Social Media Policy Dilemma
Yesterday morning I had the pleasure to give a talk about Social Media to a great group of folks in the non-profit sector. There was lively discussion throughout, especially when it came to social media policies. There are many questions around where to draw the lines when it comes to a social media policy, and what boundaries are too liberal or restrictive. The idea of using the standard blog disclaimers that “these are my personal ideas and do not represent those of the company I work for” wasn’t really going to do it for some of these organizations, especially those who were dealing with younger generations. You know, those younger generations are OUR kids who are using social media daily for their personal use. They haven’t thought alot about the future professional implications of posting naughty party pictures. I know my teen prefers not to think that far ahead!
Today I came across this article by Ann Handley @MarketingProfs: Three Simple Words That Should Be the Cornerstone of Any Corporate Social Media Policy and it had me thinking about my conversations yesterday.
I won’t give away the whole article, but the first word Ann names is Integrity. That’s a huge part of social media and the idea of transparency. In social networks, it’s all about being real, not about being fake or “corporate”. But if companies start really pushing hard on moderating behaviors in social networks, then how is that going to work? I can’t see it going well, no matter how I long I think about it. We’re really talking about trusting employees to do the right thing.
I feel like we need to go back to basics and common sense. The rules have always been that if you do something stupid when you are gainfully employed, you’ll pay for it. Period. Should be no surprises there, whether its on the Internet or not.
And while its true that things documented on the Internet never really go away, it doesn’t mean that a company can squash an employee’s personal Twitter or Facebook account. That’s the scary factor for many companies. With all the new profiles being created every day, virtually every employee is a voice and reflection of the company that employs them in some way.
But can you teach Integrity? Trust? Sure, you can include those words in a policy. But will that ensure that a person will exemplify those traits? No, it won’t. Values in a business start at the very top and cascade down. I always said when raising my kids that it’s Monkey See Monkey Do, not Monkey Say Monkey Do…
So it seems to me that we have a dilemma on our hands. Companies want assurance that their employees will do the right thing when participating in social networks. But if a social media policy is too restrictive, you’ll get a watered down version of who that company is, and that will end up reflecting poorly on the company. Go figure.
Companies who are most successful in managing this balance are those who are led by the core values of that organization. When values like integrity and trust are demonstrated in the culture, it tends to naturally weed out those people who don’t really fit in, and it attracts those employees who do match those values. It becomes self-regulating. Sure there will be hiccups now and then, but they will be small blips on the screen vs. a complete meltdown. IBM has seemed to figure this out, with hundreds of employees blogging and twittering.
Companies need to learn how to swim with the fishes here in social networking. It’s a self-regulating, self-correcting world. We are all pioneers (as Gary Mintchell said during the ISA M&S social media panel) and it’s true, we are. There are some things we just don’t know yet, and that’s part of the adventure. So, while it may be helpful to set guidelines in a social media policy, we also need to protect the spirit in which social media is intended so it can flourish in a beneficial way.
Is your company implementing a social media policy? If yes, is it realistic?
Other reference links on social media policies: