5 Components of a Social Media Governance Model

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Even as social media presents unprecedented business opportunities for marketing, customer service, brand building and consumer relationships, many organizations are still struggling to embrace it for fear that it negatively effects worker productivity or puts the company at risk. A 2011 survey by Society for Human Resource Management reveals that 43% of businesses block access to social media on company-owned computers or handheld devices.

Rather than policing employees, these organizations would be better served by a social media governance model -- a collection of policies, procedures and educational resources that allow you to manage social media internally. A sound social media governance model empowers your employees while keeping them accountable. It allows you to quickly recover from a blow to your brand, or even sidestep it completely. It helps you keep your social initiatives on track and aligned with your business’ strategic goals.

While many of the elements of a social media governance model will vary across industries and organizations, here are five fundamental components that should be part of any plan.

Social Media Policy

A social media policy is the foundation of any social media governance model. Its purpose is twofold: to guide your employees and to protect your organization and your customers from risk. You should have a social media policy regardless of whether or not your business is actively engaged in a social media strategy. Facebook is on target to hit one billion users this year, and Twitter will soon have 500 million. Many of them are your employees, customers and competitors.

At a bare minimum your social media policy should include specific guidelines for each of the top three platforms: Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. But though social media has become synonymous with that trio of powerhouses, the landscape is vast, encompassing blogs, wikis, podcasts, video sharing, microblogging, community forums and other tools. While it’s not necessary to develop a set of best practices for each of them, you should have a clear and consistent set of expectations that covers all your organization’s primary social channels.


Earlier this year the Richmond Police Department found itself at the center of a controversy when one of its officers Tweeted threats of violence against members of the Anonymous hacking group in response to an attack on an Ultimate Fighting Championship website. The resulting flood of angry comments from the public prompted the Richmond P.D. to temporarily to disable comments on its Facebook page and ultimately led to an investigation of the officer.

This incident underscores a reality of the social media era: Every employee is a PR person, and it only takes one rogue Tweet or Facebook post to unravel your brand image. This makes training an essential part of any governance model. Without the proper resources to educate employees how to represent your organization on the social web, your social media policy is useless.


Nokia recently installed a Mission Control style social media monitoring station of six LCD screens in the lobby of its headquarters so that any employee can see in real time online conversations around the brand. This ambitious move underscores the importance of gathering and sharing information from the social web to help shape your strategies.

Your brand is likely being discussed on the social web whether you’re engaged in the conversation or not. It’s imperative you tune in to the chatter. Twitter and Google alerts offer simple ways to search for the names of your brand, your employees and your competitors. Social Media Monitoring tools like Radian 6, Sysomos and HootSuite offer more robust tools for acquiring, analyzing and acting on intelligence. Regardless of the tool you use, monitoring is a must for everything from shaping consumer sentiment about your brand to heading off a potential PR crisis.

Crisis Management Plan

In 2009, Toyota launched the largest recall in the company’s history in response to hundreds of reported cases of sticking accelerator pedals. The problem was caused by the pedal getting caught in the floor mat, making affected vehicles speed up uncontrollably, and it was linked to at least 50 reported fatalities. Rumors and panic spread across the web, and suddenly the brand, a model of automotive safety for decades, was embroiled in a digital disaster with little foundation in social media with which to combat it.

A PR crisis doesn’t have to be as dramatic as Toyota’s to be damaging. The Toyota recall illustrates a common thread that runs through all PR crises: a slow response from the organization exacerbates the crisis. At its basic level, your crisis management plan should outline how to use your social media channels to deliver a quick and appropriate response.

Toyota eventually turned to social media to repair its image, but its effort would have no doubt been more effective if it could have been leveraged to diffuse the controversy before it spiraled out of control.

Frequent Updates

A social governance model isn’t something to be stuck in a binder and shelved -- it’s a living system. The social media landscape is evolving at lightning speed, and your policies and best practices should evolve right along with it. Designate a social media governance team and a frequency for re-evaluating all elements of your governance model to assure it's never outdated.

Have your own ideas of what should be part of a social media governance model? Share them with us in the comments below or at contentworks@pcworld.com. And connect with us on Twitter.

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