29 Jun 2011

A Great Example of a Social Media Policy

Writing a social media policy is one of those tasks hotel managers know should be a priority but will find any excuse to avoid. And yet for all the procrastinating, it’s not that difficult a task. To help, here is a sample policy and a few things to consider when writing your policy. It’s written for a hotel but is applicable to all types of businesses.

Why do you need a social media policy?
Given the explosive popularity of social networking, it’s likely your employees are actively engaging. Considering the public nature of social media and the rapid-fire speed at which information can spread, without proper guidelines in place your business is exposed to risks. These risks range from employees “social notworking” on company time to an employee posting offensive content that causes serious damage to your reputation.

By providing clear guidelines on what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate, a social media policy will help mitigate risks and contain fallout in the event of a breach of conduct or a full-on crisis.

Equally important, a social media policy will help mobilize some of your greatest advocates: your employees. Every employee has a role in shaping your reputation, and the more voices sharing relevant content about your hotel the greater your reach. The policy should encourage staff to support your social media activities rather than discourage them for fear of breaking rules.

Use the following sample components as a framework to build a policy that reflects your hotel’s distinctive brand, vision and values.

1. Objectives
The hotel is committed to utilizing social media to enhance its profile and reputation, to listen and respond to guest opinions and feedback, and to drive revenue, loyalty and advocacy. We encourage employees to support our activities through their personal social networking channels while adhering to the following guidelines.

2. Definition 
For the purpose of this policy social networking refers to the use of web-based and mobile applications for social interaction and the exchange of user-generated content. Social media channels include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, blogs, review sites, forums, online communities, location-based networks like foursquare and Gowalla, and any similar online platforms.

3. Key Contacts
Employees are encouraged to become fans and followers of the hotel’s profiles and to share company-generated content within their personal networks. However, the company’s channels are administered by designated key contacts only, and all official messaging must be approved and distributed by them. If you have content you wish to share via these channels, please forward it to them for review.

4. Conduct
Rules of conduct as outlined in the employee manual apply to social networking activity. Employees are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner, to respect the views and opinions of others, and to demonstrate respect for the company, its ownership, clients, guests, vendors, employees and competitors.

The hotel and its employees are committed to conducting ourselves in accordance with best industry practices in social networking, to being responsible citizens and community members, to listening and responding to feedback, and to communicating in a courteous and professional manner.

Behavior and content that may be deemed disrespectful, dishonest, offensive, harassing or damaging to the company’s interests or reputation are not permitted. The use of social media channels on company time for personal purposes is not allowed.

5. Transparency
The hotel is committed to honesty, authenticity and accountability in all social media communications. Employees must disclose their identity when engaging in discussions or sharing content related to the company. If voicing an opinion on a controversial topic, employees must include a disclaimer stating that the opinions expressed are their own and not those of the company or its employees.

6. Confidentiality and Copyright
Employees must not disclose private or confidential information about the company, its employees, clients, suppliers or customers on social networks. Employees must respect trademarks, copyrights, intellectual property and proprietary information. No third-party content should be published without prior permission from the owner.

7. Enforcement
The hotel maintains the right to monitor company-related employee activity in social networks. Violation of policy guidelines is grounds for discipline up to and including dismissal.

Rolling out your policy
Have the policy reviewed by a human resources professional and a labor lawyer to ensure it conforms to company policies and local employment standards. Once finalized, review the policy at a staff meeting to ensure it is fully understood and ask employees to sign it. Don’t forget to include outside contractors.

Note that this is a general policy intended for all employees. For administrators of social media channels dedicated training is recommended, along with more detailed guidelines outlining strategies, best practices, tone, vocabulary and frequency of content, and guidelines for responding to feedback are recommended.

For sample social media policies check out the Social Media Governance site at http://socialmediagovernance.com/policies.php

Daniel Edward Craig is a former general manager turned hotel and travel industry consultant specializing in social media strategy and reputation management. He is the author of three novels, a popular blog, and various articles about the hotel industry, as well as The Hoteliers’ Guide to Online Reputation Management. Visit http://www.danieledwardcraig.com