What’s Your Social Media Policy?

In several prospective client meetings recently, the conversation has centered on the need for a social media policy.  Whether you work for a progressive organization or a conservative, risk-adverse one, it seems that everyone has an opinion on the best approach.  Here are some prevailing camps:

1.  The Ostrich Look-A-Likes – “I’m on Facebook to keep up with my teenage daughter; it has no relevance to our business, and it’s going to go away soon enough.  Besides, bandwidth, viruses and time-wasting are all good reasons for us to block complete access to any and all of it from our company.”  Seriously?  You don’t think employees are getting online with their smart phones, personal laptops, or around the corner at the coffee shop?  Here is one of my favorites: a local, well-recognized brand that promotes a payment application they’ve developed on Facebook, blocks access to Facebook for its employees!

If you are locking it down because you don’t want your employees to participate and adversely affect on your brand marketing, you’re right to do so. It is working, but probably not in the manner you intend when your biggest competitor allows its employees to engage with the market using social media, and is lowering their cost of customer acquisition and retention in the process.

2.  Generic Find & Replacers – “Just give me someone else’s social media policy, and I’ll replace their company name with mine.” How’s that working for you on HR forms, supplier contracts and other documents which clearly define your unique organization, culture, and relationships critical to your success?  Here is a website just for you: http://socialmediagovernance.com/policies.php, It currently has 120+ different organizations to choose from.

3.  Bureaucratic Wordsmithers – “We need to wordsmith this document as it is part of our policy.”  The only thing I think about when I hear this one is the mid-90s version of the company “Mission Statement,” where it took the entire organization countless 12-hour debates in fifteen conference rooms over a six-month timeframe to replace “A” with “The!”  Power doesn’t corrupt – powerlessness corrupts!  Focus on a plain English version, which succinctly captures intent and direction, and work with social media law experts to “legalize it.”

4.  Agile Landscapers – “We understand that social media opens a whole new can of worms for our organization. We really need a strategic approach to developing our social media engagement program, as the very ‘squishy’ nature of social engagement lends itself to potential judgment calls on behalf of our organization.”  These leaders are really smart, because they get that the 20-somethings (and yes even sometime the 30-somethings) in the organization need to understand that personal actions online reflect the corporate image.  What you say and do online will either enhance or dilute your reputation and thus people’s perception of you!

If you fall in the first three camps – sorry, we can’t help you.  But if you’re savvy enough to understand that this is the wild, wild west and that a “track and trust” culture will get you a lot further than the prevailing “command and control” version, here are ten questions our team has devised to help start a dialogue in your organization:

  1. What level of Corporate Transparency do we want to have? It is a spectrum, and you need to figure out how open you really want to be.
  2. What is our definition of Intellectual Property? Your corporate IP is a corporate asset; think copyrights, patents, trademarks; but also corporate proprietary information, customer information, etc.  How do you define what is yours, your employees, your partners, your customers, and what do you share with the market?
  3. What is the customer’s level of expectation around the customer experience? Do they expect to be engaged? Do they expect real-time feedback and response? Do they expect your people to be empowered to participate in social engagement? Knowing how much will also drive the organization’s view of how you should participate.
  4. What is our employee’s level of expectation around employee engagement? Do they expect a wide-open policy for everyone? Are there industry regulations regarding participation? How is management participating?
  5. Are there internal vehicles to vent for employees? Are you giving employees an outlet for voicing feedback? How is morale? Most who say, “I hate… websites” are actually ex-employees. Did you just go through a round of lay-offs? You may want to think about how your employee base will react.
  6. How do we describe our corporate culture? Do you or your employees have a clear idea of your culture? It will come out, so be prepared. If your management team is more paranoid than North Korea, don’t expect to see a rosy picture put forth to potential customers. Corporate culture is one area that definitely shows up on social media.
  7. What is the line between personal and professional branding? If an employee posts information concerning their company on their personal page, who owns the content?  Can we influence what someone posts in his or her spare time about himself or herself? The short answer is that if they share with the world that they are an employee of the company, then they are responsible to the company for protecting the brand.
  8. What do we want the world to know about us as a company? Our employees are ambassadors for our company, for better or worse. For many prospective buyers, their first point of introduction may be through the social interactions of an employee, whether professional or personal. If we don’t have a clear message, what do you think will happen in the market?
  9. What are our expectations around professionalism for our employees? If you have a dress code, code of conduct, etc., then it would be logical to have a more restrictive code for social media conduct. If you have loose expectations around how employees are expected to engage, then you probably don’t expect to have a corporate image projected from your employees.
  10. Who owns the relationship / account? If your junior account team person connects to one of your customer’s employees, what happens when that employee leaves your company? Who owns the customer when a sales rep leaves who is directly connected to the customer on LinkedIn? How about when they have built their pipeline over social media? What happens when your customer service people build a following on Twitter with a personally branded account? What if your employee starts an account on behalf of the company?

Certainly not easy questions – but then again, social media is a disruptive force which we believe will evolve many industries.  So, I ask you again, what’s your social media policy?

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