be a living document — social media evolves rapidly, so no policy will remain relevant without updates.

Who should be responsible for company social media posts?

A company should assign dedicated individuals to monitor content, which could be one person or an entire team, based on the size of your organization. The goal of social media is to get the company’s message or brand out to a broad audience, so encouraging all employees to participate is good. For example, employees could use LinkedIn to share articles they’ve written or showcase work. Have someone monitoring posts to ensure they’re consistent with the company’s marketing strategy, and to take corrective action when that’s not the case.

What common mistakes do companies make regarding social media?

One mistake is having a bare-bones social media page without dialogue or responses to customer questions or complaints. This can be more damaging than not having a social media presence at all. Make sure social media channels are updated and monitored, as they are the first line of contact for many customers and clients. Social media provides a unique opportunity to encourage two-way dialogue and solicit feedback.

Another mistake is making social media pages prepackaged, rather than making it an organic space. It’s a great opportunity to interact with customers, but many companies are too formal. Advertising what you’ve done can be good, but you have to make it fun — a place where customers are comfortable interacting with your company.

Give clients a reason to visit your page, other than to complain, by adding value. You could post white papers showing visitors how to navigate roadblocks, providing resources, not just touting accomplishments.

Companies also need to be cautious about disciplining employees for social media use. Courts have determined that employees may have the right to discuss working conditions online through social media, so consult with a human resources representatives.

Employees and customers are on Facebook and other social media. To harness the potential power of this army of ambassadors, establish a presence and set policies for appropriate use and how the company will be represented to ensure it promotes your company positively, consistent with your culture and brand.

Chad Spears is a senior employee relations consultant at TriNet, Inc. Reach him at (720) 291-1246 or chad.spears@trinet.com.

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Insights Human Resources Outsourcing is brought to you by TriNet, Inc.

Published in Northern California