Social media guidelines
Just like any other aspect of your operation, clearly defined procedures are critical to a social media presence
By Heather Lockwood
The good news: Social media has certainly opened new doors for marketing, communications, and reaching more existing and potential customers than ever before. The use of social media as part of your marketing strategy is a great way to reach a lot of people all at once, raise the awareness of your agency, and promote the lines of business you want to market.
The bad news: Social media has put businesses and individuals under a microscope and anything they say in this space can be put on display for the world to see. And once it's out there, they can't take it back. We've all seen it. He tweeted this, she posted that he lost his job, they're getting divorced.
Social media is a stage where everyone and anyone can "hear" what you say or post every word and every photo. While you want the conversation to be open and real, you need to protect your agency and your assets. Having a "Social Media Guidelines" document will ensure consistency and protect your agency staff from saying the wrong thing.
As you begin to develop guidelines for your agency's use of social media, here are some thoughts to get you started:
How does social media meet your business needs? For a business, social media is about more than how many "likes" or "fans" you have. Think about your business objectives and determine how to get the right people to your Facebook page. Determine how social media will support your traditional marketing efforts. Then you can build your pages around strategies, events or ads that you are already running. For instance, if you are having an open house, make sure you post details on your Facebook page and Twitter. If you are running traditional print ads, make sure you include the social media icons where potential customers can find you as part of the overall ad design. And ask that people visit you there and "like" your page.
Who will have access? Companies run the spectrum in terms of access. Some block all access to social media sites, while others have very open policies with respect to access. You need to assess your business needs and determine what the appropriate level of access is and who you want to be the voice of your agency.
It doesn't take very long to check recent posts and respond or post some new content to keep your pages fresh and interesting, but most employers don't want employees on Facebook and Twitter for extended periods during the workday. So you need to decide on a few key individuals to represent the agency. You will likely find that when people are given the authority and guidelines to maintain your social media pages, they will take it seriously and live up to expectations. You should screen content and posts periodically to ensure that guidelines are being followed. In most cases, however, employees will appreciate the privilege to be the voice of the business.
How much time online is appropriate? Similar to who will have access, you will need to determine to what degree your employees will engage in responding and posting new content on your social media sites. Do you want a person dedicated to doing this? Do you want two or three people to have access and give them a schedule of when to check the sites and for how long? Do you want all employees to maintain the sites and contribute?
In most cases, it is sufficient to have a couple of people checking and responding three or four times a day. If you decide that you want the people with access to check your sites first thing in the morning, once late morning, once after lunch, and once late afternoon, for no more than 15 minutes at each interval, document that and check periodically to make sure that these guidelines are being followed.
"Open communication" guidelines. Include what is considered "confidential" or "trade secrets" in your guidelines. Make sure employees understand your policy for limiting personal information and sticking to business topics supporting your marketing strategy. Include expectations on checking facts. You don't want employees posting things that are based on speculation or hearsay that could damage your agency's credibility. Impress upon employees that in this space, they are representing the agency, not their personal views and opinions. They are to present themselves as the organization.
Involve legal. If you have a legal department or outside legal counsel, consider getting them involved in determining guidelines for sharing content related to the business. While it may be fine to talk about the products you offer, the coverages available and information about your agency, legal counsel might advise limits as to what information you might want to divulge. In addition, they can tell you the types of content to avoid and the best ways to deal with negative comments.
Once you have thought through the areas above, you are probably ready to start developing your social media guidelines. The plan should clearly describe:
• Your agency's goals/philosophy about social media supporting the overall marketing plan
• Guidelines for who will have access, how often, and for how long they should be managing the social media sites
• Expectations of the "voice" and representing the business rather than personal opinions
• Any legal guidelines related to confidentiality or trade secrets
• Compliance with federal, local, and state laws
• Compliance with logo, copyright, and trademark use
• What review process, if any, will be used for posts
• What requires legal review
• How to manage negative feedback
While you want your employees to become involved in developing the plan, you as the agency principal or manager need to provide additional provisions based on legal direction or management feedback.
Remember, your agency's "Social Media Guidelines" is a living document and will need to be revised based on your experience once you get started. Plan to review your guidelines with employees and legal at regular intervals.
For more information on developing your own Social Media Guidelines and creating a Social Media Policy for your agency, visit the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers Web site at iiaba.net.
Heather Lockwood is advertising manager for Foremost Insurance Group. For more information, visit ForemostAgent.com.