the organizational social media policy

More organizations are making the move into social media, either by starting a CEO blog, a customer Facebook group, or just by allowing employees to blog openly about their work lives.

As a result, more organizations are finding it necessary to draft a social media policy, or at least a set of principles, meant to guide employees’ behavior online.

Beth Kanter recently put out a call for examples of social media guidelines from nonprofits, starting with the example of the Easter Seals’ blogging policy.

A few readers chimed in with some good examples from the enterprise sector (for instance, IBM, Opera, and Sun all have blogging policies, which were linked to via Twitter by Christine Kreutz).

In a follow-up post, Beth relates an anonymous tale of a corporate social media policy:

In truth, the policy… is quite vague. It goes on for a while but really just says, “Use common sense and please don’t say stupid stuff. In fact, we’d love it if you told your personal institutional story in a constructive way.

I think that’s what most blogging/social media policies really boil down to.

It seems like executives (and nonprofit boards) are primarily concerned about three things:

  1. Employees will say bad things about the organization (sponsors, vendors, customers, etc.);
  2. Customers/constituents will say bad things about the organization (sponsors, staff, vendors, etc.);
  3. Employees will tell secrets.

It’s been said that companies would do well to remember that they have to trust their employees on these issues every day already — every time they talk to a customer, deal with a member, gab with a vendor, or work with a sponsor, you are trusting them to represent you and your brand responsibly, with discretion and integrity.

If you haven’t hired people you can trust to behave like responsible adults, then there is a deeper problem.

Of course, by “secrets” we can also be talking about “knowledge” — especially if your primary product is ideas and analysis. How much should smart, responsible bloggers share of their smart, responsible (and valuable) thinking?

This line of thought reminded me of this recent post from David Deal of Avenue A|Razorfish, a reaction to George Colony‘s recent talk on corporate blogging.

Colony seems concerned, understandably, about the wisdom of giving away too much of his company‘s bread-and-butter, which is insight, analysis, and forecasting. Do bloggers like Jeremiah Owyang give away the farm by blogging so prolifically on his topics of expertise?

Not hardly, David says:

I think the blogger-as-superstar-brand is good for any company — but especially Forrester, JupiterResearch, Gartner, IDC, and other organizations that rely on ideas as currency. Your employees already are your brand whether you realize it or not.

The problem with this fear of giving away the farm, this anxiety that every bit of our product needs to be paid for, is that it ignores the way that social media works. Social media works around relationships (believe it or not), not transactions.

Yes, most marketers think they have “relationships” with their customers, but they don’t, not really. They are really going right for the sale, and they aren’t really listening at all.

As Brian Oberkirk said today:

They go right for the transaction. It’s like: Hi, there, I’m…hey, is that your hand in my pocket?

I think I speak for a lot of us when I say “Please get your hands out of our pockets. We’ll call you when we need you.”

The economy in most social networks is just different from the more typical, everyday, transactional business model. Online, in social media, you give a little (sometimes a lot) to get more. Sometimes a lot more.

10 Thoughts.

  1. Great thoughts – I think that fear really does determine the adoption of social media, be it blogging or profile pages or groups, etc. The flip side of fear that employees will give too much away is the desire for employees to prove to the community/world that the organization is actually comprised of humans with human lives and experiences and thus making the organization something that you could identify with (via the characters/employees) – kind of like a tv show in my mind…if you can see that it isn’t just a bar (going with Cheers for this one) but a place where someone who has the same line of work or life struggles etc chooses to go every week then you could be more inclined to go there as well.

  2. Great post Beth. David and Shiv over at Avenue A|Razorfish are doing some great thinking and writing around this space.

    I would add one other dimension that I personally struggle with but it is also a struggle for organizations and that is; individuals are not perfect. The more dynamic and less ‘edited’ a conversation the more I expose my flaws (poor spelling and a tendency toward sarcasm in my case).

    And here is a little bit of the rub – our society, for bettor or worse – is not very forgiving. And we do need to be forgiving – its very easy to bungle words or make quick assumptions that are not right and when we have conversations online where we don’t get facial cues it is even easier to mis-understand or be mis-understood. Add to that the persistence of conversations that can be found forever.

    The upside is that participating regularly in online communities and conversations will allow people to better understand a specific comment and put it into context.

    It’s a thorny issue. Once involved is it easy to see the immense value of listening to more people and conversing at a personal level but it is also legitimately scary for those of use who want to be able to do and say the right things.

  3. Thanks Rachel – it is a thorny issue. I know it can be a legitimate source of fear, and when you are a business, it is hard to accept the perceived risk inherent in letting go of the control you are used to having.

    That’s really why I always advise people to make a habit of reading and commenting online first, to learn the culture of blogs. Once they see that the level of discourse in the professional blog space is pretty high (certainly higher than many fear it might be) they might be more willing to spend time here.

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