Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire; I led their social media efforts from 2007 past their IPO. These are my thoughts on tomorrow's social products, today.

Companies! Shape up your social media policy or else?!

Update: Check out Techmeme for a slew of interesting viewpoints on this topic.

I’ve always been a strong advocate of companies proactively creating and sharing social media guidelines within their organizations to encourage their employees to both build a strong brand for themselves on social platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn but at the same time, help them avoid painful pitfalls.

HuffingtonPost just picked up a New York Times piece that shone the spotlight on a “ground breaking case”. The National Labor Review Board called the firing of an employee (on the basis of a Facebook post), illegal.


He said. She said.

A company fired an employee for disparaging remarks she made about her supervisor on Facebook. They quoted their social media policy “that bars employees from depicting the company “in any way” on Facebook or other social media sites in which they post pictures of themselves.

And, the National Labor Relations Board now accuses the company of illegally firing the employee, arguing that “workers’ criticisms of their bosses or companies on a social networking site are generally a protected activity and that employers would be violating the law by punishing workers for such statements.

What does this case mean for companies?

It remains to be seen how this case pans out as it’s pending review on Jan 25th. That said, if you’re a small business or a corporation, first check if you’ve a social media policy or guidelines but more importantly, have you shared this information across your organization, the larger you are – the more complicated that may be.

As for this case, the resolution could go either way if the company can make a good case for defamation. That said, it was super-interesting that the supportive comments the employee received from her colleagues is what made the labor board equate this with a union, which they argue is protected speech.

As a company, there’s not much you can do over your employees’ usage of social media in their personal time. That’s a given. But, trying to get them to understand what responsible usage of social media is, can and should be done.

Education is better than a cure.

Having a social media policy is mandatory. Tip: getting your employees to help craft it collaboratively is ideal. At LinkedIn, over a year ago, we hosted two brainstorm sessions where we invited all interested employees to learn, share and help craft our guidelines. This led to our first set of social media guidelines which we socialized internally, but guess what. Since then we’ve more than doubled in the # of employees and so we now include the guidelines during orientation.

Also, keep in mind all your global teams and the international laws that are in play here. Stay tuned for more how-to posts on this topic. In the meanwhile, check out my other posts on social media guidelines here.

Does your company have a set of social media guidelines? Leave a comment.

For more thoughts from my peers in this space. Check out Techmeme.

Mario Sundar on TechMeme

Filed under: Best-of, Employee Engagement, Miscellaneous

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

Social Media Policy: Not too Heavy, Not too Light!

Quicker Update: Ari Herzog adds his $0.02 on this topic for the Huffington Post, debating whether companies in the survey are blocking or banning usage of social networking sites. But, as I’ve mentioned in the below post, I’d like to reiterate that the focus here should be the opportunity for companies here. Encouraging correct usage of social media for employees is a great way to build your company brand. Thoughts? Leave a comment.

Quick Update: Ben McConnell (Church of the Customer) weighs in.

FACT: “54% of employers have completely prohibited their employees from their employees visiting Facebook, Twitter or MySpace while at work” according to a recent survey of CIOs of companies across the United States (via @Mashable)

The survey, which was developed by Robert Half Technology, is consistent with other recent reports that show companies are quickly moving to block social media in the workplace. Of course, even when companies allow social media, it doesn’t always end well for employees. Another recent report indicated that 8% of companies in the US have fired staff over social media misuse.

Companies are grappling with the emergence of social media tools like Twitter that allow for a rapid dissemination of content and ideas. Now, this could be a double edged sword for any organization but as I’ve been advocating on LinkedIn’s Talent Advantage blog – this is also a great opportunity for companies to build their brand through their employees. [Disclosure: I work at LinkedIn, a professional networking site not covered on the survey, as Community Evangelist]

Poll: Employers embrace of social media

As you can see from the above breakdown, over half of the employers polled seem to have banned any use of social media in the company, while 19% allowed it only for business and 26% allowed employees to use social media sites for personal purposes as well.

For lack of a better analogy, I think a good approach would be similar to the ads titled “Parents: the Anti-Drug” that you see on TV. Surveys have shown that listening to a kid’s concerns makes them far more communicative with a parent and has proven to be more effective at reducing risky behavior. Ditto for employers and social media guidelines.

Responsible companies will take time to educate their employees on how best to utilize social media to build their brand, explain what’s at stake and help clarify how improper use of social media could inadvertently end up destroying both the employee’s professional brand and hence the company brand.

To policy or not to policy (I meant police v.)

Still wondering how best to approach this seemingly intractable problem? As I mentioned, I just published part 2 on my series on helping companies craft social media guidelines and it’s about the 5 questions you should ask yourself before you craft a social media policy for your company. Here are some tips:

1. Ask yourself: does your company need a social media policy?

2. Find your existing company evangelists

3. Find alignment with your company values and culture (read my entire post with all 5 tips for companies here)

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So, in essence, while crafting a social media policy – don’t keep it too heavy,  nor too light; don’t ban complete usage, nor allow unfettered personal access while at work. And, remember that this is a great opportunity to build your employees brand, where they could share information about their company brand with the rest of the world. And, for employees – with great power comes great responsibility.

What is your company’s social media policy? Leave a comment (after the jump) in the comments section. If you like this content, feel free to follow me on Twitter.


Filed under: Best-of, Business Blogging, Employee Engagement

Can Corporate Culture be changed?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about company values and culture. Our new CEO (Jeff) and founder (Reid), shared LinkedIn’s mission and values at a recent all-hands (pics here – http://is.gd/1dTtD).

Defining corporate culture is an extremely arduous task: part art, part science, part mystery. And redefining corporate culture may well be the Holy Grail in organizational management science.

Can it be done?

HBS’ Peter Bergman thinks it can be done – with stories. Yes, stories! As community evangelist, my role encompasses external evangelism. For e.g. letting our users communicate how LinkedIn has impacted their professional success, which we then chronicle on the blog –

http://blog.linkedin.com/category/success-stories/

And, Peter’s suggestion indicates that internal company culture can be changed with such stories.

“To start a culture change all we need to do is two simple things:

1. Do dramatic story-worthy things that represent the culture we want to create. Then let other people tell stories about it.

2. Find other people who do story-worthy things that represent the culture we want to create. Then tell stories about them.”

Filed under: Employee Engagement

Employee blogs are owned by “employees”!

Do we have an answer on ownership of employee blogs? I actually think we may have a resolution on the controversial subject. For those of you following with interest the recent thread I started on the ownership of employee blog once they leave the company, there’s some news for you.

I received a response both from Adam Clyde, one of the creators of IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines (not sure if this is his LinkedIn profile) and Gia Lyons (LinkedIn Profile), formerly Social Software Evangelist at IBM and owner of the blog in question.

Here’s what transpired. Quoting their comments they left on this blog.

Adam Clyde (IBM):

Hi Mario, from what I can tell (I haven’t heard from Gia personally yet, though hope to shortly), this was likely the case of a well-meaning, though clearly misguided, individual at IBM…

I helped guide the process by which the community created the Social Computing Guidelines. The concept of blog ownership isn’t explicitly defined, but I think the common knowledge is that blogs created on IBM hosted environments stay with the company if the person leaves. But if the blog is on their own environment, that’s their’s and stays with the person.

What’s not clear to me is whether this referred to Gia’s internal or external blog. Her internal blog still sits live (though inactive) with all the content within IBM’s firewall. And will stay that way – attributed to her. Her external blog, which was only live for a few months before she left, is hers and stays that way.

Gia Lyons:

Hi Mario! I just wanted to point out that nobody at IBM actually took over my internal IBM blog, and it won’t happen. But, just the idea that someone suggested it was enough to get me, erm, excited. )

That said, that internal blog site and content are legally wholly owned by IBM, and they can do whatever they want with it. Ultimately, though, the internal IBM blogging community – the people themselves, and not any single individual – own it. And knowing those people, I completely trust them to do whatever should be done to further the good of their community.

I guess that’s my answer to “Who owns an employee blog?” … “The employee*s* who remain.”

And, Adam totally concurred with the idea that “The employee*s* who remain.” own the blog. Here’s Gia’s original post and here’s my early take on the topic. Thanks to Adam and Gia for their quick response.

Sounds fair. Don’t you think so?

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Filed under: Business Blogging, Employee Engagement

Employee Blog Ownership – Company or Employee?

My recent post on IBM’s attempted “take over” of one of their former employees’ (Gia Lyons’) blog generated an interesting discussion. My confusion stemmed from the fact that IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines very clearly stipulate their embrace of blogging, but the decision to take over the second highest ranking blog (not sure if that means external blog or internal blog) seemed rather uncalled for.

Anyways, check out the comments it garnered. I’d like to bring to your attention a comment from Adam Clyde, who actually helped craft IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines:

Hi Mario, from what I can tell (I haven’t heard from Gia personally yet, though hope to shortly), this was likely the case of a well-meaning, though clearly misguided, individual at IBM…

I helped guide the process by which the community created the Social Computing Guidelines. The concept of blog ownership isn’t explicitly defined, but I think the common knowledge is that blogs created on IBM hosted environments stay with the company if the person leaves. But if the blog is on their own environment, that’s their’s and stays with the person.

What’s not clear to me is whether this referred to Gia’s internal or external blog. Her internal blog still sits live (though inactive) with all the content within IBM’s firewall. And will stay that way – attributed to her. Her external blog, which was only live for a few months before she left, is hers and stays that way.

Upon re-reading Gia’s post, it seems like she was talking about her internal blog and as Adam points out “her internal blog still sits live (though inactive) with all the content within IBM’s firewall. And will stay that way – attributed to her.”  So, what do you guys, think?

Who owns an employee’s internal company blog once they leave?

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Filed under: Business Blogging, Employee Engagement

Does IBM own their employees’ blogs too?

Gia Lyons (former IBM’er) has decided to donate her personal blog to IBM who apparently have laid claim to it! The reasoning to “takeover the blog” seems to be driven by the fact that Gia was “the number two blogger at IBM, trailing only behind her colleague Luis Suarez“; in essence the traffic the blog was generating.

But given that it was her personal blog I wonder how that would translate successfuly if someone else took it over. So, in a very Zen moment, Gia’s “decided to feel that”:

  • the blog is IBM’s
  • the content – even my personal stories – is IBM’s
  • the voice is mine

Aww, man. So, I turned to IBM’s social computing guidelines but couldn’t find any information on ownership of employee blogs. But I did come away with the feeling that blogging is encouraged there.

IBM encourages blogging

* Whether or not an IBMer chooses to create or participate in a blog, wiki, online social network or any other form of online publishing or discussion is his or her own decision.

* it becomes increasingly important for IBM and IBMers to share with the world the exciting things we’re learning and doing, and to learn from others.

So, why this disparity in the company’s brand behavior? Stay tuned for more. Plus, my thoughts on the topic.

Who do YOU think owns an employee’s personal blog?

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Filed under: Business Blogging, Employee Engagement

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