Corporate Social Media Policy Guidelines

When does your company need a social technology policy? Your company needs a social technology policy as soon as it makes the decision to engage in social technology, regardless of whether you employ two people or 2000 people. This protects both the company and its employees, and thus is to everyone's advantage. Social technology presences are not only part of your company's overall public relations, they are also part of your company's public records, and they need to be treated as such.

Social technology policy will help to define the purpose(s) of the company's social presences and will establish recognizable boundaries to keep business on track and employees out of legal difficulties. Every company that uses computers from the smallest to the largest should have a written policy on computer and Internet use. If you have employees who are already engaged in social networking on their own, this can also be an excellent professional training opportunity for you all.

Does Your Company have a Social Media Policy ? Mashable, one the leading social media sites, had an excellent article posted in 2009 by Sharlyn Lauby, president of Internal Talent Management, titled "10 Must-Haves for Your Social Media Policy." Her article can be read in its entirety at http://mashable.com/2009/06/02/social-media-policy-musts/ (available as of June 1, 2010) and is summarized here with our own comments.

1. Introduce the purpose of social media - Many employees have social networking profiles in at least one place for their own reasons. This is a good place to establish the boundaries of acceptable use for your company - that it is a place for professional networking.
2. Be responsible for what you write - Consider carefully if what you are writing on a company's social media site is the same as what you would say on their behalf on national televised news. Assume the Boss (be it your supervisor or your customer base) is watching everything you write, because chances are very good that's exactly what is happening.

3. Be authentic - Allow your employees to add associates or friends to your network, to see what other people in your industry are doing or saying, and engage in discussion. Don't be afraid to leave the chat box open on Facebook or to check incoming messages on LinkedIn. Update your followers when there are newsworthy changes or even just post tips.

4. Consider your audience - Clients may come and go, but what you post online stays forever. Be mindful that you might be writing for people who haven't even started following you - yet.

5. Exercise good judgment - The good news here is that you probably have already covered most of this in your workplace policies or in labor law. Simply put: If it's taboo in the workplace, it's taboo in the workplace's social media.

6. Understand the concept of community - Listen, respond and engage.

7. Respect copyrights and fair use - The ease of which Copy & Paste may be engaged in no way diminishes the stringency of the copyright laws and the importance of crediting sources. If you see something interesting and informative, by all means pass it on, but do unto others.

8. Remember to protect confidential and proprietary info - According to Sharlyn Lauby "Employees who share confidential or proprietary information do so at the risk of losing their job and possibly even ending up a defendant in a civil lawsuit."

Don't share the secret recipe for Krabby Patties online, unless you want to have your personal life in turn dragged through the courts and media.

9. Bring value - Let your employees be your biggest promoters. Let them post interesting, creative comments on social sites. Social media sites aren't just hosting sites for profiles anymore: People use them as search engines.

10. Productivity matters - Lauby stresses the importance of striking a balance between social networking and other job duties. It's a nice problem to have an employee so engaged in a particular task in their job that they have a difficult time tearing away from it. However, it's still a problem.

A business that is all promotion and no actual service or product is a business that is selling New Clothes to Emperors. As Aristotle advised, moderation in all things.

Companies must make sure that they at least think carefully about how they are regulating (or not regulating) the use of social networking tools. Companies should incorporate Web 2.0 technologies into their existing information and document management policies. A team approach to policy formation, including representatives of all affected constituencies (legal, records, risk management, IT, business units and others) is essential.

Start with some form of survey or assessment of current social networking practices within the organization and the needs of the organization going forward.


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