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Social media guidelines for corporations

But if you work at a larger corporation, getting buy-in is only part of the challenge. Invariably, you’ll be asked to set up a series of social media guidelines for the 10 or 100 or 1″,000 people who are going to be helping you execute your program.

With that in mind, we asked Ann Pruitt with the 60 Second Marketer to help us compile a list of guiding principles for large to midsize corporations that want to encourage their employees to take part in using social media. Her goal was to provide guidelines that gave employees clear boundaries but didn’t hem them in so much that they would feel overly constricted or limited.

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Remember, as our friend Erik Qualman states in his book Socialnomics, “What happens in Vegas, stays on YouTube.” With that in mind, the last thing your corporation wants is for a random comment or inappropriate conversation to make its way across the social media sphere. It’s the quickest way we know to dampen the effects of a successful social media campaign. But at the same time, it’s important to recognize that the snowball effect of social media can really work only when employees are given the freedom to respond openly and quickly on any of your social media channels.

Let’s take a look at fi ve core values that we’ve compiled as guiding principles for your company’s social media program. These values are based on research we’ve done into the ways companies such as Dell and The Coca-Cola Company conduct their social media campaigns.



All employees who are asked to participate in social media dialogues should embrace the following core values:

▶ Show respect—The people on the other end of your social media dialogue are human, too. They have feelings, emotions, and points of view just like you do. Treat them like your neighbors (or, at least, like the neighbors you’re friends with).

▶ Show responsibility—Take initiative to be trustworthy. If you’ve been assigned to the social media team, that means you’ve been given a certain level of responsibility. Honor that responsibility by taking it seriously.

▶ Demonstrate integrity—Show sound, moral character. Pretend your grandmother is watching you. After all, she probably is, from somewhere.

▶ Be ethical—Be right and honest in your conduct. If you fi nd yourself doing something that you can’t be totally transparent about, it’s probably not the right thing to do.

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▶ Add value—Move the ball forward in all your conversations. Provide an insight, a point of view, or something helpful in each one of your interactions. Every time you move the ball forward an inch, you’re helping your company achieve its goals.

Now let’s drill down a bit and look at 17 guiding principles that fall under these fi ve core values.



Under each value outlined in the last section, you’ll fi nd several guiding principles that encourage your employees to be responsible in all your social media initiatives.

Show Respect 1. Respect property. Show respect for the opinions and property of your company and of others. Give credit when appropriate, get permission when needed.

2. Respect privacy. Any information gathered or personal identifi ers collected about customers should not be published or misused irresponsibly. There are no exceptions to this rule.

3. Respect copyrights and trademarks. Do not post another company’s trademarks or any copyrighted material belonging to another company without getting approval fi rst.

Show Responsibility 4. Accept personal responsibility. You post it, you accept the consequences.

5. Demonstrate admirable online behavior. Express yourself, but remember anything you say lives forever on


the Internet. Comply with any regulations that govern your site.

6. Conscientiously represent your company. Everything you say as a member of the company represents the company. Likewise, writing harshly about your company can have repercussions for you, obviously, when your company gets the news. If internal issues arise within your business, keep them internal.

7. Mix personal and business lives carefully. Remember, everything you post on your personal Facebook or My Space could get back to the company.

Demonstrate Integrity 8. Show transparency. If you work for a company, you should reveal that information when commenting about that company or its competition.

9. Use good judgment. Share your opinions online, but avoid anything that could be considered poor taste; it refl ects poorly on you and your company. Certainly avoid anything that could be considered illegal.

10. Provide a framework for your arguments. Provide background to support your postings. Arguments that are thoughtful and that go beyond “xx sucks” make your point-of-view more valid.


Be Ethical 11. Protect the company’s proprietary information. You are obligated by your contract to protect vital company information, and state laws govern trade secrets.

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12. Don’t forget your day job. It’s important to maintain productivity at your job and not get lost in cyberspace. Realize that customer service may best be handled through social media, but avoiding your work to post an opinion about the new company dress code doesn’t add value.

13. Let the experts be the experts. Your readers may have questions on specifi c products or services about which you have limited knowledge. Forward those questions for the experts to respond to. The same holds true for PR issues.

14. Post truthful information. Do your research to ensure that you aren’t just spreading rumors. Correct errors if you fi nd them later.

Add Value 15. Provide value for customers. Social media should bring customers closer to the products and services you sell. Ranting on Facebook about the way Shipping messes everything up makes you look petty and provides no value for the customers. The same holds true for not responding to customers’ comments.


16. Monitor your social media sites. Posting a Facebook page and then not monitoring it defeats the purpose and is not social media participation. Online sources must be nurtured though active monitoring and participation.

17. Remember the audience. Don’t forget that readers include clients—past, present, and future—and employees. Don’t publish anything that would insult or otherwise alienate these people.


The Internet is rife with stories from companies or individuals who wish they’d followed these guidelines. One of the more notable is Domino’s Pizza, a company that spends tens of millions of dollars each year building and nurturing its brand.

Unfortunately, several rogue employees at a Domino’s franchise in North Carolina decided to post a prank YouTube video of some unsanitary and disgusting food-preparation practices. The viral nature of the Internet helped the video generate a million views within days of being uploaded. Worse still, for a short while, Google had fi ve different links on its fi rst page highlighting the video.

It’s unfortunate that a few irresponsible employees at a small franchise can do so much damage to a business that has spent so much time and money building a deservedly good reputation. But social media doesn’t care how many years


you’ve spent building a brand, even when what’s posted on YouTube is false.

Domino’s isn’t the only company that has had to deal with these kinds of challenges. Not long ago, an employee of a large, well-respected public relations fi rm was fl ying to Memphis, Tennessee, to discuss, of all things, social media with one of the fi rm’s largest clients, Fed Ex. Unfortunately, this employee, who, as a social media expert, should have known better, decided to tweet his disdain for the city of Memphis just as he was exiting the city’s airport.

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Twenty minutes later, as he was entering the FedEx headquarters, all hell had broken loose. A number of FedEx employees who followed this gentleman on Twitter saw his tweet about Memphis and, as proud residents of said city, took offense.

Within days, the story had spread across the globe, embarrassing the employee and the PR agency, and bringing into question FedEx’s wisdom for hiring a social media expert who assumed nobody was reading his tweets.

Of course, it’s easy to look back on other people’s missteps and to use 20/20 hindsight to critique their actions and responses. That’s actually not our intent with these stories. Our intent is to use these illustrations to highlight the importance of putting some social media guidelines in place as you roll out your social media program.


Let’s take a look at some of the key concepts and action steps from this chapter before we move on to the next chapter for a step-by-step action plan for a social media campaign.

▶ Key concept: As Erik Qualman says, “What happens in Vegas, stays on YouTube.”

▶ Action step: Help employees understand that once a comment, video, or dialogue is posted on the Internet, it’s very hard, if not impossible, to make it disappear.

▶ Key concept: All employees should follow 5 core values and 17 principles if they’re going to participate in a corporate social media campaign.

▶ Action step: Review the 5 core values and 17 principles with all the employees who will be part of the social media team. It sounds like a goofy thing to do, but it’ll help them understand that you’re taking this seriously.

▶ Key concept: Companies such as Domino’s and FedEx have had their share of negative experiences with social media.

▶ Action step: If it can happen to Domino’s and FedEx, it can happen to you. Be proactive and incorporate these guidelines into your corporate DNA today.

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