These days the web has become tightly knitted with business and, as a result, the dynamics of communication has changed. This has been largely due to the integration of social media. Consumers today spend a lot of time in the virtual world and marketers have been steadily establishing a presence on various social networks as a channel to reach their targeted audiences.

Simply setting up profiles on social networks to represent the business is not going to increase value without some sort of strategic plan put into place. While a portion of social media marketing can perhaps be done without full planning, setting a formal policy makes it clear to all staff what expectations are in place.

A social media policy in the workplace is a way to establish boundaries and also ensure every member of the organization is on the same page where using social media is concerned. Network World.com stated back in 2010, "Remember, the overall goal is to protect the rights and privacy of all employees and the integrity and reputation of the company". [1]

In order to reach those two objectives, the policy should encompass both the best interests of the company and its employees.

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Consider Business Value

Like any other venture pursued, managerial decision makers have to determine the business value that social media can offer. A good question to ask is what exactly does the company expect to achieve through this avenue of marketing?

If the business is seeking closer consumer interaction and building of relationships, a desire to share up and coming news that the market would identify with, or a way to reach additional markets, these are good starting points. Whatever the company's objectives are, these should be clearly spelled out in the policy and provide direction as to what type of value can be added to the business through using social networks.

Select the Right Social Media Channels

It is virtually impossible to network with the public in all the social media sites, and this is not a good idea for many reasons. It is not feasible to run active profiles on all the social network websites, so it is important to carefully choose which social networks would enhance marketing efforts. This should be made clear in the policy.

In order to determine which sites the company would best be presented on, sites chosen should have business relevance. Many experts seek niche web spaces to join in on and add their level of expertise. However, “standard” sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or Google+ can also help reach customers who have a broad range of interests. Additionally, wider public exposure can often be achieved through some of the more “generic” social networks.

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Expectations of Employee Conduct

Nowadays, social networks play an important role in both the professional and personal lives for many people. As a result, the lines between the “online” and the “offline” worlds for people have blurred. In some cases, they have collided. This has led businesses to need to carefully consider how social networks are used both in and out of the workplace by the people who work for them.

A section of the social media policy should be dedicated to expectations about online behavior. Like other types of policies, i.e. a code of ethics, the social media policy should be read and signed by employees. This way no staff member can feign ignorance in the event of poor conduct. How employees act online is a direct reflection on how the public will view the business.

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Ideally, companies want to present a positive image and share parts of the organizational culture and keep these attributes in mind at all times. One major gaffe by an employee or inappropriate choice of words can result in a marketing nightmare.

While employers cannot control what employees do with their personal profiles, they can provide employees with a clearly defined expectation of what types of business information is confidential and/or proprietary. Employees should understand what kind of information cannot be shared on personal accounts.

Outline the Types of Information to Be Shared

Along the same vein of employee expectations, the social media policy should clearly share what types of information is allowed to be published on social media; employees should be provided with a clear outline of what this entails.

The last thing a company wants to experience is a slip of proprietary or confidential information that could hurt the business' competitive advantage and position in the market. The social media policy should contain firm definitions of what information is public and which is for internal use only. Employees need to have an understanding of that internal use only information cannot be talked about in social networks, even where privacy settings are utilized; this information is for business "eyes" and use only.

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Often businesses like to offer "sneak peeks" and other types of tantalizing information to loyal followers, however these releases need to be strategically planned. What a business wants to avoid is an employee saying prematurely that a great feature, product or service is being released to keep readers interested. If the business is not ready to handle the flurry of attention or make any sort of announcement for competitive reasons, this is a must.

Companies are wise to select people to be authorized to speak on behalf of the business, and have these members of the organization represent the company on social networks.

Elasticity is Key

Technology moves as lightening speed, and what's hot this week in terms of social media websites may fizzle next, or sites may even unexpectedly shut down. Due to these risk factors, a level of elasticity is a must for any social media policy. Social networking trends generally do not stand still and, as a result, social media plans need to be flexible and adaptable to accept these (sometimes rapid and/or unexpected) changes.

After writing the policy, it should be shared internally in the organization and then posted in a visible place where all employees can view it easily, and each person should have his or her own copy. In addition, refreshers should be offered to make sure no lapses occur and new employees are also educated on the organization's expectations.