We've written earlier about the unintended consequences of social media posts and how there is no delete button for the Internet. But more important than removing posts is in understanding what your enterprise needs to do to ensure that your employees are operating with the right guidance.If not, now is the time to craft one, or at least start thinking about how to go about the process.
As more Gen-Y'ers enter the workforce and as more of us use social media to communicate, we need to understand what kinds of business information is shared with the outside world, and what is and what isn't appropriate in the workplace.
Certainly, this landscape is quickly changing. Last year, as we reported, American Medical Response fired an employee after she had posted critical comments about her supervisor on her Facebook page. In February, the National Labor Relations Board settled this complaint. The NLRB stated that the company's social media policy was overly restrictive and that the employee's post was protected under labor laws that allow employees to discuss their working conditions with co-workers and others.
A great place to start is Paul Gillin and Eric Schwartzman's book entitled, Social Marketing to the Business Customer. It dissects a sample social policy and goes into lots of detail why you want particular language and how to assemble one from scratch. And it also has plenty of tips on how to make use of social media for business purposes.
Many companies post their social media policies on their corporate Web sites. A compilation of more than 170 of them can be found here. Chris Boudreaux, a social media consultant who put this list together, says that most of the policies he has reviewed carry 90% of the same language. "What is important are the differences that are unique to your particular organization and circumstances, and should be based on your business outcomes and how you conduct your business. Just don't copy everyone else's policy and put it in your database of procedures."
Setting up your social media policy isn't straightforward, because things that you might have prohibited in the past might no longer be relevant or even useful to do. For example, you might have an existing email policy that prohibits disclosing private employee information. But revealing one's Twitter ID could be considered such information and yet is important to let customers and others outside the company know about. So things you might reconsider in your policy include: whether or not to allow for comments on your corporate blog, whether employees are allowed to list their Facebook and Twitter accounts in their email signatures, and what constitutes private or public corporate information disclosure in the social media context.
You should consider some of the current best practices in social media, such as:
- Foster a culture of openness and listening. Social media can help improve conversations between staff and management, between customers and the company, and between partners too. But your policy needs to match your level of openness, too. "The first step in crafting any policy is understanding why companies are the level of openness that they are, and how it works for their particular business," says Boudreaux. "Then you can determine what policy makes sense for their own particular realities."
- Make better communicators of your staff. Using social media can help make your staff better communicators by offering a variety of online outlets. A number of computer vendors such as Socialware's Compass have products that can help firms track conversations and ensure compliance of labor rules and regulations. This doesn't mean that you should communicate everything, however. Pay close attention to what other companies are doing with social media, and try to stay current with new developments.
- Train people how to blog, Tweet and post. Any social media policy needs to have a training component so that employees can learn how to use the tools to their best advantage. One way is what the Justice Department of Victoria, Australia did: they created a short video that reviews their social media policy in a very engaging way, providing lots of specific examples of what to do and what not to do. (http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/socialmedia)"Many companies have policies that go into lots of details but lack these kinds of examples," says Boudreaux. He also feels managers need to be singled out for special training, just like many companies do for sexual harassment and other workforce policies.
- Disclose everything upfront. Transparency is a virtue and very important in the social media world. Many companies have gotten into trouble by not disclosing problems or hiding their identities. But it is hard to define, according to Boudreaux: "it is probably better to try to be more relevant and consistent. Being more transparent doesn't mean that I have to hand over all my business practices to everyone."
- Above all, be accurate. If you find a mistake in one of your posts, fix it and fix it quickly.