Stop, Look, & Listen…Before You Write That Social Media Policy

If you have no idea what Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn is, how
can you expect to write a social media policy that will properly embrace
…or limit its use?  Before you can write a social media policy, stop,
look, and listen – take a tour around the social “mediasphere.” What
you don’t know about social media can hurt you. 

To write a good policy that protects the company but doesn’t suffocate,
stakeholders need to spend time exploring each site. Management, IT,
and Human Resources (HR) must invest time to understand that social
media is much more than just Facebook. 

Social media is not just a bunch of  idle chatter and noise.  Social
media is a new mode of communication, just as the telephone was just 100
years ago. The technology includes applications and software such as
blogging, video, podcasts, wikis, and even review sites such as Amazon
and Yelp. If a site allows a visitor to share their experience and leave
comments, it falls under the sweeping umbrella called social
media…and customers and job candidates are spending a lot of time
using social media to make buying and career decisions. 

Writing a policy that can be enforced without stifling productivity
and morale requires that you understand it, as well as the type of
culture that embraces it. For example, to the non-user, Facebook and
Linkedin appear quite similar.  Aside from getting invitations to friend
and connect from people you don’t know, both sites allow you to post
status updates, develop a network, and interact in groups.  But once you
begin to engage with your connections and peruse the site, you get a
very different feel for its capabilities and possibilities.  

Facebook to date is a great place for socializing.  However when
planned and executed correctly, it’s an even better place to build a
community of raving fans.  Linkedin, on the other hand, is a
professional networking site which allows business people to expand
their networks, to generate leads, to recruit candidates, and to engage
in professional development. Strategically both sites offer significant
possibilities but the choice isn’t as simple as either-or.  For some
companies, one site or the other might be the right choice. For others,
the right decision will be embracing both. 

Once you have toured each site, it is important to sit down with
decision makers and stakeholders to define what it is that you want the
policy to accomplish. Management , IT, and HR must put aside their
personal biases and agendas.  The question on the table should be “how
can we make social media work for us,” not “what can we do to crush
it.”  Stakeholders at the table might also include customers, vendors,
and suppliers.  Explore how you might be able to utilize employees and
other partners’ personal accounts in order to gain a larger
following…and set up the policy accordingly.  If you decide to
separate what happens at work from what happens on personal accounts,
your policy needs to express that too. But be careful – you might be
able to control what happens at work; but what happens off-the-click is a
different story. 

You also want to find how many and what kind of policies you want to
put into place. Internal employee policies only cover one aspect of good
social media guidelines that will protect an organization. To complete
the puzzle, there are 3 more pieces: (1) internal organization,(2)
external audience, and (3)safety, security, and regulations.  Ignoring
one piece without addressing the others will only lead to breaches in
your efforts to minimize the risks. Though it would be easier to have
one all-encompassing policy, it is much more helpful to isolate what is
acceptable for each network.   

Each of these social media aspects has its own set of pros and cons.
Ultimately what you decide to do – embrace it or limit it – must
consider the impact it might have on your business strategy and how it
might represent your organizational culture. 

Disclosure: The information provided in
these guidelines is not legal advice. I am NOT an attorney (although my
wife says I argue like one!) An employer should seek legal advice from
an experienced employment law attorney before finalizing its guidelines
to make sure the guidelines express the employer’s intent and don’t run
afoul of any employment laws.

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