Developing a social media policy for your business

In today's information age, more and more businesses are integrating social media websites and applications in their day-to-day operations, with a growing proportion of firms relying on these digital media outlets as their main revenue channels.

Within this growing proportion there exists a significant number of small businesses, which have recognised the need to adapt to the changing ways businesses deal with consumers and with each other. The rapidly expanding e-commerce market and the heavy reliance on company websites for information over the past two decades have set the foundation for the widespread implementation of social media tools.

While the benefits of advertising, selling or marketing via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn are numerous, it is also important to remember the risks and consequences that come with using this type of medium. Some of the risks involved include identity fraud, corporate fraud and privacy concerns.

Small businesses should develop a comprehensive social media policy in order to mitigate these risks. Here are some things you should keep in mind when doing so.

Determine your social media appetite

The policy you create depends on how much/how often you use social media, and how this type of media fits in with your business vision or philosophy.

Firstly, define social media in terms of what it means to your business. To some, it may refer to just networking sites (Facebook, Twitter) but to others it may also encompass blogs, forums and other sites that permit users to publish content (Wikipedia, Google Groups).

In addition, you should also set parameters of acceptable social networking behaviour. Some businesses may not mind employees posting news and other trivia to the company's Facebook page. Some other businesses may not want photos from their company Christmas party to be shared on their Flickr account. Some businesses may encourage debate in online forums on company procedures, but some may not find this appealing.

Whatever the view a business takes in regards to social media, it should be consistent and clearly communicated, so that it is easy to enforce.

Ensure people you deal with understand how they are affected

It's easy to come across as professional when dealing with clients or suppliers in person, over the phone and through email. However, it is not as easy when on social media, a more casual mode of correspondence.

It is important to provide your employees, contractors and sub-contractors with a standard they should conform with when representing your business so that they are aware of their responsibilities and the consequences of not conforming to the policy. For example, staff should not disclose any confidential information on clients, partners and suppliers without prior permission.

Once you have created your policy, make sure to distribute it to the people you regularly deal with. It is also a good idea to publish this document on your company website. You should ensure that all your employees, clients and suppliers are clear about what they should and should not disclose on social media websites.

Know your legal obligations

The Privacy Act is the main piece of federal legislation that regulates the Internet and social media in Australia, although it does not fully cater for 'developing technology'. It's a good idea to familiarise yourself with this legislation so that you know your rights as a business and when to or when not to take legal action.

For more information, visit the Australian Law Reform Commissioner (ALRC) website.

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