Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire. These are my thoughts on products, public relations, and startups.

A cautionary tale: Do companies need a social media policy?

Let me clarify that the post title is a rhetorical question, not a blogging device to draw more readers into the post. But, hey, if it worked at drawing your attention, that’s great too. I wanted to spend a few minutes pondering the need for companies to invest some time in defining and educating their employees on social media guidelines.

What started with free form blogging in 1999, has now grown into a social media ocean of unmanageable proportions. Twitter being the latest in a slew of tools aimed at letting users share their most intimate thoughts to a broader public audience. So, it is but ironical that one of Twitter’s lead evangelist / engineers quit blogging due to a fiasco ignited by one of his tweets. Here’s the rundown:

Alex Payne, a Twitter engineer, is shutting down his personal blog after a comment he posted on Twitter became the subject of a TechCrunch blog post and caused a minor firestorm among Twitter application developers and others involved with the company. (Source: GigaOm)

From a companies’ perspective, this is a huge LOST opportunity to get the rock stars within your company build a brand for themselves and in the process, strengthen your company’s brand in the eyes of users, potential recruits and even your competitors. But, social media (as Alex Payne and Twitter now realize) is a two-edged sword that’s capable of causing as much brand hurt as brand love and one lil’ chirp can derail a fast moving express.

So, what do companies need to do proactively to avoid such situations?

The quick answer to this: a social media policy.

Develop social media guidelines with the participation of the internal evangelist from within your organization and share that with the rest of the company. Can that ensure that these mistakes won’t happen. Nope. But, education never came easy. It’s a constant process of educating your employees, revising the doc with examples of your rock stars. At LinkedIn, we’re lucky to have folks like Adam Nash and Steve Ganz who are great examples of my colleagues who get social media and use it responsibly.

But, don’t forget. To err is human. All of us make mistakes, but shutting us down sends a wrong signal to the rest of the company on what could be a great example of applying social media in the corporate setting. Remember: with lemons come lemonade. Interestingly, a few months back I’d authored a piece on what are the five questions companies need to ask themselves before delving into a social media policy and #2 on that list was finding the social media evangelists from within your company:

Are your employees already out there on the social web engaging with your customers? The answer to that question these days is mostly a resounding “Yes”, with chances that your employees are reaching out to your users through a slew of social media sites. Pick the most obvious avenues for such conversations and identify those employees who are engaging with your customers. An easy way to do that would be through a simple Google blog search, LinkedIn Groups search, LinkedIn Answers and / or Twitter search for your company brand.

These searches will also show you what are some of the gold standard examples of user engagement practiced by your employees and some opportunities for improvement. Factor this in when you put together your set of social media guidelines. Better yet, bring in your most active social media employees to collaborate and help craft your social media guidelines. If you need to get internal approval, these employees could be your strongest internal evangelists.

For those of you who are looking for good, simple examples of social media guidelines. Here are a few tips that could get you started:

  1. Five questions to ask yourself before developing a social media policy / LinkedIn Talent blog
  2. Should your company have a social media policy? / Mashable
  3. Coca-Cola’s shrewd new social media policy / Pamorama
  4. Military announces social media policy / New York Times
  5. 29% of companies have a social media policy / Marketing Pilgrim
  6. [Update] Social Media Policy Creator / hat tip to @shama

Remember: social media policy shouldn’t be stodgy legalese that you’d rather not be caught dead reading, but a practical commonsensical approach to creating true employee evangelists for your brand.

And, here’s hoping Alex will start blogging again! Soon. Best.

Filed under: Best-of, Employee Engagement

17 Responses

  1. Great summary of an issue that many companies are facing as their employees start to explore new media channels.

    We just released a social media policy generator. Its a free tool that any company can use, from small to large businesses.

    It would be neat if you could check it out: http://socialmedia.policytool.net/

    Like

    • Mario Sundar says:

      Thanks for sharing, Titus. Will take a look.

      Though, I think social media policy is unique to each company and the social media habits of its employees.

      Like

  2. [...] A cautionary tale: Do companies need a social media policy? (tags: socialmedia) [...]

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  3. [...] A cautionary tale: Do companies need a social media policy? (tags: socialmedia) [...]

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  4. Jim Locke says:

    I think all companies to address the topic of social media with their employees, whether it is a separate policy or just part of the company’s authorized use policy. Personal use of social media can result in huge losses in productivity. At the same time, one cannot ignore the huge opportunity that social media offers to business. Hence, I think that blocking social media is a mistake. Train on it. Manage the process. Use it to showcase the knowledge of your employees and staff. This is the direction I think businesses should take.

    Like

    • Mario Sundar says:

      @jim,

      I think using social media happens both during and outside of work hours. Interestingly, the thinning of privacy lines is probably adding to consumer confusion.

      But, as I mentioned educating employees on best practices ensures that you can have your cake and eat it too :)

      Thanks to all for your comments. Please continue leaving your thoughts.

      Like

  5. So this is going to come off like a blatant plug for Compendium….but sorry this has to be said.

    Policies are just not good enough when you are talking about the web. You can only react when you are dependent on a policy. The damage is done when it’s violated intentionally, or more often unintentionally. We have all heard stories of good employees being fired or chastised for what might have seemed at the time no big deal. Far better to have caught that post before it went out.

    Enterprises need the right social media tools that both free the employees to write and share their passions & expetise with the world but offer some protection against potentially damaging content. Enterprises need to be human but they still have a big responsibility.

    There needs to be a layer of control…a workflow to review and approve content before it goes live. We have hundreds of organizations on the Compendium platform and this is a major reason. Control doesn’t mean that you crush the soul, but organizations have a liability for this that can’t be effectivly managed through a simple policy alone.

    We have a saying here that “not everything is Twitter-worthy” :-)

    Like

    • Mario Sundar says:

      @Chris,

      As blog editor, I agree with you that reviews and approvals are necessary before content goes live from the official channels. Wherever applicable we review relevant content that is shared through our corporate social media channels – at LinkedIn (as we do with the corporate blog and all other official social media channels). But as the above example proved, the challenge lies in the personal content of employees :)

      Hence, the need for dissemination of common sense guidelines and education of employees as to the pros and cons of using social media to build their brand effectively.

      Like

  6. Shama Kabani says:

    Mario –

    This is a very timely topic.

    You are right. The simplest policy is “use commonsense.” However, my husband is an Attorney – and I see everyday how one person’s “commonsense” is not shared by all.

    I think companies will have to find the balance for their own unique culture.

    Like

    • Mario Sundar says:

      Hey Shama,

      But, as I mentioned to Chris, let’s not forget that the challenge here are the personal blogs, personal social networking sites like on Facebook, Twitter, etc. I think part II of this post will cover those tricky aspects of employee social media engagement.

      Thoughts?

      Like

  7. Adam Metz says:

    Sample policy: “Don’t be a dumbass.” Over and out.

    Like

  8. Katie Morse says:

    Hey there! I think that in tandem with developing some sort of social media policy/guidelines/appropriate use cases, education should also be a priority.

    Employees will vary in terms of their comfort and use of social tools. More may be on Facebook than on Twitter, for example. Some may blog, and some may not even know what a blog is. For the employees that “get” the tools, the education may just be a re-affirmation of what they already know, or a chance to learn a bit more.

    But for those that perhaps don’t use the tools, or are on but very infrequently, education is a great way to teach them some of the rules of the road without just shoving a policy down their throat.

    Honestly, I think that each company should determine what it needs re: a policy. For some, due to either external (legal, industry, etc) factors, may need a more strict policy. Others may only really need a few clear guidelines.

    Katie Morse
    @misskatiemo | Radian6

    Like

    • Mario Sundar says:

      @katie,

      couldn’t agree more. i think that’s a smart longer term solution rather than a knee-jerk policy (not that there’s anything wrong with a set of guidelines that your employees can turn to – I’d advocate that as well). The two key challenges here include: social media in hiding (a lot of folks don’t think that updating their facebook or twitter status could get them into trouble). Secondly, a lot of companies need to realize that their employees are gonna be on social sites like Facebook after hours or during the weekend when not at work, and that’s were most of the damage is done.

      Hence, education.

      Like

  9. Thanks for your perspective. I just wrote an article on alternatives to banning social media at work that your readers might find useful.

    http://www.barenakedcommunication.com/?p=620

    Like

    • Mario Sundar says:

      @Chris,

      Great tips on your blog post. Keep em coming.

      As I mentioned there, I think companies need to come up with consistent guidelines for use of social media by their employees. Education should be a critical part of that outreach as well.

      Look forward to many more conversations on this topic. Thanks for your comment!

      Like

  10. [...] for themselves on social platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn but at the same time, but to also avoid the pitfalls faced by [...]

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