How’s your company’s social media policy standing up in the ever-developing online world?

It’s doing a good job, no issues…

Think it’s ok but maybe someone should have a look to see if people are still using it…

What social media policy…

If the honest answer is the second or third above then you wouldn’t be alone. But social media is a living, breathing phenomenon. The policy you use to protect yourself in that world needs to be a live document as well.

Now The New York Times – almost 40m Twitter followers and 15m Facebook likes – felt it prudent to update its policy. Handily they’ve placed the whole thing online

Demands of social media

When an international news organisation opens up on how it’s answering the demands of social media it’s worth listening. It has reach and influence most companies can only dream of. But its experiences and challenges will sound familiar to many others – from multi-nationals to one-man bands.

The NY Times reacted after concerns some of its high-profile reporters’ anti-Trump feelings were coming through in posts. This led to accusations of bias. The newspaper correctly argues that followers view posts from an individual’s account as being an extension of its brand. Therefore, there’s a need to tread carefully otherwise the credibility and integrity of the newsroom could be called into question.

Most of the points they’ve developed or re-iterated to staff stand true for any organisation in any sector.

Points that stuck out for me were:

A collaborative process built the reissued guidelines from within. Those Tweeting and posting to the brand’s customers and contacts on a regular basis were in at the start. No tablets of stone passed down from on high. A good start.

On aggressive criticism. The NY Times advises it’s probably best to refrain from responding. Further, reporter Rukmini Callimachi – one of the policy collaborators – describes how she aggressively blocks abusive people. “By blocking anyone and everyone who uses abusive terms, I am able to halt the conversation.”

The distinction is spelled out between blocking abuse, but not muting people for voicing a dissenting opinion.

Admit social media errors

Trying to shut down legitimate questions is not going to sit well in an age where opinions are all around. If you’re using social media to engage, then that includes listening. You may not like all you hear, but that’s the price you pay for opening up the conversation.

On errors, the policy urges transparency. If you need to delete a tweet, acknowledge the deletion. Add a footnote if a blog is updated to correct an error.

Sound advice. Otherwise the reader might think you’re an organisation that tries to bury mistakes in the hope you weren’t looking. It’s also very difficult to pull off with 40m sets of eyes on you…

On experimenting with styles, tone of voice etc.

Another contributor, Margot Sanger-Katz, wisely suggests that part of the beauty of social media (beauty is my description) is to “test out ideas in a less formal way and with less certainty than I would in an article”.

A company may not always feel comfortable openly asking its customers for views and opinion. However, social media should be a less formal setting, where ideas can be aired without leading to shareholder panic.

Social media complaints

The most amusing guideline was the advice not to use social media accounts for customer service complaints.

The inference being: ‘I follow you because I’m interested in your products and services. Not so I can read you bawl out the delivery man who mixed up your shopping order’.

Another point well made. One for high-profile sportsmen to take on board I’d suggest. Several I follow regularly moan on their accounts when the trains don’t run on time or the wi-fi’s playing up.

Pick up the phone or send an email when you need to complain. That’s better than sending from either an official account or one where a large percentage of content activity is work-related.

The guide also provides a classic ‘before posting ask yourself these questions’. Essentially, would you be happy to make this view known elsewhere? Could it lead people to think less of the organisation?

That’s the kind of practical advice that should form part of any company’s social media policy.