Social-Media Policy: You'll Know a Good One When You See It

Ann All

Good social media policies are like good art. It's often hard to explain, but you know it when you see it. Which makes it pretty frustrating for companies trying to create policies for their employees.


I've written about such policies a number of times, and so has my IT Business Edge colleague Lora Bentley. Many of the experts we've interviewed have told us the purpose of these policies is to get folks to use good common sense. So, um, don't put proprietary information in your Facebook status updates. Don't get too snarky with your tweets.

Earlier this week Lora shared some suggestions for social-media policies from James Herr, an associate in the Louisville, Ky., office of Greenebaum, Doll & McDonald. Among the takeaways: Communicate clearly, use privacy controls and don't post pictures, notes or other information that will cast you (or your employer) in a bad light.


Sounds simple, right? So why do we still see incidents like one involving Bozeman, Mont., police officer Cody Anderson, who resigned after one of his Facebook posts suggesting police should be allowed to arrest people for being "stupid" was made public in the course of a lawsuit against the city? And why do some experts predict it's only a matter of time before we see a splashy lawsuit resulting from inappropriate corporate use of social channels?


It's no wonder that some companies are taking a "better safe than sorry" attitude and choosing to restrict employee use of such channels. But when they do that, they also forgo any benefits to be gained from adding social channels to the corporate communications mix.


There are some great ideas contained in these excerpts from social-media policies from well-regarded companies like Intel, IBM and SAP, published last week on the Econsultancy site. Some of my faves:

  • Separate opinions from facts, and make sure your audience can see the difference. (from SAP)
  • Always pause and think before posting. That said, reply to comments in a timely manner, when a response is appropriate. But if it gives you pause, pause. If you're about to publish something that makes you even the slightest bit uncomfortable, don't shrug it off and hit "send." Take a minute to review these guidelines and try to figure out what's bothering you, then fix it. If you're still unsure, you might want to discuss it with your manager or legal representative. Ultimately, what you publish is yours - as is the responsibility. So be sure. (from Intel)
  • Don't pick fights, be the first to correct your own mistakes, and don't alter previous posts without indicating that you have done so. (From IBM)


IT Business Edge's Knowledge Network contains several good samples of social-media policies, including one from the Baker & Daniels law firm, among other documents related to the topic.


The key to a good social-media policy is finding the right balance for your company. That'll likely depend a lot on your specific corporate culture. It's safe to say a lot of companies won't be comfortable with Zappos' seven-word policy: Be real and use your best judgment. But many will find social-media guidelines like those issued by Dow Jones to be too restrictive.


One idea I really like, seeking feedback from employees, was espoused by Mashable's Ben Parr in his comments on the social-media guidelines issued by the Associated Press earlier this year:


The best option for the Associated Press is to sit down with its employees and address these concerns and create a policy that takes everybody's interests into account.


Perhaps the most important thing to remember about a social-media policy, which Lora addressed in a post last week, is to communicate it clearly and ask employees to sign off on it. And of course, all social-media policies should be consistently enforced. As she wrote: "It does no good to have a policy if some violations have consequences and others do not."

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