In his book Tweet Naked, online marketing expert and Social Media Firm CEO Scott Levy provides the critical information entrepreneurs need to craft a social media strategy that will boost their brand and their business. In this edited excerpt, the author offers some ideas for what to include when writing your Twitter policies.

Before you launch your social media campaigns, you must have policies in place, and your team must be aware of them and, more importantly, abide by them. For example, how are you going to handle rude comments, negativity or trolls? What will you do in case of a crisis? If you're on the verge of a PR nightmare, you need to have people ready and able to make decisions, sometimes very quickly. This might mean issuing a well-timed apology or publicly illustrating how you solved a major problem or put out a fire. You need a damage-control plan, otherwise known as a "break glass in case of emergency" plan.

Some companies have several people review their social media communications before they go out to minimize any social media disasters. Too many companies have learned the importance of a system of checks and balances the hard way, such as when Chrysler hired an outside agency to handle its social media and someone tweeted on the @ChryslerAutos account, "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f@#$ing drive." Apparently the agency representative thought he was being clever on his own Twitter account, but he sent it accidentally on the company's account instead. Angry Detroit motorists responded, causing Chrysler plenty of PR headaches and putting the social media agency representative out of a job. A policy clearly barring employees from using their own Twitter account while at work--which was what the employee thought he was doing--or that each post must be reviewed by another team member prior to sending could have prevented this PR disaster.

If you hire an outside firm to handle your social media, you still need to have very carefully worded policies in place covering anyone working on your account and holding them responsible if they don't adhere to such policies.

Many companies have posted social media policies online, so rather than reinvent the wheel, you might want to review them for an idea of the rules you may want to include in your own policy. There are generic rules that simply make good sense and others that will fit your company more closely. Choose the ones you like, put them in writing, and make them available to everyone on your social media team. It can save you headaches in the long run.

Some rules you might want to include in your social media policy:

  • You must be at least 18 years of age to post on any of the company's social media sites.
  • You are prohibited from posting personal information about any client or customer of the company or its affiliates.
  • You will not post material that infringes on copyright, trademark or patents owned by a third party.
  • You will not post material considered sensitive or proprietary to the company or its affiliates.
  • You will not post material that is considered slanderous, libelous or hurtful to another person or business.
  • You will not post any material that could be considered profane or discriminatory.
  • You will never use inappropriate language, or harass or threaten anyone.
  • You will not engage in personal business or discuss personal issues of any kind.
  • You will not post, tweet or send out knowingly false statements or provide inaccurate information on any social media platforms.
  • Policies may be updated by the company or social media manager at any time. New policies will be distributed to all team members.
  • Failure to adhere to all policies may result in termination.

 Along with strict policies, guidelines might include:

  • Always try to be authentic and transparent on behalf of the brand in anything you send out.
  • If possible, support claims with appropriate links to information.
  • Always show customers that you care about them and are willing to go the extra mile for them.
  • Be polite and don't engage in arguments with customers even if provoked. If you disagree with the opinions of others, do so respectfully.
  • If you're not a customer service representative, make sure to promptly forward all customer service questions, complaints and issues to someone who is.
  • Speak in a polite, courteous manner, and avoid "corporate speak" or "technical jargon."
  • Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective.
  • Always be honest and use your best judgment in all situations.
  • Avoid plagiarism at all costs. Document all sources and give credit where credit is due.
  • Participate, but don't promote.
  • When in doubt, ask for help or clarification.

Take your time, and make a concerted effort to consider all possible scenarios and create policies and/or guidelines that can help you avoid, or at least minimize, as many potential problems as possible. While you'd like to say "use common sense" in hopes of covering many of these areas, it's to your benefit to have everything spelled out, especially if someone does break the rules and you need to take some sort of action, which could range from moving them off a certain platform to termination.