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The Need for a Flexible Employee Social Media Policy

Is Your Social Media Policy Written in Stone?

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How strict are you when it comes to employee social media use? Have you taken the time to develop a social media policy? Guidelines for staff to follow? 

Deb Schultz, a partner with the Altimeter Group shared some advice on things to consider when crafting such guidelines in a recent interview with WebProNews. 

"One thing that’s really important to keep in mind is that this is all a very new exercise for large businesses or even medium-sized businesses," she tells us. "Companies traditionally deal very much in sort of ‘telling and selling’ and one-directional yelling – one to many. And really what the social web and social media is all about is an ongoing connection/dialogue/conversation. It’s a whole new way for companies to think about the role of the employee, their role in the marketplace, where they want to be, and so it’s very important for companies to think about what kind of connections do they want with their customers  - is it an ongoing one? Is it with all of their customers? Is it customer service-related? Is it product related?"

"Truthfully, at Altimeter, we don’t love to use the word ‘policy’ so much because it sounds very heavy and sort of legislative, and really it has to be about…" she adds. "Charlene [Li - founder of Altimeter Group] loves using the term sandbox covenants – I think about them as experiments, and it has to be fluid, so companies need to understand that the policy isn’t written in stone. It’s something that’s going to change over time."

The lines between personal and professional interactions are often blurred when it comes to social media. Even something as simple as a status update or a photo upload can be considered a representation of the brand, depending on the environment in which it is broadcast. For example, how public it is. 

"It has to be flexible," says Schultz. "It has to come from within the employees themselves and within the company and what works for the company, and it also has to understand that connecting and conversing with customers in a business context is very different than [in] a personal context in some regards because the motivations are different, but in other ways it’s really not. I mean the social web is about our human selves. It’s about being very real and transparent and open."

"It’s important for companies to realize also that since this world today – we’re all networked together – sort of weaving this global network of connections – understanding that…the relationship between company and employee and customer and employee is very porous," she adds. "So I might work for Altimeter and be a partner there, but I’m also Deb, and those walls are not as solid as they used to be, so that’s something that needs to go into it."

Part of being flexible is that there has to be room for growth and change. "The important thing is for them to realize that number one – it’s going to change," says Schultz. "Number two – it’s got to smart small. Number three is that it has to be very simple up front. It can have a lot of complexity behind it, but it has to be written in plain English. It’s got to be something that’s not just put on paper and thrown on the back of the website, but really discussed with employees, and allowed for a period of back and fourth dialogue around the issues, and most importantly – the best way to do a social media policy…is to use examples – case studies. For instance goes a long way."

Blogs Don't Get People Fired..."I always joke that companies are now in relationships with their customers, and relationships are ongoing, and every relationship is different," she says. "So examples, case studies – what does work – what we think is right – what we think isn’t right…doing this on your Facebook page/on your personal account vs. not. And the truth of the matter is, when I was at SixApart, we used to joke that blogs don’t get people fired. People get people fired. Let’s not blame it on the technology. Just blame it on a good set of standards, practices, and behavior."

If employees are the ones that the policy is constructed for, it makes sense that they should be very familiar with it and, and understand the implications that come with it. For that reason, perhaps they should be heavily involved in the creation of the policy, whether that come from feedback, or a more proactive approach. 

"The one I always love to bring up is IBM because they’re one of the earliest ones who actually asked their employees to write their social media policy for them," notes Schultz. "So it was a blank slate, and they said, ‘Ok guys, what do you want the policy to be?’ and they’re a really large company, so that’s really indicative. If IBM can have an internal process then anybody can." 

"I love the way they do it, and it really depends on the company," she continues. "Zappos is a really personal company, so they allow employees to really be themselves no matter what way, shape or form they are…regulated industries have a whole different issue. If you’re in the pharmaceutical industry or if you’re in the financial services industry, you probably have to be a little more cautious and careful about how you think about the role of employees and going out."

"And you also have to understand the way your company is organized," she adds. "So is it a very top-down company, very decentralized? Those are some of the things that I think about."

What are some of the things you think about? Do you give it enough thought at all? Share your opinions with us. 

Related: How SHOULD Employees Use Social Media?

The Need for a Flexible Employee Social Media Policy
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