Social Media Policies For Your Company: External Policies

In my last post we explored the policies that companies should consider internally, within their organization, when getting started in social media.

This time we’ll take a look at the social media policies that organizations might consider posting publicly, for everyone to see. There are two:

  1. Comment moderation policy
  2. Interaction policy

Comment moderation policy

Comment moderation policies are closely related to one of the “norms” of social media, and one of the aspects which organizations that can find hardest to stomach: People expect that when they leave a comment, it will appear on the site.

If someone posts a comment and it doesn’t appear on the site, they may react badly. These reactions can range from repeated attempts to post comments, letters to your boss, to independent posts on other sites that are out of your control, through to sparking the organization of activist activities on an ongoing basis.

Frankly though, if you have an official blog you may want to review comments before posting them. You’re probably quite sensitive about the site content anyway, and you know that the Google has a very long memory.

So how do you protect your organization from a consumer backlash, while protecting the conversation on your site from being derailed?

You publish a comment moderation policy, to which you can point if you have to reject someone’s comment. It’s out there, up-front, and nothing is hidden so people should have no complaints if they violate it. Think of it as an insurance policy, just in case something goes wrong.

Consider covering the following:

  • Language and manners: Will you reject comments which include offensive or inappropriate language?
  • Personal attacks: Will you rule out personal attacks? Ideally you might allow people to question or argue the content – after all, this medium is about conversation. Aggressive attacks, though, are another thing.
  • On-topic comments: What will you do with comments that veer away from the topic of the post or other peoples’ comments?
  • Comment spam: Will you allow comments that appear to be spam?
  • Number of links: Do you want to limit the number of links that you will allow? Will you use no-follow links?
  • Blocking: Will you take action against repeat offenders?
  • Contact: Will you provide a way for commenters to contact someone if their comment is not approved, or if they have other questions?

Online interaction policy

Let’s say you recognize the importance of listening and, as your online efforts mature, you’re starting to engage with the people talking online about your industry. The trouble is, you know that once you start to engage with people online they’ll expect it and you know that you’re not going to want to respond to everyone. You should try to avoid the “dark side” of social media.

How do you draw the line? 

As with your comment moderation, you state up-front which conversations you will engage in, and which you won’t. Again, having this posted publicly on your site gives you the ability to point to it if someone asks why you haven’t responded to their posting.

An interaction policy also helps by adding some credibility to your approach, as you can publicly set clear standards for your interactions. This has the additional benefit of reinforcing your standards with your employees.

You may want to consider the following facets of an engagement policy:

Conversations:

  • Spam and off-topic comments: Will you respond to spam or off-topic comments? Likely not.
  • Defamation: You may want to avoid responding to defamatory remarks.
  • Misinformation: Ideally, you should aim to correct misinformation as soon as possible. Remember, if people don’t see a correction they may assume an incorrect statement to be true.
  • Dissent: What’s your approach to commenters who simply disagree with you? Will you debate with them? Will you avoid the conversation? Where do you draw the line between dissent and trolling?

Standards:

  • Timeliness: Assuming your processes allow for it (which they ideally should), consider stating that you will reply to online comments as soon as possible.
  • Honesty and accuracy: Consider stating that you will take all possible steps to ensure that what you post is complete and accurate.
  • Error correction: Make it clear that if you post something that you discover is inaccurate, you will endeavour to correct it immediately.
  • Confidentiality: Publicly state that you will not discuss confidential information.
  • Disclosure: Note that when employees engage  in public conversations about the organization, they will disclose their affiliation.

Your interaction policy will also benefit from an internal component – a clearly-defined process for how to go about those interactions. The US Air Force has a well thought-out decision tree that lays out the considerations for whether to respond to posts. You may want to tweak it for your organization, but it provides an excellent starting point.

Beyond this, though, clearly lay-out who is responsible for what in your process, and the timelines involved. As Alex de Bold said to me last week, social media moves in dog years. You won’t have time to figure this out on the fly. Will you triage posts? What approvals are needed at each level?

Thinking this through in advance will not only make your life easier, it may also save you if things do go wrong at some point and people ask why things were handled a certain way.

Conclusion

This is the final part of a three-part series on social media policies. To get the full story, check out the rest of the social media policy series. Once again, a big hat tip goes to Michael O’Connor Clarke for his ideas on this topic over the last few months.

Do you have these kinds of policies? What would you change in the approaches above?

2 comments
Ferg Devins
Ferg Devins

Right on Dave...so important to set up policies at the front end...educate people...keep reinforcing the importance and know the difference bewtween commenting as and individual or to be seen as commenting for the company...cheers to a great weekend @MolsonFerg

Ferg Devins
Ferg Devins

Right on Dave...so important to set up policies at the front end...educate people...keep reinforcing the importance and know the difference bewtween commenting as and individual or to be seen as commenting for the company...cheers to a great weekend @MolsonFerg

Trackbacks

  1. Twitter Comment


    RT @davefleet Social Media Policies For Your Company: External Policies | davefleet.com [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  2. [...] Fleet, D. (2011). Social media policies for your company: External policies. Dave Fleet: Conversations at the intersection of communications, PR and social media, May 9. Retrieved from http://davefleet.com/2009/05/social-media-policies-company-external-policies/ [...]