We’ve seen plenty of spectacular social media fails from large corporations over the years – from McDonald’s accidentally (or deliberately, some have argued) tweeting placeholder text, to the social media planner for Britain’s HMV using the company’s Twitter account to live-tweet the sacking of over 60 employees. There was Donald Trump’s ‘covfefe’ tweet, and that Adidas email subject line, ‘Congrats, you survived the Boston marathon!’, which instantly became fodder for the masses on Twitter.

These mishaps remind us – often hilariously, sometimes depressingly – that humans always have the potential to make mistakes and behave unpredictably. Hence: the social media usage policy.

Put simply, a social media usage policy is a document that guides employees on the appropriate use of social channels, whether they’re using company accounts or their own personal accounts.

But I’m only a small business.

If you think your business doesn’t need a social media policy because you’re not a big corporation, think again. As a small business competing for your piece of the pie, you arguably have more to lose from sloppy social activity.

The fact is, just about everyone is using social media, and most employees are accessing their personal accounts in work time. Having some guidelines around that should be a no-brainer.

How should I approach my employees’ social media use?

There are two overlapping strands that should be covered by your policy:

  1. Policy for official company accounts
  2. Policy for employees using personal accounts

For employees who state that they work for your company in their personal profile, you might recommend a disclaimer such as the commonly used ‘Opinions are my own’.

Your policy should be specific to your business and your industry, but there are helpful templates from the likes of Workable, Fit Small Business.com and Tech Donut available online that you can use as a starting point. Hootsuite and Sprout Social also provide helpful how-to guides.

We’ve put together these tips for small businesses to get the best out of social media:

Don’t fight it

Your business has much to gain from your employees’ social media activity. Rather than fighting a losing battle to keep them away from their phones, how about viewing their networks as pools of contacts that you may not otherwise reach?

Accentuate the positive

Above all, approach social positively. While a policy helps safeguard your brand, it should also encourage and empower your employees.

You could even consider supplying them with recommended content such as banners, videos or links to blog posts that they can easily post to their own accounts. This way, you maintain some strategic control and they don’t have to worry about what to say. But bear in mind that consumers value transparency, so try to achieve a balance between company-supplied content and the authentic voice of the individual.

Make it enjoyable

One of the beauties of social media is that it thrives on playfulness. Lively, personable, witty interactions on social media can be enormously valuable to your businesses because they help people to like and trust your brand, just as they would another person. “We like people who are transparent, so it makes sense that we like companies who are transparent, too,” writes Crazy Egg co-founder Neil Patel.

Your social media policy shouldn’t only be a list of rules and regulations – it should encourage your employees to have fun and be real, while maintaining a responsible and respectful online presence.

Write it well

If you want your teams to absorb your messages and keep referring to your policy, write it in a way that’s:

  • clear and concise
  • easy to understand, avoiding jargon and legalese
  • friendly and accessible.

Welcome input

Talk to the people in your business about their opinions and experiences online. You can benefit from their insights and it also makes them feel included in the process, so they’re more likely to embrace the policy and become great brand ambassadors.