Establishing Social Media Guidelines

It’s essential for any company using social media, especially larger entities, to set forth guidelines so that it’s clear what is acceptable in the space.

A brand that always been ahead of social curve is Southwest Airlines. The airline emphasized its social savviness by attending BlogWorld, a large new media event, and taking part in the expo, where they provided a Southwest lounge area along with complimentary nuts, inflatable airplanes and more.

One thing I thought was really awesome is that they provided handouts featuring the social media guidelines they set forth for their employees. While they may be specific to Southwest, the rules can easily be applied to any brand and provide a great outline for those beginning to brainstorm putting together something similar for their own company.

Social Media Guidelines

  1. Follow Southwest Standards (the golden rule)

    Employees are responsible for the comments they make on the internet. Do not post materials that may reflect negatively on Southwest or its leaders, employees or customers. Any conduct that would be in violation of company rules may be grounds for discipline or dismissal.

  2. Employee Identification

    If employees talk online about the company or its services, it should be made clear they are a Southwest employee. Employees are to identify that they are not speaking on behalf of Southwest Airlines. Profiles should include a disclaimer similar to “the postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Southwest Airlines’ officers, directors, of employees.” Remember that only officially-designated employees are authorized to speak on behalf of the company.

  3. Be an Ambassador

    Employees should strive to represent Southwest Airlines in the best way at all times. Though employees may not be speaking on behalf of the company, they are still representatives of Southwest.

  4. Shhhh – It’s a Secret

    Keep confidential information confidential. If secret information winds up in the wrong hands, Southwest’s culture, reputation and livelihood are at risk. Company-related internet communication should only discuss publicly-known information. If employees aren’t sure whether information is public, don’t make it public.

  5. Respect the Privacy of Others

    The lines between public and private are not as defined in the internet space. Be careful when posting content that involves details of coworkers’ personal lives. Assume that everything employees post will be online and stay there forever, for anyone to see.

  6. Company Trademarks and Logos

    Southwest’s logos, trademarks and copyrighted materials may not be used in any manner without the express written perion of the Southwest Airlines licensing department in marketing.

  7. Follow the Rules

    Do not engage in illegal or unlawful activities. Even posting comments, pictures, videos or other information about participation in illegal activities is against the rules. Do not post or share copywrighted materials unless a license has been granted to use those materials.

  8. Be Accountable

    Please report inappropriate online behavior by Southwest employees.

Which guideline do you think is most important?

Debbie Miller
Debbie is the Founder and President of Social Hospitality where she assists clients with social media and content marketing. She is also the Digital Communications Manager for HyperDisk Marketing. When she's not online, Debbie enjoys spending time with her spoiled dog children; watching movies; reading; and drinking copious amounts of coffee and wine.
Debbie Miller
  • Niklas Myhr, Ph.D.

    Hi Debbie, thanks for the post and I too enjoyed walking through their area of fun at BlogWorld. I was surprised, however, that their social media guidelines were so much focused on what employees were NOT allowed to do and how they could get in trouble or be dismissed. I am not saying that there should be no limits but I had expected their guidelines to also include some wording to encourage employees to be engaged on social media. Perhaps they prefer to centralize and control social media interactions. As it stands, I just don’t see the incentive for regular employees to get involved.

    • Debbie Miller

      Thanks, Niklas, for commenting, and that’s a great point. I think maybe for a brand as large as Southwest, they have their specifically designated employees that tweet, post, etc., on behalf of the company, but then they want to make sure that the optional, personal social media habits of employees never do anything to disparage the company. I didn’t interpret it as encouragement or lack thereof, they definitely seem open-minded to their employees being in the social sphere, they just want to make sure those that are there, personally, are only presenting the company in a positive (if any) light.

      • Niklas Myhr, Ph.D.

        I think you’re right and I can see why some companies prefer to spell it out and not simply have a blanket statement such as “use common sense” as I have seen proposed elsewhere. Also, some employees may like it that way, too, as this will more clearly show them where the boundaries are.

        • Brooks Thomas

          Hey, y’all. I do agree that the policy we handed out outlines guidelines more than freedoms. It’s important to keep in mind that this is our external version of the Company policy.  The internal version is much more extensive, and also shares insights about how an individual Employee can expand his/her online presence.  We also do social media webinars through our continuing education program, The University for People.

          Hope that helps shed some light!  Happy Thanksgiving!

          • Debbie Miller

            Hi Brooks. Thank you so much for the first-hand incite! I really appreciated that you guys shared this much (chatted with some of your team at BlogWorld) and was really impressed with the overall company culture. There seems to be great balance. That’s also awesome that you do social media webinars to educate; shows you really care about your staff members.

            Thanks again and have a great Thanksgiving as well!

  • Debra Eckerling

    Really good example of setting standards for good social media conduct – something everyone in business should think about as we start the new year! 

    • Debbie Miller

      Definitely! Thanks, Debra!