Social Media Tip of the Week: Creating the Social Media Policy

One of the most popular things companies are doing is running around worrying and fretting over whether or not to create a Corporate Social Media Policy.  You hear stories, all the time, about companies that monitor what their employees are saying about their own company and even initiating disciplinary action against employees that say things the company finds offensive.  Some companies have also launched lawsuits against bloggers and people who Tweet about the corporation.

More importantly, companies are trying to write out policies that govern what employees can and cannot do, in regards to the company itself, on social media.  They don’t want all of their employees out there responding in a negative way to anything a blogger or Tweeter might have posted about the corporation.  At the same time, companies don’t want employees saying negative things, either.

As a result, and it was inevitable, lawyers got involved.  Once they got involved, that meant companies were soon releasing long, complicated and confusing legal-ese-infused essays outlining the company social media policy.  Has this done anything to make things clear to employees?  Perhaps in some cases, but overall it has done little to help guide employees or make things any clearer.

Almost from the time social media became a fact of modern life, companies have been trying to come up with policies to regulate employee behavior when using it.  The results have been, at best, mixed, at worst, downright confusing and more damaging than not having a policy at all.

There is one company, however, that has done an interesting thing with their policy.  That would be the car-rating and reviewing company known as Edmunds.com.  Here is a link to an article from TLNT.com that analyzes that policy, as the analysis here is as interesting as the policy itself:  http://www.tlnt.com/2011/05/11/four-ways-to-do-a-social-media-policy-thats-simple-smart-and-right/#more-23195

One of the most important things that the author of the article analyzing the Edmunds policy points out is that the Edmunds policy is simple.  Employees can read it and understand it.  Second, it does not come across as threatening.  Threats never really work the way companies think they work.  Employees working in an atmosphere of fear are never quite as efficient or productive as those who believe they are treated as equals and have a voice in how the company is run.

The important thing is that you do have to have some kind of policy.  And that policy could be as simple as: employees should not use company time to work on social media.  At this point in your companies’ life on the world of social media, that may be the best way to manage it.  However, if you are achieving success in the world of social media, it may be time to put together an official stance on what companies can and cannot do.

The world of social media, however, is different than anyplace else.  It isn’t the same thing as regulating company theft or when people can and cannot take their coffee breaks.  People in the world of social media have experienced a kind of empowerment and freedom that has been almost unprecedented in the history of the world.  Trying to clamp down on that will only lead to more resentment and employees spending their time trying to sneak around the dos and don’ts you’ve laid out.

Instead, consider giving them tools to utilize social media better.  Give them guidelines rather than fear-inducing rules about “termination” and “disciplinary action.”  Employees will appreciate it.

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