Social Media Policies – Company Hippies vs Corporate Nazis

Yes, it IS that simple. Apparently. When it comes to social media use in the workplace, you are either one or the other – Company Hippy or Corporate Nazi. There appears to be little in the way of middle ground and the two groups do not like each other very much.

I’ve been on the way to this conclusion for some time – as my regular blog-snorkellers will know, I did a tentative post on the new New Age a bit ago, and postulated the existence of the cyber-hippy – but an article I happened upon today served as the crystallisation catalyst and suddenly all was sparkly clear. (Yes, I know it’s four months old, but the internet’s a big place and I’ve only just got round to this bit of it.)

As background, I’ve been giving a bit of thought to corporate policies on employee use of social media recently – yep, quite late to the party, sorry, but, to misquote Kurt Cobain, ‘here I am now, entertain me’ – and today I found a list of such policies, one of which was the policy cited in the article mentioned above. (If you’ve not seen it before, the list is worth a look – it offers an real insight into the true state of corporate thinking on the social media issue.)

The article and the comments it attracted are a stark illustration of the divide that exists and the lack of middle ground. First we start with the editorial, in which the journalist (a Company Hippy) suggests that the most important question any organisation should ask itself is ‘what can social media do for my organisation’ rather than the (to my mind, more germane) question ‘how can social media harm us and what can we do to prevent it’. (Note the use of language in the second question – I’ll re-phrase it – ‘what potential damage can use of social media do to our organisation and how can we limit that potential damage’.)

The writer then goes on to suggest that ‘any company, really – should encourage their (employees) to intelligently and creatively participate (sic) in the wonderful world of social media. Mixing business and pleasure is bad? I say it gives a human touch.’ Definitely a ‘give peace a chance’ type.

Moving to the commentary – well – have a look at it for yourself. Almost evenly split and (in general) completely polarised. On the one hand, the company hippies – everyone should have a voice, it’s about dialogue and conversations, individual relationships between employee and stakeholder – and on the other the corporate Nazis – there’s a real risk, there’s a lot to lose, serious controls are necessary.

And me? Well, I believe that, as an industry, we communicators do not know enough about social media and how it works to be able to properly evaluate it and devise usage strategies. What I would say, however, is that we do know about other forms of media. We know that other forms of media can bite if mishandled. There’s no reason to expect social media to behave any differently.

Thus – let’s start off with rigid, even draconian, policies. And let’s review them monthly, quarterly, whatever. And let’s relax them – if appropriate – as we learn more about how it works.

Let’s not run before we can walk.

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