Social Media Policies: Avoiding the “Rule Trap” & 3 Essential Guidelines

When entering the messy world of social media, people want, need, demand standards. By standards, of course, they mean rules.


Corporations, accustomed to controlling all behavior all of the time, prefer to have standards (rules) that people follow without question (maybe grumbling, not questioning). That extends to social media, where they struggle to control even healthy public conversation from their employees.


Yet the connection economy demands conversation. It demands creativity. It demands personality. It demands trial and error and trial and error and trial. Standards, by their very nature, seek to eliminate all of those things.


Who wins in this equation? The small businesses, the artists, the writers, the educators, all of whom can engage their tribes. Hopefully, everybody operating on the organization’s behalf (particularly those on their payroll) understand the basic rules of decorum, civility and relationship building. In other words, they don’t need “standards” that tell them it’s inappropriate to insult and belittle, post drunken rants, tell racist jokes and so forth. But they also don’t need a bunch of rules that constrict their behavior so much that they do nothing more than post ads that wear the audience thin.


Yes, eliminating standards means relinquishing control. And yes, things can go wrong. Almost assuredly, at some point, a member of your tribe will get offended, hurt or worse. But if they truly believe in your vision and have a history of engagement, they will forgive that one bad experience because of many more pleasant experiences. With standards, you can never develop that foundation.


Wait … you still want to implement standards? Or more likely, your boss wants standards? Fine. Here are three broad guidelines to address most situations (alternatively, here are the “5 R’s” encouraged by a Forbes blogger).

  1. No Vulgarity: Prohibiting vulgarity automatically increases the civility and professionalism, and makes it much more difficult to accidentally offend or insult somebody.
  2. Take Responsibility: Even if you don’t use bylines on your blog or only use a company page on social media, make sure your audience has somebody they can contact for corrections, complaints or (most important) compliments and further engagement.
  3. Take Your Happy Pills: Stick to good news (or at least put a positive spin on negative results) and articles that help. Leave the flame wars, political attacks and personal rants to the curmudgeons.

What other standards for communications and social media would you like to see in place — or better yet, what standards have you (or your organization) put in place that you find constricting? I’d love to hear more — post them in the comments.

Josh Loftin

Senior Partner at Route 89 Communications

Josh Loftin oversees the marketing and communications for Wasatch Academy, a private college preparatory boarding school in central Utah. He also owns Route 89 Consulting, which assists small businesses, nonprofits and schools with long-range planning, marketing strategy and program development. Josh previously spent nearly 15 years as a political reporter in Utah.