7 Social Media Policy Tips

Online communications channels have become intricately interwoven into our social fabric. The overwhelming majority of young people use Facebook regularly and adoption among older audiences continues to rise.

by Intersection Consulting http://www.flickr.com/photos/intersectionconsulting/

by Intersection Consulting

Just as we use the telephone and e-mail to communicate with our colleagues, friends and family, people of all ages are increasingly using social media to communicate as well. that means most of your company’s employees are using social media throughout the course of the day to contact friends and associates, make plans and organizes activities.

Since those interactions are often discoverable after-the-fact, organizations are developing social media policies to provide employees with clear-cut guidelines of what is and is not permissible use.

Prior to social media, issues of public disclosure were often relegated to a paragraph in an organizations code of conduct policy that was written to restrict unofficial spokespersons from releasing official company statements through conventional channels like the mainstream media or press releases.

But today, if I were to happen on to a discussion between an employee of a company and someone else about anything related to the category in which the Company competes, that discussion would probably impact my perception of that organization. And it would probably, in many cases, have more of an impact than would a company’s marketing copy or official company line.

In this blog post, inspired by a discussion with Chris Boudreaux and Paul Gillin about developing corporate social media policies, I’ll suggest 7 aspects of policy development you probably haven’t considered:

1.  Sometimes You Can’t Stop BlockingShel Holtz maintains a website called “Stop Blocking” to compel organizations to loosen access to social media sites from within corporate networks.   But in industries like financial services and insurance,  it may be that the reason the company is on lockdown is because the current social media tools simply lach the necessary audit trail to The comply with government regulations.   companies may be required by regulators to store communications for number of years and unless the company’s CRM solution accommodates social media this may just not be possible.

2.  A Winning Business Case is Key — I recently spoke with Brian Solis about how he builds the business case for social media initiatives inside companies which you can listen to as a podcast.   Chris Boudreaux says organizations can and do turn on and off access to social media sites quickly, so don’t assume that because a company is blocking access to social media sites that it’s in some way going to take them longer to come up to speed.  You can listen to my discussion with Brian here.

3. Organizational Complexity is More Important than Size — The more business units there are, and the greater variety of subcultures that exist,  the longer it takes to develop and initiate a corporate social media policy. So if you find competing agendas among the various stakeholders who will be involved in developing and approving a corporate social media policy, it’s probably going to take you longer to accomplish it.

4. Strong Executive Leadership Eases the Way — It is leadership’s responsibility to think ahead of its employees and establish policy to protect them and the organization. Those protections are even more important if the employee is using social media as part of their primary job function. “The best policies are born out of a desire to utilize social media in a way that advances the corporate objectives, and to both protect the employees as well as the company. And that takes an understanding of the business which is is usually strongest among the folks who are running the business,” says Chris Boudreaux.

5. Legalese Can Kill a Social Media Policy — Like American linguist William Lutz, who I spoke with in this podcast about the dangers of doublespeak, Chris Boudreaux agrees there’s not much sense in a policy if the people it’s designed to guide can’t understand.  Policies should be written so that they can be understood without the aid of legal counsel.   and since many companies make fair social media policies public it may also be a good idea for those charged with writing the policy to collaborate with the marketing or public relations departments to ensure its accurately reflects the characteristics of the brand.

6. Policy Can Also Shape Opinion — Fairness can also be a smart objective of the social media policy. Many organizations make their social media policy available on the corporate website Where it appears as a testament of the organizations trust and respect for its employees. Harsh language and overly strict guidelines may reflect poorly on the organization and by association, your product brand or service.

7. Be Realistic About the Impact of Your Policy on the Organization —  In most cases, it’s probably unrealistic to think you’re going to change a company’s management style or corporate personality with a social media policy draft.  Social media policy needs to support the existing leadership style of the organization. For example, if the organization is inclusive and collaborative in its management style, that will lead to one type of social media policy. On the other hand, if you’re in station is commanding control, like say Apple Computer, that will lead to a different type of social media policy. It may be naive to think you can change an organization’s leadership or management style through social media policy.

It is the responsibility of those charged with developing a social media policy to create one that supports the company’s objectives in a way that is compatible with their existing business.  “You or I may not like a lot of the answers to a lot of leaders arrive at. But we have a choice to not work for those people,” says Chris Boudreaux.

As I mentioned earlier if you’d like to hear the podcast with Chris Boudreaux and Paul Gillin on corporate social media policy development, you can find it here.

If you’d like an opportunity to learn more about how to approach social media policy development for your organization you might also consider joining me at my upcoming Social Media Boot Camp in Los Angeles August 18 — 19, 2010 or my Social Media Master Class in Los Angeles August 20 — 2010, where I cover policy development and social media strategy in a workshop environment.