Net policy or social media policy? I hear both of these terms being thrown about as if they were interchangeable. There is a difference. There should be a difference. The main distinction is the focus on what employees can do in the web world, rather than what they can’t. An internet policy typically outlines employee internet use during work hours—and consequently the monitoring of that use. A social media policy governs the individual interactions of your employees in the social sphere—as it relates to your brand—and can be much harder to monitor once an employee has clocked out and is operating in their own time.
There is a certain amount of trust, respect and responsibility that must accompany your employees when they venture out into the social web as a walking, talking, breathing, blogging extension of your brand. Implementing a social policy—more like guidelines really—that impart the tremendous amount of social responsibility is imperative so that nobody ends up dooced.
You can break the policy down into specifics to include forms of online publishing and discussion, blogs, wikis, file-sharing, user-generated audio and video, virtual worlds and social networks—with special sections for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. However, much like lipstick on a pig—less is more. Keep it short. You want your employees to actually read it. Creating an unnecessarily restrictive (and unrealistic) model of social engagement is the old way of doing things—kind of like collecting dirty jokes by fax. Not that I would know anything about that.
Some Digital strategists will recommend a net policy to absorb your social media policy. But I feel it’s more important to impart social practices as an extension of your brand’s best practices—leaving the internet “use” policy to the HR folks.
In the social space, your employees are the “low-hanging-fruit” that your marketers are always on about. Through social interactions, the expertise of your employees can be shared with the communities with which you operate. Your brands greatest asset is not mass communications in the digital ecosystem—but masses of communicators in the social ecosystem. Nothing says good publicity like an army of experienced employee evangelists who love their jobs. Likewise, nothing says corporate apologies like an uninformed, disgruntled employee with a big mouthy blog. Give your employees the power.
Now, with great power comes great responsibility (special thanks to Spiderman’s uncle Ben for that nugget) and the responsibility is what needs to be guided. Social networking sites are fundamentally changing the way that brands work and engage with each other, their employees, and their customers. It’s important to share the corporate social strategies with your employees and encourage them to share the social world that they’re learning and navigating in their own circles. (Oh haiiii G+) There will be a mutual intersect that benefits you both. Work together, work smart, and be transparent. Social guidelines are necessary to protect your brand from the unintentional (and sometimes intentional) stupid things your employees do.
Now, for some smart guidelines to get you started—check out IBM. They are publicly available for anyone to read here. I’ve reproduced the top 12 here for you to consider. I have to say, I’m not an advocate for #3 or #4, as I don’t believe disclaimers stop the damage of negative emotional association to your brand. But they are definitely a good discussion point. Use an experienced SM strategist to help you sort out the fundamental structure that applies specifically to your brand and also to train your staff on SM policy.
IBM Social Computing Guidelines
- Know and follow IBM’s Business Conduct Guidelines.
- IBMers are personally responsible for the content they publish on-line, whether in a blog, social computing site or any other form of user-generated media. Be mindful that what you publish will be public for a long time—protect your privacy and take care to understand a site’s terms of service.
- Identify yourself—name and, when relevant, role at IBM—when you discuss IBM or IBM-related matters, such as IBM products or services. You must make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of IBM.
- If you publish content online relevant to IBM in your personal capacity use a disclaimer such as this: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”
- Respect copyright, fair use and financial disclosure laws.
- Don’t provide IBM’s or another’s confidential or other proprietary information and never discuss IBM business performance or other sensitive matters publicly.
- Don’t cite or reference clients, partners or suppliers without their approval. When you do make a reference, link back to the source. Don’t publish anything that might allow inferences to be drawn which could embarrass or damage a client.
- Respect your audience. Don’t use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in IBM’s workplace. You should also show proper consideration for others’ privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory—such as politics and religion.
- Be aware of your association with IBM in online social networks. If you identify yourself as an IBMer, ensure your profile and related content is consistent with how you wish to present yourself with colleagues and clients.
- Don’t pick fights, be the first to correct your own mistakes.
- Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective. IBM’s brand is best represented by its people and what you publish may reflect on IBM’s brand.
- Don’t use use IBM logos or trademarks unless approved to do so.