Why a Communications Policy Helps You Communicate
I recommend that all small and large businesses have a communications policy. It doesn’t have to be long or overly detailed or complicated. It starts with deciding who speaks for the company and who backup spokespeople should be. Everyone else from the organization should be forbidden from speaking to the media at any time. Some may see a policy like this a being a little too “big brother”. Trust me, in a time of crisis, customers of a business and the general public want to hear from the face of the organization - the person who can speak on behalf of the company and make decisions.
Having said that, the media will always want to speak to somebody closest to the action when something happens. When I was a reporter I wanted to speak to workers in the field and not the company’s President because the chance of the field employee saying something I really wanted to use were far higher. Their comments were normally more raw and emotional than I would have got from an executive. Nothing has changed since I left the media 25 years ago.
The policy should also make it clear that whoever does speak for any organization should always follow corporate policies. This way, there’s no room for personal opinions or guesswork. It should also state that those who do speak to the media should receive some form of media training. I know I’m biased because I do this for a living, but I’m constantly amazed how organizations anoint somebody as their spokesperson, but then don’t give them any training to prepare them. Not doing it can leave you floundering when you need the skills the most.
Why Your Social Media Shouldn’t Be So Social
I also recommend to companies that I work with that they have a social media policy. This policy should provide a framework for how the company handles itself. That policy should say who handles social media on behalf of the company, which seems like a pretty simple question, but I have seen cases where more than one person has been handling corporate social media updates and problems have resulted. The same policy should instruct the person who does social media for any company to always take the high road online. Try to take what could be negative discussions off-line and if somebody gets abusive make sure that you don’t respond. If anyone makes obscene comments to you or one of your employees in social media that’s where communications over social media from your side should stop.
Although there is no way of measuring this, I sense that the fine line between what a person does in their private life and social media and the organization they work for is becoming much more connected. In my opinion there is very little doubt that what somebody does in social media can and does have an impact on the organization they work for.
As a result, your social media policy also needs to give employees direction on what they can say about their organization and also needs to provide direction on what they can say on social media in their own time.
Employees saying embarrassing things about the company on social media simply can't be tolerated because there's too much on the line. If companies truly are concerned about the brand and reputation, they need a policy to ensure, as much as possible, that employees aren’t posting embarrassing things online.
I am not a lawyer but do know that if you have not told an employee to do something or given the proper direction, it’s very difficult to find fault with the employee for doing something wrong.
What employees are saying about your company and social media is important and how they are acting in social media on their own time has also become something equally as important.
What people post on their own social media channels about their personal lives can also damage a company’s reputation because they are linked to the company, regardless of whether their social media profile says where they work. This is controversial because some people see this as a violation of human rights, but I’m not sure they understand the effect damaging remarks can have.
Days after that huge May fire forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray, Tom Moffatt, a manager for Town of Taber was suspended from his job for his Tweet that suggested the fire was somehow payback for Fort McMurray’s economy adding to climate change. His boss at first told the media that Moffatt was entitled to his opinion. A day or two later, Taber’s Town Council met and suspended Moffatt. Obviously Council didn’t feel he was entitled to his personal opinion as much as his boss was.
The courts will eventually decide what employees can do and say in social media. In the meantime, every company should clearly lay out the rules for their employees and explain why. Common sense should prevail. Employees shouldn’t be able to call out their employers on social media anymore than they should be able to say bad things about the company they work for in traditional media.
Do you know what your employees are saying on social media? If the answer is no I suggest you start checking and implement a social media policy to make sure you're not facing the news media at the wrong time.
Both a communications policy and a social media policy are intended to stop something bad from happening. If it should happen, knowing what to say to the media comes in real handy.