Yes, You Really Do Need a Social Networking Policy
Thinking (hoping desperately?) that YouTube, Facebook, Google+, blogs, and Twitter will fade away like 8-track tapes is an exercise in futility, much like Lady Grantham’s attitude toward electric lights in the wildly popular “Downton Abbey” series: “I couldn’t have electricity in the house, I wouldn’t sleep a wink. All those vapors floating about.”
Social media is not a fad, it’s a revolution. And for most people under 30, and especially for “digital natives” born between 1990 and the late 2000s, who have never known a time without the internet, social media is intrinsic to communicating with others, both at work and at home.
Ethics, Marketing, and Social Media
These core changes in how we communicate even affect what we believe to be appropriate behavior. According to the 2011 National Business Ethics Survey, “active” social network users (those who spend more than 30% of their time online during work hours) are likely to view their positions as temporary, which affects their attitude toward the job. While the hands-on nature of a veterinary hospital makes it unlikely that many employees will be on social media that long during a shift, it is still instructive to note this group was more likely than less frequent to:
• Post a negative comment about employer or colleague
• “Friend” a client
• Work a little less to compensate for cuts in benefits or pay
• Take home company software for personal use.
• Keep a copy of confidential work documents in case they are needed to secure a new position.
According to the survey, social networking is leading to a “blurring of the lines” between personal and professional relationships that could pose new risks to a company’s reputation.
On the flipside, however, social media has become an increasingly important marketing tool. As noted on Forbes.com, “Silence is no longer an option. People are online talking about you, whether you like or not. If you don’t engage in the conversation, you risk losing your customers.” Used assertively, however, social network will help you win and keep loyal clients. The fact that clients have an opportunity to contact your practice through Facebook can give you a chance to educate them about technical information they may have not absorbed during an office visit, or to learn about therapies or services they may not have known to ask about, such as how to handle fireworks anxiety when the Fourth of July approaches.
The bottom line: You need to establish a social media policy, both to protect and to promote your veterinary practice.
How to Set Social Media Policy
To Promote Your Practice
1. First things first: Figure out what business goals your practice wants to accomplish through social media. Don’t be intimidated by thinking you need to start at square one; your social media policy should be an extension of your current branding and practice culture.
2. Appoint a social media manager. Tap someone, perhaps one of your team’s digital natives, to lead the effort to refine your message and help determine how to accomplish your goals.
3. Set your policy to encourage transparency. Do not allow “trash talk,” posting anonymously, or using a pseudonym. Remember, your social media is an extension of your real-world practice culture.
4. Review your social media policy regularly to assess your progress and to ensure you don’t miss the next monster trend, such as Pinterest.
5. If it’s good enough for IBM… check out the megacorporation’s Social Computing Guidelines for insight to into “emerging technologies and online social tools” that are equally applicable to animal health facilities.
For Your Protection
1. A good social media policy will help everyone on the veterinary team differentiate between professional and personal behavior in the digital environment.
2. Set limits on personal use of internet and email while at work, including the use of smartphones. Completely banning their use is most likely an exercise in futility; be reasonable and flexible.
3. Employees may have personal blogs on animal health that might be seen as a reflection on your practice. Include in your policy that employees must state the contents of blogs are personal opinions and do not reflect those of current or former employers. Provide examples of what may be considered as unacceptable or defamatory.
4. Let’s be honest. You love the patients, but the clients can be a pain. Nevertheless, clients have a right to privacy concerning financial and other personal information, regardless of how tempting it may be to vent on Facebook. Be sure to include client privacy rights as part of your social media policy.
5. Define what information staff members may disclose regarding the practice and staff on blogs or social media sites.
6. Determine what steps will be taken if employees do not adhere to your social media policy.
7. Keep in mind that the goal of your social media policy is to encourage good judgment, not to control employees’ behavior.
8. Put your social media policy in writing and include it in your employee handbook. Every new employee must be aware of the policy in order for it to be effective.
9. Review and update your social media policy regularly.
For related articles, please see the following:
Where Can I Find Examples of Social Media Policy?
Use Social Media to Make Your Marketing Efforts Take Off