Social media has given everyone a voice and in doing so the general public has taken control of the conversation. Some businesses, used to having all control over their brand narrative, may find themselves lost as to how to effectively operate in this space. Instead of saying “why bother” or, worse, futilely moderating your social media presence within an inch of its life, effectively killing all authenticity, you should place your brand as the steward of your brand community by creating community management guidelines.
Why a brand’s Social Media Community Matters
Social media is about connecting and building relationships with people, not just telling them how great your brand is, as marketing or public relations (PR) professionals may instinctively want to do. While the lack of control is scary, social media is actually a gift. Word of mouth has always been known to be one of the most powerful persuaders of purchases. However, it was also one of the hardest for a brand to see and influence. Social media has changed that. While it’s never nice to have negative comments or reviews, at least you can see them now and attempt to fix the problem.
The opinions and experiences about your brand that users share on social media can of course impact your reputation and bottom line, but so can your reactions to them. An apologetic response can add appealing humility and vulnerability to your brand image. Answering questions and sharing information promptly can make your brand seem more helpful and caring. Even complimenting someone’s photo or replying with a joke helps to humanize your brand, making it feel closer to users’ friends on social media rather than a cold, faceless business.
You can’t control everything about your brand that appears on social media, but you can control the atmosphere of your social channels so that your community is one others want to be a part of and that as much as possible reflects positively on your brand. Just as you have operating standards for in-person or over-the-phone interactions with your customers, so too should you have standards for social media in the form of community guidelines.
Why Create Community Management Guidelines
Social media community management guidelines help to outline the purpose of your brand’s social media presence, its approach to moderation and interaction with other users, and expectations for those who interact with your brand on social media. This document can be helpful for both internal and external parties.
Consistency in your brand’s voice and behavior on social media is important because it helps with strengthening brand identity, but also wards off accusations of unfair treatment by users. If you have more than one individual tasked with social media for your brand, such as a cross-departmental social care team, then it can be helpful to have guidelines your employees can reference in order to be on the same page about your brand’s purpose and rules on social media and feel empowered to make decisions quickly in the course of their work.
Even if you’re a small business, like Scratch Baking for which I developed the guidelines linked above as an example, it can be handy to have guidelines for this same reason as you may be splitting social media responsibilities among many employees for efficiency or budget reasons. Alternatively, you may also only have one employee working on social media and if they leave, your community management guidelines can help create an easier transition to someone new.
This is why Scratch’s social media guidelines also include frequently asked questions. Having the most requested information all in one reference guide with answers ready-made and easy to adapt to a specific platform or instance helps with maintaining quick response times and communicating consistent information.
You want the atmosphere of your social media community to accurately reflect your brand as a whole and for your brand mission and values to be as clear on social media as it is everywhere else. This means you will have to make moderation decisions regularly to shape and safeguard your desired atmosphere. Every situation is different so the criteria for moderation in your guidelines keep you from making arbitrary decisions that could cause distrust, confusion, or anger amongst your community.
For members of your brand’s community, having community management guidelines means they are clear on what the bar is for their behavior. The rules – no disrespectful comments, inappropriate language, spam, copyrighted content, etc. – are clearly listed so in case you decide to hide or delete something or ban someone they know why, and you have justification.
Also of importance is how people are increasingly viewing social media as the first and best option for customer support. By sharing your response policy, especially to negativity, your community members can know whether social media is an active part of your customer support strategy – which I highly recommend it is – and whether you will respond to their needs there.
One of the less exciting, but necessary reasons for your brand to have community management guidelines is legal protection, for both you and members of your community. We often think of social media as being this free space where anything goes, but laws still apply there, such as laws of privacy, copyright, and fair advertising.
For example, I’ve included in Scratch Baking’s guidelines that any post or content added to their social media channels by users is subject to use by the brand and that compensation will not be made to the user nor can the privacy of the user’s identity be guaranteed in any use. Scratch may want to include positive reviews of a product in an advertisement, but they are a small business, and if the users who posted those reviews demanded a portion of the sales Scratch made from that advertisement Scratch might not be able to afford it. By stating publicly in their guidelines that posting on their social media channels is an automatic agreement to forfeit compensation for any content, the business is trying to prevent a legal problem.
However, a section outlining Scratch’s approach to paid ads, sponsored posts, or paid placements on social media is a commitment by the brand to its community to practice transparency and not violate their legal right to protection from deceptive advertising practices.
Why Guidelines are Beneficial
Community management guidelines at their best are a reflection of the core aspect of social media as an always-on, two-way channel of communication between a brand and the rest of the world. While they can offer your brand a sense of control they can also serve as a means of building a lasting partnership between your brand and other users.
Any community on social media is based on enjoying a shared interest. No one wants the enjoyment to end. Having guidelines means you and users who interact with you promise to keep your social media community as a positive, valuable presence for everyone involved. Something sure to help your brand’s goals.
Burns, W. (2015, March 31). Groupon proves value of brand improv with hilarious handling of Banana Bunker. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/willburns/2015/03/31/groupon-proves-value-of-brand-improv-with-hilarious-handling-of-banana-bunker/#61886b5c7632
Iny, D. (2014, June 12). How community managers can build lasting relationships with fans. Social Media Examiner. Retrieved from https://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/community-managers-build-lasting-relationships/
Lee, K. (2014, November 19). The science of building a strong, lasting community on social media. Buffer. Retrieved from https://buffer.com/resources/science-of-building-social-media-community/
Quesenberry, K. A. (2019). Social media strategy: Marketing, advertising, and public relations in the consumer revolution (2nd ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield.