By Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk
by Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk, BBR Marketing
Originally published in Public Accounting Report, Vol. XXXV, No. 7
New media frontier requires strategic planning and execution.
The social media phenomenon is a new, but inescapable, reality of contemporary culture. It’s hip and casual and trendy.
But it’s also immensely powerful, which is why firms that jump in and start tweeting without establishing a clearly defined strategy do so at their own peril. It’s important to conduct research and establish policies up front so everyone at the firm is clear about what is appropriate to share, why the firm uses social media platforms and who is ultimately responsible for them.
While there are many examples of social media policies available online, it may pay to partner with an expert in this area and have attorneys review it to ensure protection against any liabilities and unwanted repercussions.
Typically, social media policies cover the following areas:
Definition and strategy. Social media are a constantly changing venue, and many people are not clear about exactly what they are. Take this opportunity to define them for your firm. Include a list of sites that fall under the policy and how your firm is using them. Share your social media objectives and strategy, so everyone understands why you are on social media in the first place and is on the same page.
Ownership and chain of command. There should be a clearly defined person or department that “owns” the firm’s social media presence. While there may be many people who contribute to your presence by writing blogs, tweeting or posting content on Facebook, one person should be designated as ultimately responsible for what your firm is saying on social media. This person needs to have time dedicated to not only publishing content, but also interacting with followers, responding to comments and participating in the conversation. Establish what can and can’t be said. What may seem like common sense to you is not always common sense for everyone on your staff. Clearly communicate what is appropriate to say and what is not. For example, nothing should be shared about individual clients unless they approve it in advance, but you should also be careful of saying anything that could be construed as giving official advice. Don’t assume anything here; create a comprehensive list of things that are inappropriate to share and keep it updated regularly.
The Internet Never Forgets: Remind employees that everything you say online is out there forever. While a post may roll off a page, or even be deleted, it is still available for others to see. Facebook stores every post ever made. The Library of Congress is cataloging tweets. Stress the importance of thinking twice before making a comment or sharing questionable information. It can come back to bite you.
Be mindful of copyright laws and information-sharing etiquette. Social media are all about sharing content, but it is important that you correctly attribute the source of that content. Educate employees on the proper usage of content from sources outside of your firm, and the appropriate ways to share that information with others. Include the legal requirements, as well as courtesy and etiquette. For example, it’s not appropriate to copy tweets from others without saying where you got them. Manners count and should be considered on social media as much as in daily life.
Business versus personal use. Your firm’s social media accounts should be just that: dedicated to firm business. While it is appropriate, and often beneficial, to have conversations with followers and colleagues on social media, it is not appropriate to discuss things of a personal nature. The same is true of your employees’ personal accounts. Case law is spotty on this point, but it is ill-advised to make any comments about the firm, management, clients or work, especially derogatory ones, on personal social media pages. Stories abound about people who have lost jobs—and worse—because of what they said on their personal pages. While the firm can’t control this aspect of their employees’ lives, it is smart to let them know what the firm considers appropriate and the consequences for violating guidelines and policies.
Some firms choose to write their social media policy in-house, while others hire outside consultants to help with the process. Whichever path you choose, creating a policy, educating your staff on it and keeping it updated can only benefit the firm.
If you’d like help creating a social media policy, BBR Marketing can help. Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can discuss the best way to handle this issue at your firm.