Pretty much everyone agrees that in order to be competitive in today’s online world, your small business needs a social media presence. Whether you have small business accounts on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine or all of the above, you need to establish some guidelines that lay out best practices for your company. Without a formal, written policy you might run into some major headaches down the road.

Employee Conduct

Your first order of business in establishing a social media policy is to make sure that your employees know what is expected of them when they post on your company’s behalf. The company account should not be used for personal posts, and all activity should fit within your social media marketing plan. At the most basic level your policy should cover:

  • Who is allowed to post social media content
  • Whether or not individual employees should identify their posts by using a first name or initial
  • What types of content are preferred, acceptable or not allowed
  • How frequently to post new content
  • How employees should deal with negative comments and complaints online

Advertising and Endorsements

You may want to pay other social media users to help you promote your content through retweets, blogging and online reviews. While this method of promotion is not usually as effective as an unpaid endorsement, it can still be a viable part of your social media marketing plan.

However, if you compensate others for their help in promoting your company online—whether with cash or free products or services—the endorser is required by the FTC to disclose that information. The same goes for your employees. If you ask them to promote your business on their social networks, they are required to disclose how they are affiliated with your company.

Engaging with Customers

The history of social media is wrought with stupid mistakes, and many of them are a result of poorly handled negative interactions with customers. If your social media policy doesn’t clearly explain how employees should deal with angry customers, don’t even bother to open a business social media account.

For tips on dealing with upset customers from a few social media experts, you might want to check out these resources:

Or, if you think it would be helpful to learn from the mistakes of others, check out Mashable’s “11 Biggest Social Media Disasters of 2012.”

Sharing Another Company’s Content

Promoting another business’s relevant content through likes, shares, and retweets is a good idea, particularly if your customers find it helpful or useful. However, before an employee posts an image of one of your vendor’s products to promote your business’s product line, for example, you must get permission.

Social media policies are a must for all businesses, even the small ones. Your policy should be a living document that evolves with the growth and changes in your company.