Thursday 22 February 2018

Friday Five: Improving Your Social Media Policy

I’m often called in to help write or evaluate social media policies for clients across our global network. In addition, I have a folder on my laptop bursting with policies that I’ve found from other companies. I spend a lot of time with these documents in my role, 10 percent of which involves being like the firm’s “Emily Post” of the Web.

Over time, I’ve noticed that there are a number of elements that social media policies tend to miss. Here are five of them:

1. Maintain (reasonable) platform agnosticism.

You would be surprised how often a company’s “social media policy” is simply stitched together from a “blog policy,” “Twitter policy” and so on. While certain exceptions have to be made from time to time, a policy should seek to identify the threads of commonality between online platforms. For example, the need for transparency and the importance of observing community norms before participating not only apply to every platform, but will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Build a policy upon this foundation and you can help minimize the need for an update every time a new platform or service emerges. The ultimate benefit is that the company doesn’t submit the staff to “update fatigue,” pushing out a new policy for every major new site. Language such as “this policy applies to social media platforms both current and future” is a necessary component but not a sufficient one.

2. Provide a sufficient definition of “privacy.”

Many policies define privacy strictly in marketing terms (i.e., the collection and use of personal data). Generally speaking, policies have little regard for the fact that some people live a life online to a far greater degree than others do. “Judy” may not like the fact that the innocent water-cooler conversation you just had ended up on Twitter, or that you snapped a cameraphone picture of her during lunch at an outdoor cafe that eventually ended up on Facebook.

3. Understand your audience’s motivation.

I’m pretty sure that only a small number of a company’s employees hold “protection of the company’s reputation” as a chief concern when they are online. Too often, however, a company incorrectly assumes that this (and the threat of termination) is sufficient motivation for an employee to adopt certain online behaviors.

I tend to encourage companies to make a stronger effort to appeal to an employee’s self-interest. Put simply, a policy should encourage an employee to think about how their online behavior affects his or her own reputation. An employee who comports himself or herself well online–and is given solid direction on how this is done–will likely not be a source of reputational damage.

4. Add value to the employee handbook.

Consider this: Social media holds so much primacy in the popular corporate imagination that organizations feel the need to produce another prescriptive document in addition to the company handbook that, in many ways, simply lifts the handbook’s contents clean. For example, such handbooks already contain admonitions regarding disclosure of confidential information. A reasonable person would understand that this remains in effect whether that disclosure occurs online or otherwise.

A well-considered policy should be more than an internal communications instrument that refreshes or modernizes rules already in place. This, by itself, certainly has its own value. However, publishing a social media policy can also serve as a statement of 1) what the organization’s relationship with online communities will be and 2) the related behavioral expectations the company has of its employees. This is a much more powerful communication than simply dusting off what most in an organization should already know.

5. Help the employee understand online citizenship.

A document full of “thou-shalt-nots” is likely to turn off employees. A policy should do more than simply outline what behaviors will get someone fired. In some assignments, I’ve actually split the policy into two parts: one having to do with the prescriptive rules that a company enforces and another outlining what it takes to be a good online citizen (e.g., use of links, listening before participating, contributing thoughtfully, etc.). This way, a company is helping to provide for the complete development of their employees as professionals, not simply what it takes to work for the company itself.

Seeing as how the art of writing the Friday5 is one of compression, I’ll stop here. What other items do you find missing from employee online behavior policies?

Image Credit: chollingsworth3

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