Sara Mouw

By Sara Mouw on March 4, 2013

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A Closer Look at Social Media Policy

social media policy

Social media is ever changing — a new filter here, a new app there, and so on. However, these constant changes coupled with the medium’s broad accessibility makes keeping organizational rules, regulations, and social media policy up to date a challenge.

Concerns of employees leaking organizational information, using social media on company time and damaging the organizational brand are just a few concerns out there. Even with the disclaimer “opinions and thoughts are my own” on an employee’s social media profile, they are still connected to your organization. Staying ahead of social media when it comes to internal regulations is tough. As such, many organizations find themselves reacting to the technology as opposed to leading.

Many large organizations and governing bodies are working to lay-out rules and regulations for employees and stakeholders to follow. The policies range from being very specific to being open, allowing for greater freedom. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

The FDA Regulates Social Media

fda logoThe Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set rules to regulate how companies interact with consumers on social media, however, the ambiguity of the regulations are making it hard for pharma companies to interpret what is right and what is wrong. The companies have the desire to create a conversation on social media, but in such a highly regulated industry, there is the constant need for tight monitoring and a fear of violating the rules.

In response to public requests for information, pharma companies are to direct consumers to the correct department to receive a private response, and from there, the response can only be science-based. In 2011, many drug companies reacted by shutting off public comments and/or closing down their Facebook pages.

Ford Fosters Freedom with Accountability

ford logoFord keeps it simple with five key points for their employees, which amounts to using common sense. They are trusting their employees to be who they are, but giving them a friendly reminder to be aware of who they work for and that what is said will last forever.

The freedom allows for conversation and a human feel to the usage. The policy wraps up by saying “when in doubt, ask.” This is a simple yet effective approach for a company that employs over 200,000 people.

The NCAA Reacts & Adapts

ncaa logoThe NCAA laid out rules on using social media for recruiting. Initially, all electronic communication was prohibited, however, in 2009, the governing body adjusted the rules to allow private messages to be sent through social media networks while public updates, such as wall posts, are prohibited.

While the NCAA regulates recruiting practices, university athletic departments across the country are responsible for developing their own social media policy for their active athletes. Social media has caused many athletes to get in trouble over the past few years. Even the 2012 Olympics showcased this issue among world-class athletes. College athletes, ranging in age from 18-24, may not completely understand the impact their recent post or tweet may have on their team.

To prevent their athletes from running into trouble while playing for them, the University of Michigan athletic department created a social media policy that their student-athletes are required to sign. The policy is pretty straightforward, advising “students not to post when they’re emotional, not to use offensive language or slurs and not to tweet during class. If athletes violate the policy they can be reprimanded or, worse, face suspension.”

The Michigan athletic director noted, “it was more reactionary.” While this seems simple, it does make the student-athlete aware of the impact of their social media statements. However, other schools have taken a less open approach, preferring instead to ban Twitter use, monitor social accounts, or prohibiting certain words.

Thinking About Your Own Social Media Policy

In adapting to the constant change of social media, creating a policy that’s up to date could be hard, but reacting after an issue may be worse for the organization. How do you want to protect and control your brand on social media?

An overly restrictive social media policy may inhibit engagement and cause aggravation among employees, while a more open policy may give your employees more freedom and build trust over time. What type of policy is right for your organization?

Photo via Flickr user eflon



Sara Mouw
Email Brand Driven Digital

is an eMarketing Specialist at The HON Company. She holds a BA from Central College, an MBA from the University of Iowa and enjoys expanding her digital and social media marketing knowledge.