Social media has entered the workplace. Blogs, Facebook and Twitter have all
hit the mainstream, becoming integral components to marketing campaigns and PR
strategy. Suddenly faced with an onslaught of new communication tools, companies
small and large are left wondering how best to manage the changing communication
habits of their employees, while still protecting corporate interests.
In an attempt to save proprietary information, these policies run from the
enlightened to the restrictive. The more liberal policies rely on an honor
system. Others are tracked by management. The very strict policies, often
enforced through technological controls and web monitoring, can even hinder
employee job performance.
“Our web monitoring is set-up to block MySpace, Facebook and Twitter,” said a
PR pro from one of the world’s largest premium hotel chains. “Those are all
tools I would like to use to maintain relationships with reporters.” When
blocked, the page gives an e-mail address to contact, should there be a
legitimate business need to access any of these sites. Even though he has sent
several requests outlining what he plans to do, he has yet to receive a
His company’s actions aren’t unique. In fact the practice is so widespread,
top PR blogger Shel Holtz has set up a site, StopBlocking.org, as a resource for
those looking to find alternatives to blocking, and also to support those affected by blanket actions. He also tries to debunk the myth that social media
leads to the loss of proprietary information.
Because social media tools like blogging and Twitter make it easy for
employees to tell the world about their job and what they are doing, many
companies are worried that employees will unwittingly share information not
ready for outside eyes. This fear is especially relevant to
publicly-traded companies who are held to the strict standards laid out by the
Joel Postman, principle at Socialized, helps large companies like
HP and Sun create social media initiatives. Joel thinks effective social media
policies can help alleviate fears about leaked information.
“A good social media policy will create a better informed
group of social media users at the company, who will better represent the
company and will not subject it to undue risk from things like inappropriate
disclosure of financial information and proprietary company information, or
unfair business or competitive practices,” Joel said in an email interview.
“It is an extension of the agency’s standards of business
conduct and reminds people that they represent the agency in everything they do,
and should always act in good faith on behalf of the agency and its clients.
Employees are entitled to have a private life, and private use of social media,
but when they are talking about anything that might relate to the agency’s
business, or when it is clear they are affiliated with the agency, this should
be considered when blogging, posting comments, using social networks, etc.”
But companies should not make their policies too restrictive.
“An overly burdensome social media policy will limit participation in social
media programs, discourage new participants, slow the communications process,
and add cost (for things like reviews and rewrites),” Joel warns. “Ultimately,
the wrong social media policy could so limit the effectiveness of the company’s
social media programs as to make them not worth doing.”
How should companies go about building an effective internal
social media policy? Joel offers these three tips:
- Develop a comprehensive policy that extends to all employees
and all use of social media and social networks whenever there is potential for
employees to be seen as company representatives.
- Engage with all appropriate departments within the company,
such as legal, finance and marketing, when developing the policy, but do not
allow their influence to result in an overly restrictive policy.
- Be emphatic about the need for social media users to behave
ethically, legally, and in the best interests of the company, its customers,
employees, shareholders, and business partners.
Just as they once did with email,
companies will also need to train their employees on social media etiquette.
Two companies, Dell Computing and Sun Microsystems, have good examples of
policies that strike a right balance. Sun’s set of guidelines
include “Be interesting, but be honest” and “Think about the consequences.” Dell’s
online communications policy is based on standards set by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. It highlights transparency and
Richard Binhammer (aka RichardatDELL on Twitter), Senior
Manager, Strategic Corporate Communications, Social Media and Corporate
Reputation Management at Dell, adds that good social media strategy “not only
humanizes the company, but helps establish a more meaningful relationship
between company and customer.”
Ultimately, good policies rely on trust. “Employees should be treated with
trust,” says Shel. “Trust builds commitment, which leads to engagement.”
Christopher Lynn loves video and social media strategy. With clients
from the social networking, mobile, online advertising and consumer
tech industries, Chris works at SHIFT Communications‘ San Francisco office, and blogs at SocialTNT.