Developing Internal Social Media Policies for Startups
Benish Shah and Sheheryar Sardar
For startups, social media use is as typical as the use of email or phone. From publicity to networking, social media is a critical tool in the development of a startup’s brand identity. As items put out for public scrutiny on social media can have a larger impact on the life and reputation of a startup, it’s important to set up an internal social media policy on two fronts: (1) crisis management and (2) brand opportunity.
With employees and partners using social media, there is tremendous risk that individuals may inadvertently damage the company’s brand, divulge private information, or violate a law. At a medical startup, simply tweeting about a patient could violate HIPAA laws. Not too long ago, Kenneth Cole came under fire for his tweet about the Arab Spring, prompting him to make a public apology. The crisis possibilities are endless and the best way to curb that risk is to define a set of guidelines that help you mitigate risk and keep pace with emerging social media platforms.
To develop a comprehensive social media policy for internal startup use, here are three critical things to cover:
- Corporate blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, etc., may require approval when the employee is posting about the company and the industry. If this is made clear at the outset, you are setting certain expectations within the company and are alerting your employees well in advance.
- Internet postings must abide by copyright, privacy, fair use, financial disclosure, and other applicable laws. For startups, have your attorney research laws that may be directly applicable to your industry to further clarify this for your employees. Any violation of this may create further issues for the company, so it must be strictly adhered by.
- If an employee is not officially representing the company, employees should neither claim nor imply that they are speaking on the company’s behalf (this is often the case for journalists); further, if they are posting about the industry, they must make it clear that they are not representing their employer.
Each corporation has a voice; whether that corporation is a startup or a multinational does not matter. There is a brand identity, a feeling that individuals get about that company through their brand management. Coca Cola is about nostalgia, and Pepsi (mostly abroad) is about popularity and celebrity. Their brand messaging reflects this, and each employee representing the company is tasked with maintaining brand identity.
In order to incorporate this into your social media policies as a startup, you want to hone in on:
- What is your brand’s voice? This is a question that must be answered early on, and may also evolve as the company evolves. Employees must be given clear guidance as to how the company should be represented in social media.
- It is important to delineate which employees/partners officially represent the company on social media. There must also be guidelines as to whether they must delete their account when they leave the company. You also want to account for instances when they do not have to delete their account(s). For those that use their social media accounts for company publicity on and off, there may be a separate set of rules as opposed to those that officially represent the brand.
- You want to hash out whether personal social media accounts can be used for the startup’s social media marketing. If so, it is important to lay out who owns the marketing content and the followers gained from that content.
Implementing the Policy
Benish Shah is a Partner at Sardar Law Firm (SardarLaw.com), having developed one of the first social media law practice areas for startups in New York City. Ms. Shah focuses on startup law, litigation, fashion law, and startup financing.
Sheheryar Sardar is a founding Partner at Sardar Law Firm (sardarlawfirm.com) and a co-author of Sandstorm: a leaderless revolution in the digital age, the first book to discuss the role of social media in the Arab Spring. Mr. Sardar focuses his practice on technology law, startups, project financing, entertainment law, and human capital.