This week I’ve been diving deep into social media policy for corporations. It’s a complex balance between liberty and restriction. Put too tight a chokehold on social media and it can’t work, too loose and you expose the corporation to undue risk. It seems a conundrum.
Earlier this year, Mashable.com reported a low incidence of policy adoption by the corporate set, citing a study by Manpower employer services: “A report by Manpower employer services found that only 29 per cent of companies in the Americas have a ‘formal policy regarding employee use of social networking sites.’ The number is lower in other regions — 25 per cent in Asia-Pacific and 11 per cent EMEA. The worldwide number is 20 per cent.”
So four out of five companies do not have a social media policy in spite of the fact their employees (read: users) are surging ahead and using social tools regardless. This is a gap that must be filled, for everyone’s peace of mind, employees included.
Generally speaking I prefer policies that put the onus of responsibility on the user. Something akin to IBM’s infamous “Don’t do anything stupid” policy that they used as a placeholder while their real policy was being developed.
The real policy that did eventually come out at IBM is artful, balancing risk and reward, responsibility and freedom. Just Google “IBM Social Computing Guidelines” and you’ll find gems like this in the resulting document:
“Be who you are. Some bloggers work anonymously, using pseudonyms or false screen names. IBM discourages that in blogs, wikis or other forms of online participation that relate to IBM, our business or issues with which the company is engaged. We believe in transparency and honesty. If you are blogging about your work for IBM, we encourage you to use your real name, be clear who you are, and identify that you work for IBM. Nothing gains you more notice in the online social media environment than honesty—or dishonesty.”
There are plenty of sample policies to draw from besides the IBM one. You can see over 100 examples at socialmediagovernance.com. Dave Fleet, a social media guru at Thornley-Fallis, a Toronto/Ottawa agency, published a fantastic “Social Media Policies” e-book on his site at davefleet.com – free to download, in the true, generous spirit of social media.
More and more my memory is like a sieve, so I create acronyms as mnemonics to recall important points. My social media policy mnemonic is “PAST RICE”:
- People – who gets to use social media in an official capacity and why?
- Access – who gets to go through the firewall, why and what are the implications?
- Secrets – no telling, even inadvertently – be on guard
- Tone – be ambassadorial, don’t pick fights, don’t engage with screamers, never slag the competition
- Real job – results matter, so as long as you generate results, use social media all you want
- Identity – be transparent, be authentic, never pose as other than who you are
- Consequences – what happens to transgressors, the policy needs leniency with some teeth
- Existing policy – this may be a small addendum to an existing acceptable use policy or other HR/IT policies already in force
The IBM policy is clean, simple, straightforward, and readily understandable by employees. If you’re really pressed for time and want to short-cut your way to policy, head on over to socialmedia.policytool.net where you can fill in the blanks and get a policy that’s thought provoking if marred by a few errors in spelling and grammar. McPolicy, one might say, instant gratification with a touch of excess fat.
Last fall I witnessed what a lack of policy can engender. A worker, female, was reportedly being harassed in her place of work and on Facebook by co-workers, so much so she quit. The company responded by terminating the alleged harassers. The employees’ union contested the firings, arguing these were private communications on Facebook. I demonstrated in my testimony how these communications were anything but private. The case was settled in arbitration, as I understand it, but the point is, it wouldn’t have been a case at all had there been a corporate policy.
As usual, send me your feedback on Twitter at @dblacombe or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doug Lacombe is president of communicatto.com, a social media marketing agency.