Four Ways To Do a Social Media Policy That’s Simple, Smart, and Right


I’ve gone on the record of saying that social media policies are generally unnecessary. More than anything, employees need education instead of policy in dealing with emerging technologies.

Given the comments and general response I get when this is suggested though, it seems that this is a fairly unpopular idea. HR pros think they need the policy, in-house lawyers demand them and despite evidence they obfuscate other important issues, businesses feel they are still necessary. Even if other rules already cover their action or if what they really need is education, not policy.

Fine. I get it.

But I did see an example of a social media policy that did it right. It made stop beating the “no social media policy” drum for a few minutes and admit that, if I were forced to do a social media policy, this is how I would put it together.

Edmunds gets it right

I was passed along a link to’s social media policy. Now I’ve seen a lot of social media policies and I’ve even referenced some in the past during speaking engagements. Most color me as unimpressive ,and the best case scenario is typically one written in plain English that isn’t terribly punitive.

Edmunds Social Media Guidelines took a completely different approach. They made it visual and simple, yes, but more so, the content is right on as well. From an employee communications standpoint, it is hard to do better than this.

There are four things they did that really stood out to me, though.

Article Continues Below

1. It’s really simple

It took me a few minutes to take in the entire chart. The communication is clear and simple, even when explaining nuanced components of social media like the cultural differences between online communities or the difference between representing the company and yourself. Making it simple and visually appealing has made it easier than ever to understand what the company expects. Wading through even the best written policy is still a disadvantage in comparison to this appealing visual.

2. It’s encouraging

So many policies get into the minutia of what is and isn’t appropriate that it is hard to take actionable steps to make sure you’re in line with it. Edmunds’ policy is simple and clear enough to encourage employees using social media use on the first day of work. That’s self-supporting in that it not only gets more employees on social media, but those who are have a better understanding of where Edmunds stands and can be confident in their use of it.

3. It isn’t punitive

Where’s the classic HR language like, “Disciplinary action up to and including termination?” Luckily, that was left on the cutting room floor. Even if you leave out my opinion about heavy-handed language in policies that very few people read anyway, this is a perfect opportunity to show that policy application is nuanced. It depends on the situation and severity. Responding perhaps a bit too harshly to one person on Twitter isn’t the same as leaving a profanity laced tirade on a popular message board. Employees get it, no need to put it in their face at every opportunity.

4. It’s informative

Edmunds Social Media Guidelines goes over some of the key issues to discuss with employees, especially if they are new to social media. So rather than just being a policy, it also informs employees of the common threads that run through social networks. They address key things like the permanence of social media postings, avoiding spamming, not talking over your head, misrepresenting yourself, and not revealing damaging information. Not only that but they give many resources to determine if you have any doubts, and the guidelines encourage best practices (like contributing useful information and the lack of true anonymity online).

Do you like the model that Edmunds has here? Have you seen something you like better? If you have to have a social media policy in the workplace, I hope you follow something closer to Edmunds’ example than some cookie cutter policy an attorney will produce.

Lance Haun is the practice director of strategy and insights for The Starr Conspiracy, where he focuses on researching and writing about work technology. He is also a former editor for ERE Media, broadly covering the world of human resources, recruiting, and sourcing. 
He has been featured as a work expert in publications like the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, MSNBC, Fast Company, and other HR and business websites.
He's based in his Vancouver, Wash., home office with his wife and adorable daughter. You can reach him by email or find him off-topic on Twitter.