How to Build a Social Networking Policy

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Coordinate with Existing Policies

One common topic that companies will face pertains to maintaining the secrecy of operational procedures or unannounced products or services. The argument for a “hands-off” approach here is that social networking is just another venue of communication, and does not by itself add or subtract from the equation when it comes to maintaining secrecy or where compliance laws are concerned.

In the process of tweaking your new social networking policy, what must be remembered is the continued importance of openness and genuine interactions. Just as we are geared to detect any hint of dishonesty with an acquaintance or a stranger that we’ve just met, your social networks will similarly be tuned to attempts at duplicity or interactions that are not genuine.

There will also be situations in which the usual way of doing things conflicts with the spirit of social networking. For example, old paradigm rules such as those requiring all copy to be vetted through PR, legal, or marketing (often all three) – simply do not play well with the openness and pace of social media communications, and will need to be updated.

If traditional PR and marketing can be likened to the filming of a movie, then social media interaction is akin to giving a speech for which the salient points have been identified, but which is otherwise unrehearsed. Anything more coordinated will quickly feel like a marketing pitch or advertisement, and will swiftly erode any modicum of trust that has been painstakingly built up.

Create User Guidelines

Eight Tips for Creating a Social Media Policy
A good social media policy is like good art.
It's often hard to explain, but you know it when you see it.

Once the inevitable contradictions between your new social networking policy and existing policies are ironed out, it is time to define the guidelines for what constitutes acceptable online behaviors. A snippet of these guidelines could range from the mundane about respecting copyright and fair use, not to cite or reference clients without first getting their permission – the list goes on. Generally, user guidelines for social media engagement will serve to complement existing business conduct guidelines, not contradict or replace them.

Some standards will never change, such as the need for basic courtesy and conduct, and avoidance of faux pas such as posting personal insults, obscenity, vulgarity or ethnic slurs. In a nutshell, engaging in social media does not mean that employees leave their common sense at home, or recklessly broadcast to the world what they would hesitate to share in a public speech or via face-to-face conversations to customers.

To help you along, IBM has published a detailed list of Social Computing Guidelines on its company blog, which might serve as a good starting point when it comes to creating a similar reference for your users. (I really liked the advice, “Don’t forget your day job.”)

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