Two policies that can save your brand's bacon

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There has never been a time when it’s so easy for an association or not-for-profit to face a social media meltdown. Technology and social media have combined for a dangerous combination. Since almost everyone has a phone with them 24/7 that can take photos and shoot video that can be uploaded to social media within seconds, associations and their people face a much greater risk of having their brands damaged than ever before.

When I talk about this topic at conferences I always ask my audiences one question - who has written social media and communications policies that everyone in your organization knows and follows?

Not many hands go up.

These days there does seem to be more organizations with social media policies than communications policies, but the two work well together. Your not-for-profit needs both.

What a social media policy should say

This is a policy that every organization should have to protect their brand, but few do, even though roughly 75% employees are on social media. There are really three things a good social media policy needs to deal with:

  1. How your organization conducts itself in social media
  2. How your employees can talk about your organization in social media
  3. How your employees can conduct themselves in their personal lives on social media

Number 2 and especially number 3 get pretty sensitive, but it's becoming increasing clear to me that how anyone behaves in social media can affect themselves and their employer.

If you have an employee criticizing your association on their social media account, then a policy would serve to remind them of rules they agreed to follow when they joined the organization, if the policy was provided to them at that time.

What they do on their own time on their social media accounts is more difficult to regulate, but if it’s a senior person whose social media behaviour impacts the association negatively, then the organization has a right to deal with the offending employee and many have done so.

As an example, if the CEO of a not-for-profit posted sexually explicit material, they likely would have a lot of explaining to do to their Board of Directors.

Key points of a communications policy

A communications policy relates to the way your organization interacts with the news media.

This should clearly state who your main spokesperson is and who the back-ups will be. The main spokesperson may not be around when they need to comment to the media on an issue, so it's great to have backups, who can also speak on various topics, or if the main spokesperson doesn't have the expertise in that area.

Those who are empowered to speak must follow rules to guide their behaviour. They must represent the organization in a professional manner; avoid personal opinions and take the high road at all times.

Once you decide who should speak, then all other employees should be told they’re not allowed to speak to the media. However, rather than giving them a "just say no" comment, let them know that if they’re contacted by the media for comment, they should simply tell the reporter they must contact their main spokesperson for comment.

Finally, it ‘s very important to specify that anyone who does speak to the media get training to do so. Why have them speak on your behalf if they don't really know how to do it? A media training course isn’t that expensive, certainly when compared to the damage to your brand and bottom line if somebody says the wrong thing to the media.

Here's some policy help for you

Most business leaders I speak to say these policies make sense, but they don’t have them in place and wonder where they can get them.

I always advise them to talk to their HR and Marketing people to get them involved in the process. It’s far better to get managers involved than using a “top down” approach when it comes to policies.

There are different versions of these policies around and perhaps the HR and marketing managers may know where they can get something to start with.

Here’s another source. When I wrote my book The Honest Spin Doctor, I included sample social media and communications policies. Both policies are plainly written and are both only one page in length.

One other thing

It’s really important to implement the policies properly. Meet with your employees and explain why the policies are being brought in. It isn’t a case of Big Brother taking over, but you do consider your brand to be important and are taking the necessary steps to protect it. I’m sure your employees have the same values or they wouldn’t be working for you would they?

Take the time to explain each policy and have the employees sign a document to indicate they understand it and will abide by it.

You never know when that document will come in handy.

Grant Ainsley is a media trainer and speaker from Edmonton. He’s the author of the book The Honest Spin Doctor and his weekly blog with other media tips can be found on his website. Connect with Grant today on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

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