Social Media Policies: A Company's First Line of Defense

Customer Service
Customer Service
Companies like Rosetta Stone and Western Union are crafting social media guidelines to help protect their brands.

Disgruntled customers who turn to social media to vent aren't the only ones who can damage a brand in that channel. Employees who don't communicate clearly, treat customers poorly, or share too much information via social media present as much of a potential problem.

Just as organizations have codes of conduct and confidentiality agreements, it has become necessary to provide employees with clear policies regarding acceptable use of social media in the workplace. This will help to guide employees when communicating about their companies online. Organizations that fail to implement policies and guidelines leave themselves open to risks ranging from security breaches to brand defamation. Social media policies can be an organization's first line of defense against these threats.

Numerous companies are helping to guide employee's social conversations about their brands. Some companies, like Best Buy and Intel, have implemented social media policies and have even made them public on their websites. Other companies, including Rosetta Stone and Western Union, have implemented social media guidelines on company intranets to help pilot their employees' usage of social sites and to protect their brands.

Rosetta Stone has quality standards
Led by PR and marketing, Rosetta Stone crafted its enterprisewide social media guidelines a year ago to help steer the company in its use of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs. "Everyone has to follow pedagogy, as well as core standards," says Jay Topper, senior vice president of customer success.

Because Rosetta Stone is publically traded, Topper says employees must be careful of what they post. "The danger is, if you have a valuable brand, you want to protect and enhance that with social media. You can't enhance or protect the brand if you don't have some sort of social media policy in place."

While Topper won't comment on the particulars of those standards, he says the guidelines include elements such as ensuring responses to customers' questions don't dilute quality standards. "We wanted to make sure that we are representing the brand not in a different way, but in a manner that is consistent with how we are as a company," he says.

To ensure that employees are interacting according to the guidelines, Rosetta Stone has recently assembled a five-person social media team that sits in the company's global brand business and is responsible for monitoring and contributing to the company's social media efforts.

Additionally, the company runs "Rosetta Stone University," an introductory training course for front-line employees that includes a segment about how to behave in social media. The guidelines are also posted on the company's intranet. "Whether you're in accounts payable or working on the floor, [following social media guidelines] is no different than following quality standards and values," Topper says.

Western Union sets employee's expectations
For Western Union, social media success started with taking small steps and understanding who "owns" social media within the company.

Donna Rossi, vice president of global customer experience management, says that Western Union has been dabbling in social media since 2006 when the head of the company's corporate communications team introduced a Facebook campaign to the organization.

Since 2007 the company has been leveraging social media for brand awareness, mostly monitoring Twitter and Facebook to discuss products and services with consumers and to listen to mentions of Western Union.

Because Western Union's social media efforts include several sites used in various ways, Rossi says that the organization decided that it needed guidelines to address things like who in the organization is responsible for social media and overall corporate privacy guidelines. "Employees don't always know how they can and cannot behave. These are the expectations," she says. "We're saying to them, 'It's OK to interact with social media.'"

She started the guidelines process by assembling a cross-functional team that listens to customers' chatter in social channels to determine how to formalize the strategy, but also how to best leverage social media. These volunteers are passionate about social media and participate in regular meetings to share their findings. "We want to have a better understanding of how and if our customers are using social media. Ultimately, how do we use this information to collaborate with customers? And if we have a lot of pain points, how do we interact and engage with customers down the road to improve those areas?" Rossi asks.

Rossi says most of the policies have been put in place and are located on the company's intranet. They include points ranging from an explanation of how to be transparent to an employee code of conduct.

The departments that are the most active in social media are marketing, customer care, consumer protection, and corporate communications. Employees in these areas attend various training programs administered by HR to educate them on the impact of social media and how to use it effectively.

For Rossi, there's no alternative. The dangers of not having a social media policy in place far outweigh the benefits. She says, "Those companies that don't have social media policies in placeif there is some sort of crisis, it puts them at risk of not being transparent with customers."