The Social Ecosystem: Developing Social Usage Guidelines

Rules…. Guidelines…. It does not matter if you are in the 38% of companies blocking social media (in the United States), are leaving social media access wide open, or are looking to strategically leverage The Social Ecosystem. Guidelines about what is, and is not, acceptable, are critical to the success of your Social Organization.

There are hundreds of great examples of real-world Social Usage Guidelines available across the web. This post is providing you with a template that you can use to create a set of guidelines for your organization, your Social Organization.

Note that any set of organizational guidelines need to be regularly enforced. I would recommend that Social Organizations review these with new employees and give regular, quarterly is best, training sessions for all employees. The use of social media is too much a part of how people live to simply train once and expect people to remember your rules.

Also note, only 20% of companies worldwide have a policy for their employees (according to Manpower, see below). Do not make this mistake.

Without further ado, here is our template.


You should make it clear, at the top of your guidelines, that the document applies to both internal and external usage of social media strategies and tool. Helping people understand that different expected behaviors on both sides of their home/work life is critical for establishing guidelines that make sense to everyone.

Clearly note that this guideline document is supplemental to other existing employee guidelines such as the employee handbook.


Clearly state ownership rules for content created by your employees. I favor the use of Creative Commons, as used on my blog, but what you use is dependent upon your market, your business, your legal team. Whatever model is used simply make it clear in the licensing section.

Note that you may also have exceptions in place worth noting. For example, perhaps research information follows one licensing model while marketing information follows another. The rules are up to you, of course, just make them clear.

If you are interested in learning more about Creative Commons check out their web site.


Take the time to clearly define the terms being used by your organization. The State Department’s Social Guidelines provides a good example.


While the guidelines you define will reflect your Social Organization there are some basics that I feel you should add. These include:

  • There should be different expectations and guidelines established around the use of personal and organizational accounts.
    • Provide guidance on how to indicate if the account is private or organization owned.
    • Make it clear that personal accounts reflect personal opinions, not the opinions of the organization.
  • Be clear about what happens if your employees fail to follow the guidelines. No one wins if you are unclear.
  • Note that employee goals and objectives, or equivalent, will go into more detail about how these tools fit into their job function and that achieving defined goals remains the number one priority.
  • Provide guidance on the use of appropriate language
  • Provide guidance on the types of information that can, and cannot be, shared.
  • Provide guidance on how to respond to various request types (e.g. customer service or sales requests).
  • Remind employees to listen first, respond second.
  • Be clear that comments made are always on the record when responding through the organization’s accounts.
  • Be clear about ownership. If you respond to customer through a social channel the customer considers you the owner of their questions. Don’t fail them.

Let me know if there are other pieces you would like to see added.


If you need help from The Lab, drop me a note. If you would like to view more case studies and interviews, or just want to read about The Social Ecosystem, click on the links and let me know your thoughts. Note that GovLoop members receive a 20% discount on all services from The Lab through the end of August.

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