Online communication is now done largely through social media networks, as most of us know. What few of us think about, however, is how ethics affect online communication and sharing, and that this needs to be defined. Luckily, professionals like Matthew Knouff are looking into this issues.

Changes Caused by Social Media

Social media has changed the way we interact. Specifically:

  • We now not only consume information, we produce it as well.
  • News can be shared before journalists are aware of it.
  • Readers have to determine whether information is accurate or not.
  • There is less value to face-to-face communication, and this has changed the way messages are interpreted and received.
  • People can choose what they want to read and what they want to ignore.

Why Social Media and Ethics Have to Go Hand in Hand

Thanks to social media, people can share anything they want online, as can businesses. Businesses have to create a positive reputation, so they need policies to make sure their employees only share the right things. They must be able to identify their audience as well. This is why ethical policies must be put in place. According to Matt Knouff, this means:

  • Only sharing information that has a positive effect on brand perception. It must be credible as well, to build more trust.
  • Taking into consideration other people’s opinions and perceptions, and listening to those. Responses must be fair as well.
  • Being aware of what is shared by and about your business, and who can see it. This is particularly important if the information is negative or critical, at which point it must firstly be determined whether it is true or not.
  • Creating a brand identity that is positive and truthful, benefiting both the brand and the customers.

Elements of a Social Media Policy

How an employee conducts themselves online affects the business as a whole. Hence, a social media policy should highlight behavioral expectations. An identity must be created around what is expected of the organization, online and offline. Some of the key elements of a social media policy include:

  • What the purpose of social media is for the organization.
  • How responsible sharing should be evidenced.
  • Which business information should be provided to prove authenticity and build on credibility.
  • Who the audience is that is being communicated with.
  • Who gets credit for the different social media actions within the business.
  • How confidentiality can be protected.
  • How value is created by sharing on social media.
  • How to balance social media with other elements of work.

Businesses must embrace social media, but they should not be taken over by it. Online communication, printed communication, and spoken communication are all very different and they all have their place as well. A business must understand the key aspects of social media (who can see a message, who shares messages, what messages are shared). There also has to be accountability in terms of both positive and negative online behaviors, and businesses must understand why they use the online world.