A company is a legal entity. It does not produce anything. It does not communicate, and it has no activities. Production, communication and all other activities are done by the people within the company and within businesses that collaborate with it.

That’s obvious, right? The people in the company operate within a market environment. A market is a bunch of people as well, agree?

Add to that all individuals in the social spheres and ecosystems of “a business” and it’s quite obvious everything regarding business is a matter of actions of individuals that are connected. Those actions define what the business is and how it is perceived, along with the sometimes shady tricks marketers use to influence that perception in a subconscious way.

Let’s talk quickly about people now. They have needs, thoughts, emotions, habits and a behavior (well, many in fact). If you look at how people behave these days when communicating, preparing a purchase or entertaining themselves, to name just a few examples, they often use digital devices and technologies. One of the many digital phenomena people “use” is what we call “social media”? And I think we can agree that social media are used a lot, true?

OK, these are all very obvious facts. I know. So, I wonder why, knowing all this, so many businesses (more precisely managers) still don’t have a social media policy. And, as I increasingly notice, why those that have one simply don’t communicate it to their employees!

Having a social media policy is one of the most simple things in the world

Some “businesses” (in the sense of a bunch of managers that define what happens) don’t “believe” that social media really can help them increase customer satisfaction, have a better brand reputation, lower customer service cost, generate more revenue and benefit greatly from word-of-mouth, to name a few of the possibilities social media can offer to companies and their customers in the largest sense possible. That’s fine, they run the show and miss the opportunities. They define how the company operates and will thus be perceived. When they are replaced the company will be perceived differently.

Other businesses fully understand and embrace the possibilities of social media in a measured and efficient way. That’s more than fine. I like those businesses because they have smart customer-centric thinking people on board. And it’s all about the people, remember?

Both businesses that “don’t believe in social media” and those that embrace it, often have social media policies. Those that embrace social media and have no policy, embrace it badly. And those that don’t “buy social” and have no policy either are not understanding what their employees and customers do. They have no clue or don’t want to see it. Furthermore, if they see it, they don’t care or don’t know what to do.

Having a social media policy is one of the most simple things in the world. It’s a little about rules, not too much if possible, that are most of all based on common sense. An example: it seems quite obvious that a happily tweeting, blogging or social networking employee of a German car manufacturer doesn’t share with the world that he absolutely hates German cars, right? And if he does hate them, why is he working there in the first place? This is a simple example of the “rules” in a social media policy but, trust me, it doesn’t require more brains than that.

An important role of a social media policy is to motivate employees to get involved on the company’s efforts in the social space. After all, most do use social media anyway and even if you don’t really think high of “social,” it doesn’t hurt to involve and even educate employees a bit, right? They are the company after all, remember?

So, how stupid is it to have a social media policy and not share it? And how stupid is it not to see the behavior of your employees (and their friends and your customers and so on and so on) by having no social media policy at all, for that matter?

Well, you would be surprised to know how many companies have a social media policy but never thought of communicating it. And you would be surprised if you knew how many businesses “do social media” (kind of, in their perception anyway) and never even considered having some form of policy, guidelines or training for their most important assets: their people.

I guess you wouldn’t be surprised if you knew how many businesses that don’t care about social media don’t have such a policy. And those that do mainly state all the stuff that is forbidden in it. After all, employees don’t matter too much if you look at how many managers act.

In the meantime, the majority of people use some kind of social media, and people happily talk about the business they deal with in the social, very public, space. And employees most of the time have no clue if their company has a social media policy nor what it says.

Every company should have a social media policy

A 2010 survey by MyJobGroup.co.uk. showed almost 40% of British employees criticize their ‘workplace’ on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Furthermore, one in five admitted slandering their bosses on them.

About 60% of the 1000 questioned employees said, they would change what they wrote on their social networking profiles if they knew their boss could read it.

Most employees weren’t aware of possible legal consequences when publicly criticizing their company. Furthermore, 70% had no idea, whether or not their company has a policy on the subject.

70%! Now, numbers are numbers, and they depend from many elements such as the survey quality, scope, region and so much more. However, every day again I see these facts confirmed: most employees simply have no clue about some social media policy, and lots of managers think they can just ban social media.

A company should have a social media policy, even when it’s not actively using social media itself. That policy shouldn’t merely be a list of things, which are and aren’t allowed. You can’t tie up your employees and forbid them to use social media.

People will vent their opinions either way, and they will use social media, whether you like it or not. It’s much better to put together a social media policy that encourages your employees to be what they are, the face of your company, and to make this policy publicly known.

Social media are a reality, and your employees, customers and prospects use them. It’s obvious. Yet, apparently not in practice.