November 2011

What’s Your Social Media Policy? — If Your Facility Gets Involved, Establish Ground Rules
By Joe Dysart
Radiology Today
Vol. 12 No. 11 P. 12

Radiology marketers flocking to Facebook and Twitter without even a hint of a social media policy are discovering a disturbing truth: It takes only a few ill-placed tweets and posts to get your feathers plucked.

Insurance goliath Aflac learned this lesson the hard way earlier this year when the voice of its wildly famous mascot duck—Gilbert Gottfried —tweeted what were considered off-color jokes about Japan’s recent earthquake. In just a few hours, Gottfried’s jokes arguably tarnished a popular, recognizable corporate character and offended a significant segment of the nation of Japan, where Aflac happens to do 75% of its business.

“Gilbert’s recent comments about the crisis in Japan were lacking in humor and certainly do not represent the thoughts and feelings of anyone at Aflac,” says Michael Zuna, a senior vice president at the company.

Aflac fired Gottfried on the spot and jump-started a contest to find a new voice for its fowl. But the damage was done. For many Japanese, thoughts of the Aflac duck will always turn to hunting season.

The lesson in this story for imaging organizations is that with a little forethought and a social media policy, your radiology business need not suffer the same fate.

“We have a working policy in place, and it’s revised as needed as new issues arise,” says Evonne Johnson, a writer in marketing and member communications at RSNA. “We’ve limited the number of people who have administrative rights to our pages—a social media task force—and we bring any uncertain issues to the task force to address them as a group.”

“We have nothing formal, but the idea is to never say anything you would not be proud to hear about again in a courtroom,” adds Mark D. Herbst, MD, PhD, president of St. Petersburg Independent Diagnostic Radiology in Florida.

Whether you need to create a social media policy or want to review an existing one, here are some key elements to include, based on insights from experts in the medium:

Spare the sledgehammer. While it’s critical to have a social media policy, write it so it reads like a friendly guide rather than a stern warning. Essentially, don’t “write a huge document that strangles any hint of spontaneity from your team,” says Janet Fouts, who is known as the “Social Media Coach.” “Quite the opposite. A corporate policy lets [employees] know what they need to know to communicate the company message effectively and what they should and should not do.”

Let it go. Once you agree to play in the social media space, realize you’re simultaneously agreeing to lose at least some control over your company’s image. Given all the interactivity in the space and the tens of thousands of cacophonous voices, it’s inevitable. Accept the ground rules, social media experts say, and instead focus on the medium’s benefits.

Lose the filter. If you plan to run every post for Twitter or Facebook past your attorneys first, save yourself the trouble and don’t do social media at all.

“Social media doesn’t work like this,” Fouts says. “If your statements appear to be canned or professionally produced, it’s bound to fall flat. Let the team know the facts when a new product comes out or you reach a noteworthy milestone. Then let them put it into their own words.”

Build a better wheel. Scores of top companies and corporations have already agonized over creating their social media policies. Get a gander at more than 160 of those policies at

Define what you consider social media. Like many things, social media is in the eye of the beholder. Some think of it as just Facebook and Twitter. Others include what’s posted on blogs, internal wikis, and even a company’s customer service Q & A database.

“You need to spell that out so that everyone is operating under the same definition,” says Lisa Barone, cofounder of Outspoken Media. “Once that’s squared away, provide an explanation of what social media means to your company. Why are you investing resources in participating? What do you hope to get out of it and how are these tools helping you? That company mantra or philosophy will be invaluable in quickly leading employees out of murky water.”

Dress for success. Before your first tweet, decide whether staff should post using only online personas that clearly identify themselves with the firm—such as @TINAwidgetcompany—or whether they may use their personal accounts as well. The danger of being too free and easy: A fired or disgruntled employee can do great damage to a firm using an online persona not owned by the company but used in the past to represent the company.

Clearly separate personal and corporate views. In the casual world of social media, staff can be tempted to mix personal views with official company views. Guard against this, experts say. You don’t want to turn on the morning news to find that a key employee has dismissed the moon landing as just another conspiracy hoax—under your company’s logo.

Schedule a date for HR and legal. While social media offers human resources (HR) a new treasure trove for background checks, there are many social media activities HR should simply avoid, including reading opinions about politics and religion on Facebook and the like, when making hiring decisions. Here, guidance from attorneys really could save your firm untold headaches.

Don’t let employees forget about that other job. If Facebook and Twitter are considered work, some employees may conclude that staying glued to both all day is perfectly reasonable, so instruct them otherwise.

“As great of a tool as social media is, it can also become a colossal time waster,” Barone says. “Let it be known that the company will be monitoring employee social media use—and actually do monitor it—and that abuse will be handled appropriately.”

Post signs for “No Man’s Land.” Even the best-intentioned staffer can destroy a company with a single post that should have remained confidential. Be proactive and make sure “that they know what they can say, what they can’t, and what you’d absolutely hang them from their toes for if they ever muttered,” Barone says.

Don’t feed the trolls. Inevitably, staffers are going to come across that odd character who will do everything within his or her power to provoke a flame war—a seemingly unending game of tit-for-tat that will leave your firm looking amateurish, at best. Their purpose isn’t to make a point, only to stir up controversy. Don’t feed these so-called Internet trolls. Employees need to know “where the line is and how exactly, they should react when someone they’ve never met, and whom they were only trying to help, turns around to call them a huge moron,” Barone says.

“Our overarching rule about direct engagement is ‘when in doubt, don’t engage,’” adds Johnson. “This is particularly pertinent in light of potential negative comments. But we’ve very, very rarely had any problems in this area. Our community is a community of professionals who hold RSNA in very high regard.”

Offer a clue. Once you’ve established a social media policy, hold a meeting to go over the major points, if necessary. You should also announce the new policy via company wide email, include it in any employee manuals, and tuck a copy of the guide in each employee’s HR folder.

“When we launched our Facebook page and Twitter account, we e-mailed out a set of guidelines for employees to follow,” says Madeline Wear, a media and practice relations specialist at Charlotte Radiology in North Carolina.

— Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.