How to write a smart social media policy

Ian Lurie

First things first: I have law degree. I’m not a practicing lawyer. I am not giving legal advice. Nor can I. This is, instead, common-sense advice as a social media nerd.

Your staff are all over the internet. You know that, right? They’re writing stuff on Facebook. And on Twitter. They’re blogging, too. Best case? They hate their job and try not to write about it. Worst case? They love their job, and you. Someone writes something negative about you. They spring to your defense…

This is what I call the ICBM of goodwill. Someone pushes the button. You say “No, wait, stop…” and then KAABOOOOOOOOMM. Too late.

Or, you can think for a minute, and maybe, juuuuust maybe, develop a policy that can harness all that energy and protect you from any, er, excess enthusiasm.

Keep it simple, not stupid

You can turn the whole thing over to your legal department, or hire an attorney to write it. Then you’ll get a 2,500-word monstrosity that none of your employees will read. Kaboom.

The better bet: Keep it simple. Don’t be stupid. Make it easy to digest, but cover your bases. Those bases are:

  1. An understanding between you and your staff that when they’re are online, the views they express are theirs and theirs alone.
  2. Respect. At the same time, employees will always treat the company, their co-workers and yes, even their bosses with respect.
  3. Confidentiality. Employees will always keep the company’s secrets, secret.
  4. Responsibility. Employees are grownups. Make it clear that you expect them to behave as such.
  5. Limits. Finally, their social media activities can’t get in the way of their job. because it is, you know, a job.

An example: Portent’s (still rough) social media policy

  1. We and our clients have stuff that needs to be confidential. Keep it that way.
  2. You will always make sure that people know the views you express online are yours, and not Portent’s.
  3. When you write a blog post, say anything on Twitter or other services or sites, you will respect fellow employees, this company, and me.
  4. It can be tough to separate them, but you will make sure that personal social media activity doesn’t interfere with your job.
  5. We’re an internet marketing company. You know how social media works. I expect you to be responsible and use good judgment. If you’re ever unsure, ask before you act.

Resist the urge to cover everything

That’s it. Five rules. I could write thousands of words in an attempt to cover every eventuality. And then I’d miss something—someone would do something I couldn’t predict, and then all those thousands of words would be worthless.

It never works. The most detailed policy can’t cover all the silliness people get into once they start typing.

Instead, have some faith in your employees and set guidelines that make it clear what you want.

Other stuff

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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