10 tips to help your business avoid a social media disaster

Executive working on laptop

Social media is a tool for spreading the word about any corporate brand. It can also be a potential disaster waiting to happen for businesses who don't have tight control over who posts, what they can say, and who is responding to comments. The rise of internet trolls like the ones who recently taught the Microsoft Tay chat bot to make racist and offensive comments means there is always a chance that social media could descend into a slime pit and hurt, rather than help, a brand.

That's why it's so important to develop policies and procedures for social media. This includes rules about how passwords are handed out to employees, who can post on which services, and what is allowed when an employee wants to post about company news.

To help you navigate the social minefield, we spoke to a whole load of experts who provided tips to help develop a social media policy. Each one is designed to protect the company from a social media fiasco or even a compliance violation or lawsuit.

1. Be careful with company passwords

One key strategy with social media is to make sure you do not give out social media account passwords, says Sara Dunn, a digital marketing agency owner at 11web. She notes that this is why a social media manager like Sprout Social or HootSuite is so important. In Facebook, you can make an employee an Editor on an account but not the main account manager.

2. Avoid sensitive topics

Charles Henson, a managing partner at the IT company Nashville Computer, says that every company needs a written policy, something that is posted internally and also explained in person and signed by each employee at the company, that covers the topics to avoid. "You would want to refrain from political, spiritual, as well as many more topics that may upset your clients. Unless of course, your business is surrounding that particular event or niche," he says.

3. Clarify how many posts are expected

This is a brilliant strategy when it comes to increasing awareness about a brand. Your social media policies should clarify how many posts are expected from each employee, whether that's just one per day or dozens, depending on the industry. It should also mention a cap. Henry McIntosh, the Director of Content Marketing at Twenty One Twelve, a marketing company, says this step is often overlooked in social media policies, which are typically about the rules.

4. Make a plan for maintaining policies

Any social media policy has to evolve with the company. There may be changes in market segments, new social media services that emerge, or new challenges in the social media space (such as how to deal with internet trolls). Katie Creaser, a Vice President at the PR firm Affect, says there should be a schedule for when the policy will be updated to accommodate new platforms, new compliance regulations, and any changes in company direction.

5. Know who is in charge

Henson says it is critical to have an approval process and management system for social media. This includes knowing who is in charge of each account. "We suggest the business owner be the master admin while everyone else allowed to add content is an editor. You will also want to have someone moderating posts if you allow comments to ensure your social media is not being abused and/or used to promote other products or websites."

John Brandon

John Brandon has covered gadgets and cars for the past 12 years having published over 12,000 articles and tested nearly 8,000 products. He's nothing if not prolific. Before starting his writing career, he led an Information Design practice at a large consumer electronics retailer in the US. His hobbies include deep sea exploration, complaining about the weather, and engineering a vast multiverse conspiracy.