Four Reasons Your Company Doesn’t Need a Social Media Policy

imageTrust your staff and they’ll behave accordingly

In my experience, if you place your trust in people they will generally behave accordingly. As business owners we spend a lot of time and money hiring – searching for the best people we can find, and then putting them in a job with responsibilities. What message does it then give to them if you then say ‘sorry, Facebook is banned here’?

Instead of trying to manage people’s time, I prefer to manage the results and allow people to manage their own time accordingly.

Social media is just another way to communicate

Do you have a telephone policy? A fax policy? A restaurant conversations policy? Social media is simply one more way to communicate, and conversations can happen anywhere. The technology itself is neither good nor bad. Creating a policy for each technology is the wrong way to go about managing the risks.

More rules and regulation just put people off

In my opinion you should be encouraging your staff onto social media. It helps create a human face to your organisation, enables you to engage where your customers are congregating and empowers each employee to be a proud representative of your company. No employee wants to get into trouble and more rules will simply make employees hesitant to engage in the very behaviour you should want to encourage.

You probably already have all the rules you need

You probably have an employee handbook in place that has all the rules and regulations you could possibly need to define what is, and is not, appropriate behaviour. It’ll likely cover things like discriminatory behaviour, immoral and illegal activities, how to behave with customers and colleagues and how to handle confidential information. You can violate those regulations in person, on the phone, and yes, in social media.

Do you really need another policy for this particular technology?

What should you do instead?

So if you don’t have a social media policy, what should you do instead?

Well, as I have written before, no policy will be able to cover all aspects of a conversation. Instead you need values. Values enable employees to make smart decisions by themselves about how to engage.

Don’t Zappos values say everything staff need to know about how to engage with people on social media? Microsoft’s blog policy is famously two words: Blog Smart. It’s about empowering staff to make smart decisions based on company values.

Instead of creating a bunch of command and control rules that nobody reads, think about the values that embody your company and how you can use them to enable staff to make decisions by themselves, engage customers, and win new business.

What do you think? Any other ideas to add?

Free Ebook: Brilliant at the Basics of Social Media

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    • Mike Cearley

      Mark – good commentary. I agree with you that social media is just another channel and to try to put hard-core parameters around employees’ own conversation is a) unproductive and b) a turn-off. However, I think a general viewpoint via a social media “policy” is important and can scale as needed. Microsoft is a great example of simplicity. Cisco’s (http://www.cisco.com/comm/applications/ecomm/help/Internet_Posting_Policy.pdf) is more indepth. I think that every individual has their own view of what “social media” is and even more, don’t have the common sense filter built into them – for this, some sort of policy is critical. There are also many organizations who still aren’t comfortable operating in the online social channels (crazy, I know) because they are so risk averse, it’s crippling to them. I just think a common set of guidelines (even 1 guideline) is necessary. Otherwise, everyone will have their own interpretation – based on their own personal experience and/or habits – that they inadvertently saddle their employer with.

    • http://www.michaelscutt.co.uk Michael Scutt

      Hi Mark

      This is an interesting post. As an employment lawyer you might not be surprised that I think employers do need a social media policy. Whilst I can see the force in the points you raise (especially treating your employees like responsible adults) the unescapable fact is that when there is misuse of social media an employer will be in a much stronger position to deal with any disciplinary issues if they have set down clear and succinct rules on what is and is not acceptable. If you already have lots of policies covering bullying and harassment etc in place then great, but most employers don’t.

      There are also grey legal issues – particularly concerning contacts acquired via social media (eg on Linked In). To whom do business contacts belong if acquired in the course of an employee’s duties? They probably count as confidential information and thus belong to the employer, but the law isn’t fully settled on the point. This is an issue that needs to be covered somewhere in the contract of employment, staff handbook or a social media policy.

      Employees do misuse social media tools regularly and many people seem to take on an alternative persona when online and write things they wouldn’t dream if saying to someone face to face or over the phone.

      Microsoft’s social media policy of “blog smart” might work in tech-savvy companies but it won’t work everywhere. The emphasis should be on education as much as writing policies but I don’t think you can have one without the other.

      I also agree that the technology itself is neutral. It’s the viral nature of social media that raises great possibilities but also poses significant risks if misused. Anything that relies on people input is an accident waiting to happen!