When a multinational brand like Coca-Cola starts to talk about social media then most other brands tend to listen and from the social media policy that Coca-Cola has published to keep all of its worldwide employees in check the business has clearly embraced this new communications tool.
Coke’s policy kicks off: “We recognize the vital importance of participating in these online conversations and are committed to ensuring that we participate in online social media the right way. These Online Social Media Principles have been developed to help empower our associates to participate in this new frontier of marketing and communications, represent our Company, and share the optimistic and positive spirits of our brands.”
The Online Social Media Principles, as the Coca-Cola Company refers to its policy as, are intended to keep employees on message as they interact and communicate through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, etc and it actively encourages use of these platforms. However, it does set out its guidelines, which will be of some interest to other brands wrestling with how to handle social media.
Coca-Cola’s Five Core Values in the Online Social Media Community:
Adhere to the Code of Business Conduct and other applicable policies. All Company associates, from the chairman to every intern, are subject to the Company’s Code of Business Conduct in every public setting. You are responsible for your actions. Anything you post that can potentially tarnish the company’s image will ultimately be your responsibility. We do encourage you to participate in the online social media space, but urge you to do so properly, exercising sound judgment and common sense. Be a “scout” for compliments and criticism. Even if you are not an official online spokesperson for the company, you are one of our most vital assets for monitoring the social media landscape. If you come across positive or negative remarks about the Company or its brands online that you believe are important, consider sharing them by forwarding them to the internal email address that you have been provided. Let the subject matter experts respond to negative posts. You may come across negative or disparaging posts about the company or its brands, or see third parties trying to spark negative conversations. Unless you are a certified online spokesperson, avoid the temptation to react yourself. Pass the post(s) along to our official in-market spokespersons who are trained to address such comments, at the internal email address that you have been provided. Be conscious when mixing your business and personal lives. Online, your personal and business personas are likely to intersect. The company respects the free speech rights of all of its associates, but you must remember that customers, colleagues and supervisors often have access to the online content you post. Remember NEVER to disclose non-public information of the company (including confidential information), and be aware that taking public positions online that are counter to the company’s interests might cause conflict.
BOUNDARIES OF PERSONAL BEHAVIOUR IN ONLINE SOCIAL MEDIA
The Policy then goes on to set boundaries for the personal behaviour of Coca-Cola associates in online social media when talking “on behalf of” Coca-Cola as opposed to talking “about” Coca-Cola. These boundaries are established in a set of five principles, as follows:
Be Certified in the Social Media Certification Program. Follow our Code of Business Conduct and all other Company policies. Our Code of Business Conduct provides the foundation for these Online Social Media Principles: “As a representative of [the Company], you must act with honesty and integrity in all matters.” Be mindful that you are representing the Company. As a company representative, it is important that your posts convey the same positive, optimistic spirit that the company instills in all of its communications. Be respectful of all individuals, races, religions and cultures; how you conduct yourself in the online social media space not only reflects on you – it is a direct reflection on the company. Fully disclose your affiliation with the Company. The Company requires all associates who are communicating on behalf of the Company to always disclose their name and their affiliation. It is never acceptable to use aliases or otherwise deceive people. State your relationship with the Company from the outset, e.g., “Hi, I’m John and I work for The Coca-Cola Company....” This disclosure is equally important for any agency/vendor/partner/third party who is representing the Company online. They must disclose that they work “with The Coca-Cola Company.” Keep records. It is critical that we keep records of our interactions in the online social media space and monitor the activities of those with whom we engage. Remember that online Company statements can be held to the same legal standards as traditional media communications. When in doubt, do not post. Associates are personally responsible for their words and actions, wherever they are. As online spokespeople, you must ensure that your posts are completely accurate and not misleading, and that they do not reveal non-public information of the Company. Exercise sound judgment and common sense, and if there is any doubt, DO NOT POST IT. Give credit where credit is due and don’t violate others’ rights. DO NOT claim authorship of something that is not yours. If you are using another party’s content, make certain that they are credited for it in your post and that they approve of you utilizing their content. Do not use the copyrights, trademarks, publicity rights, or other rights of others without the necessary permissions of the rightsholder(s). Be responsible to your work. The company understands that associates engage in online social media activities at work for legitimate purposes and that these activities may be helpful for company affairs. However, the Company encourages all associates to exercise sound judgment and common sense to prevent online social media sites from becoming a distraction at work. Remember that your local posts can have global significance. The way that you answer an online question might be accurate in some parts of the world, but inaccurate (or even illegal) in others. Keep that “world view” in mind. Know that the Internet is permanent. Once information is published online, it is essentially part of a permanent record, even if you “remove/delete” it later or attempt to make it anonymous. If your complete thought, along with its context, cannot be squeezed into a character-restricted space (such as Twitter), provide a link to an online space where the message can be expressed completely and accurately.
GUIDELINES FOR OFFICIAL ONLINE SOCIAL MEDIA SPOKESPEOPLE
The next area of the policy sets out the company’s expectations for its own official online spokespeople, who are given the responsibility to manage the company’s reputation online and to selectively engage and participate in the thousands of online conversations that mention the company everyday.
The following 10 principles guide how Coke’s Certified Online Spokespeople should represent the company in an online, official capacity when they are speaking “on behalf of the Company”: