Social Media Policy vs. Strategy

Recently I have seen some blog posts that use the terms social media policy and social media strategy interchangeably. Don’t do this – know the difference. You could conceivably have a policy without a strategy.  But more usefully, you should have a social media strategy that follows a company social media policy.  Confused yet?  Well here are the differences.

A social media policy is a company document that outlines the use of social media – sometimes just on work hours, but not always – by employees of the company.  The most stringent advise employees that they are always company representatives, and anything they do on the public web is actionable by the company. Most simply set guidelines for what employees can do online in the name of the company. Usually the most lenient  are a set of rules for social media use during work hours.  No two comapnies are alike, and therefore, no two social media policies are the same.

A social media strategy on the other hand, directs all social media actions taken by a company. It outlines the goals, tactics and metrics used for interacting with customers and potential customers on the social web.  The social media strategy is often part of a larger marketing campaign, but can be a standalone marketing plan as well.

So while there are often crossover points between the two, social media policies and social media strategies need to be separate, clearly delineated sets of guidelines. There may be crossover – perhaps your policy dictates who is authorized to act on behalf on the company when executing the strategy – but they are indeed unique.

While every company needs to be thinking about ways to engage the social web, it’s possible that you have not yet gotten to having a social media strategy yet. But, with the number of social media users growing daily, it is not advisable for a company to do without a social media policy. Even if the policy is merely a short addendum to an existing employee handbook, your company needs to make a clear stand on what is acceptable and unacceptable employee behavior on social media networks.

Don’t mistake this as a call for “big-brother-like” monitoring of employee’s online actions, because it is not.  Rather think of it as a safeguard against unauthorized company representatives making public statements not supported by the company. The social media policy doesn’t need to control everything an employee does, it just needs to control everything an employee does in your name. And it provides a safeguard when unauthorized actions are taken.

If you haven’t yet written a social media policy for your company, now is as good of time as any.  Many companies have published their policies on the web for the world to see.  While this isn’t necessary – it can remain an internal document -the published policies can serve as an excellent reference point in writing you own.