Social technologies are nothing more than an expression of natural human behavior. New technologies have simply allowed natural interactions to migrate online. For the most part, society does a pretty good job of regulating social rules and social norms. The main reason we need to codify rules in a “policy” at all is that technology is moving at lightening speed and social norms, especially within enterprises, haven’t caught up.

We encourage you to think of your policy as the equivalent of a “pause button” for your employees rather than a document meant to control behavior. In an earlier day, time served as guardrails for us. An angry memo would be toned down because you couldn’t send it immediately as you had to wait for the mailman to arrive. With the Internet, it is very easy to act without thinking because there are few barriers to posting content quickly. Your policy should simply be a tool to help your employees think before they act.

Social engagement is about creating a mutual exchange of value with all constituent groups, and companies see a higher ROI on marketing and communications activities when they are truly engaged. True engagement is very difficult to achieve, but your employees can go a long way in helping you get there. Companies that have engaged employees have lower turnover rates and lower recruitment costs because their employees do it for them!

With this in mind, here are five critical things that your employee social engagement policy must do if you want to be socially engaged:

1 – Empower Employee Evangelists

Employees usually want to spread the word about the good things that your organization is doing, including your marketing messages. If your organization has thousands of employees, just imagine how many people those employees can reach. They can be your biggest brand evangelists, but they should know that they are permitted to do so. And, they need guardrails that outline which issues they are permitted to speak about and which are best left to official corporate channels.

2 – Provide Escalation Procedures

In our experience, employees often find untrue, or incorrect information online about a brand before the brand’s listening technologies find it. You should take advantage of this and let them help you protect your brand by detailing an efficient escalation process.

3 – Protect Legal Employee Speech

(Note – we are not lawyers and this should not be constituted as legal advice) Remember, the mutual exchange of value is critical to creating an engaged enterprise, and infringing on legally protected employee speech will absolutely undermine that value exchange. In fact, it can make employees feel that they have an antagonistic relationship with the organization. Instead, provide meaningful internal outlets for expressing their views, and don’t try to silence them in public channels.

4 – Encourage Transparency & Authenticity

While employees should be empowered to advocate for the company, they should make it clear that their views are their own and not necessarily those of the company – especially if they reference official company statements. Provide simple and easy-to-follow guidance to help employees be authentic in their communications. Additionally, encourage employees to disclose their relationship with your organization to maintain transparency.

5 – Protect Confidentiality

One of the biggest risks to empowering employees in social media is potential confidentiality breaches. Almost all employees want to support their organization, and would not intentionally breach confidentiality. Your social engagement policy should reference your existing confidentiality policy and remind employees that those rules apply to social media, too. The confidentiality policy should make it clear how employees can determine if information is confidential.

Employees are one of your greatest assets – not just because they operate your company, but also because they are often your biggest advocates, supporters and defenders. Your employee social media policy should set them up for success. It should be designed to provide guardrails so they never have a “gotcha” moment, and so they are empowered to make their own decisions.