Social Media – Social Media Policies in Practice

Came across this on Mashable – it’s a story about this, which is social media policy devised and published by Australian company Telstra for the benefit of their 40,000 employees. To date, according to the company, 12,000 employees have been ‘trained’ or ‘educated’ in the ways of social media.

I’ve said,  in previous posts, that a good social media policy might actually be seen, or used, as an employee benefit – Telstra’s policy is exactly that. This is something that has, quite clearly, taken time, resource and investment to put together, and has been formulated to educate employees and provide them with a skill, or skills, which are applicable in their day-to-day lives as well as their work lives. I particularly like it because it doesn’t shy away from threatening disciplinary action should anyone contravene the policy.

What it doesn’t do, however – and it’s telling – is explain how employees can help the company through their social media activity. It doesn’t explain the company’s social media strategy. It might be said that it begs more questions than it answers. It strikes me as a guide to social media – all well and good – but not a social media lever. It’s about stopping people making inadvertent (or deliberate) mistakes – rather than ’embracing the social media opportunity and bringing everyone in to the conversation’ (as I imagine the cyber-hippies would have it).

This is not a sign that social media has become mainstream and infiltrated Big Corporate – rather it’s a sign that Big Corporate has recognised the damage that can be caused by social media and is attempting to mitigate its effects.

This is pre-emptive issues management, nothing more or less.

Internal Comms/Social Media – Addenda to Social Media Policies

The whole social media space is a minefield littered with UXBs and especially so for a company’s employees. Social media are growing and changing and influencing behaviours far faster than most people can keep up – it’s got to the point where a corporate use of social media policy is not only a business necessity, it’s actually part of the corporate ‘duty of care’ to employees.

Here’s a thought – educating employees in the use of social media may be seen, in the future, as an employee benefit provided by the company. Possibly those more forward-thinking companies, without exposing themselves to the free-for-all that is open employee access, might actually be seen to be taking a lead on the issue, simply by ensuring their employees are social media savvy in a semi-formal fashion. Brown-bag training sessions, interactive intranets. Who knows.

Anyway – here’s an article from The Guardian that deals with the specific problems of colleagues following you on Twitter, or friending you on Facebook. Particularly senior colleagues. The implication – and it’s correct – is that social media are blurring the lines between work life and personal life. There is no such thing as a personal life anymore – what you’ve got is a work life and life when you’re not working. Use of social media – Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, et al – means that anyone can find you at anytime. Nothing that you post to these sites is private. There is a record of all you have written and uploaded. If it sounds a bit Big Brother, that’s because it is.

There is, obviously, a solution to the dilemma. It’s taken a lot of thought. It’s not popular. It flies in the face of current thinking. It’s this. DON’T USE TWITTER OR FACEBOOK. OR ANY OTHER SOCIAL MEDIUM. If you want to organise a party, send out invitations via email (still trackable, but not available to everyone). If you fancy getting in touch with someone – meet them for a drink. Give them a call. Write a letter. Go on, give it a try.

But no. You want to be free, to get LinkedIn, to have a good time. And this why – as the boundaries between you personally and you professionally blur and dissolve – it’s more and more important that there are not only corporate social media policies, but corporate social media etiquette statements also.

It pains me, but we’re here (how? how?) and now we have to deal with it. So, in the spirit of understanding and sharing, here’s something that I stumbled across earlier. I should say now that these are the thoughts of one Bristol-based managing editor (mid-thirties, apparently) who makes it clear on his blog that monkeys like me are not to steal his thoughts without due attribution and permission. I haven’t got permission, but consider this attribution. These are not my thoughts – I am simply passing on the wisdom of another.

(NB The guidelines that Mr Bristol sets out here are, actually, quite corporately focused. But they work equally well for use of social media on a personal level. You could adapt them. But I’d ask Mr Bristol for his permission first. You never know.)

Social Media – Creating a Use of Social Media Policy

Now, bear in mind that, on balance, I do not think this is a good idea. If a company has a Use of Social Media policy, it should contain no more than half a dozen sentences. Possibly less. Those sentences should contain the words ‘Don’t’ and ‘Ever’ and ‘Disciplinary Action’. It is, in my opinion, far too difficult and far too time intensive to try to let employees embrace social media on the company’s behalf. The potential risk to your hard-won corporate reputation far outweighs any potential benefit.

 (And before anyone starts – I fully understand that a) people use social media on their own account, in their own time, and probably, during office hours and b) a company’s employees do talk about the company to friends, family, colleagues and the man in the pub on a regular basis, and it’s not always positive. And, as I understand this, I expect my readers to understand the inherent difference between commenting to friends and family, and publishing those same comments on a freely-accessible, global social media portal.)

 But, because I’m a good cyber-citizen, what follows is the best template for a corporate social media policy that I’ve come across. The italics are theirs, the rest is my commentary. Enjoy. Prosper.

 1. Overall Philosophy. An effective social media policy should define the company’s overall philosophy on social media and be consistent with its culture. For example, does the company have a supportive, open philosophy on the use of social media or a stronger, more limited embrace of this technology?

This takes as read, of course, that the company has actually bothered to give social media some modicum of thought. My guess is that most haven’t, so you’ll have to do some work on your company’s  social media philosophy, before you can start on your policy. And I am just loving the ‘for example’ – in translation ‘is the company enlightened and open, or dark, twisted, malevolent and medieval?’ Your choice.

 2 Honesty and Respect. One of the most important aspects of a policy is a requirement that employees be open, honest, respectful and transparent in their usage of social media – especially in the business context.

Can’t disagree with this. Do however think it is a bit Utopian and that it might throw up internal communications issues, particularly amongst those employees who may feel that, in asking them to be open and honest etc etc, you’re actively suggesting that they aren’t currently. But I’m sure you can handle that.

 3 Confidential and Proprietary Information. Disclosure of confidential or proprietary information through social media can be prevalent. Especially since this type of communication is often viewed as less formal than other, there is increased risk for inadvertent disclosure. Guidelines should reinforce the company’s confidentiality and proprietary information policies and apply such to the social media environment.

Scary shit. This is where you might want to start using words like ‘draconian’, ‘disciplinary’ and ‘action’. The idea of ‘inadvertent disclosure’ gives me the shrieking ab-dabs.

(Edited to add) Oh, and if there’s any risk of ‘inadvertent disclosure’ – and there is, there is – then you’ll want to brush up your crisis management plans, and give them a thorough testing. And, as the one instance that I can think of when social media really comes to the fore is in a crisis scenario, you’ll need a section about social media policy in your crisis management document. Good thing you’re working on a social media policy, eh?

 4 Online Identity. When engaging in online social networking, it is important to differentiate an employee’s personal identity from his or her business identity. While regulating employees’ usage of their personal identity may be outside of the scope of a company social media policy, defining such is fair game. For example, is it acceptable to have an employee’s business name and title be connected to a personal blog post which is critical of a certain political party? Is it acceptable for employees to post their work e-mail addresses on blogs discussing controversial topics? An effective policy must address such issues and define acceptable limits.

Again – I agree with the sentiments of this, but I can see all sorts of issues involved with identifying the myriad of potential situations and providing guidelines for each one. You’re going to be working on this for some time, I can see that. Or you could just say – ‘no way, we’ve got authorised, trained and monitored spokespeople for social media and it’s not a free-for-all, so don’t do it’.

 5 Focus on Job Performance. There is a lot of discussion on whether social media hurts worker productivity. For example, is it acceptable for an employee to post on a personal blog during their lunch break? Or, can an employee tweet on business-related topics during the work day? Remember, the new work force does not live in an eight-to-five world. The focus should be on job performance instead of “company time.”

‘Remember, the new workforce doesn’t live in an eight to five world’ – no, because it’s now expected to be on call 24/7. I blame Blackberries and workahol and companies insidiously creating cultures where it simply isn’t acceptable not to be available at any time. And I also blame the workers who are so tired of their own lives that they perpetuate it. ‘Company time’? Any time, more like.

 6 Avoid Conflicts of Interest. Conflicts of interest come in many forms – especially when engaging in social media. The policy should discuss how to identify potential conflicts of interest, what types of conflicts are prohibited and who to talk to when in doubt.

This one scares the living bejaysus out of me as well. Conflicts of interest? I humbly suggest that if it’s going to put your employees in the way of having to make judgement calls on conflicts of interest and when to refer them, then you’re better off not doing it. But – hey – if you’ve THAT much time on your hands – go ahead.

 7 Include a Disclaimer. Employees should make it clear that their views about work-related matters do not represent the views of their employer or any other person. The policy should require a disclaimer, such as the following, when there is the possibility for confusion between business and personal identity: “The views expressed on this blog are mine alone and do not represent the views of my employer or any other person.”

But – surely – if you’re wanting your employees to comment on the company, on behalf of the company, then a disclaimer doesn’t really make sense? And if they’re not commenting about the company on behalf of the company – why – in the name of all that’s holy – are you allowing them to do it?

 8 Monitoring. The policy should state whether – and to what extent – the company has the right to monitor social media usage and identify any associated disciplinary guidelines.

Yes, the company has the right to monitor social media usage, to the very ends of the internet – if it is accessed through a company machine or device. (Mind you, the monitoring’s going to cost a bit, both in terms of budget and resource – but you knew that and were prepared for it. Weren’t you?) Here is another opportunity to use the words ‘draconian’ and ‘punishment’.

 9 Universal Application. A social media policy should apply to everyone, not just a subset of employees (i.e., the marketing department).

Absolutely. No further comment.

 10 Other Policies. Other company policies, such as those on workplace environment, discrimination, harassment, ethics, code of conduct and others apply even in the cyber-land of social media. An effective policy should remind internal audiences of these obligations and relate them to social media

Go on. You have a go at relating them to social media. Good luck.

 So there you are. Never say I don’t give you anything. If you’d like to see the whole document that I lifted this from, then perform some dexterous clickaciousness here.

 There’s a bit about training – which you’re going to have to do once your policy’s in place. You’re going to love it.

Social Media – Release the Inner F@*!wit!

Yep, she be gathering momentum.

Having just made a big fat posting about changing my mind, eating gateau d’humilite, and advocating getting a social media policy (quickly, quickly, before it goes horribly, horribly wrong) if only to control those of your people who will undoubtedly, as sure as a werewolf comes over all bristly roundabout full moon, mutate into dribbly village idiots when confronted with social media –  and I surf directly into this.

Oooop. The fine lads and lasses of the Emergency Department at Swindon’s Great Western Hospital find themselves suspended pending a disciplinary, having decided to play the Lying Down Game (google it, my life’s too short) and post their pictures on Facebook. Seven of them were suspended. You’d have thought, simply according to the law of averages, that one of them would have been bright enough to say ‘hey up, guys – maybe we shouldn’t be doing this’. But they did it anyway.

A fair proportion of the blame lies with the hospital authority. Quite clearly there wasn’t a social media strategy (for strategy, read ‘draconian guideline policy’) in place and quite clearly, no-one had bothered to monitor social media outlets to see what was being said/posted. So you can’t wholly blame the employees – they had a right (I guess) to expect to be protected from themselves.

Now – before anyone points out that I’m being a hypocrite and a two-faced, mealy-mouthed, stance-changer (having made it very clear that I believe social media to be impossible to monitor or regulate) – when I say ‘monitor social media’ what I mean is having a quick look at Facebook and Twitter and searching for the name of your brand, company or organisation.

In this case, it wouldn’t have been too difficult to track down the Secret Swindon Emergency Department Group. 

Actually, on reflection, maybe those employees on suspension deserve everything that’s coming to them.

Social Media – Sadly, Doing Nothing is Not an Option

It’s one of those horrible moments of dawning realisation, the sinking feeling of impending doom, the painful awareness that the buggers have, in fact, in some way, succeeded.

Yes, ladies and gents, fellow sceptics, I’m afraid that, like it or not, as communicators we are all going to have to embrace social media and actively do something about it. As you may know, this is a bit of a shift for me. I’ve always been of the opinion that there are far better ways of promoting your brand, company or organisation and – while you should not ignore it – social media is one of those things that you keep an eye on (watching for significant change or potential threat) with an 85% certainty that it’s a passing fad and it will go away.

(This opinion is not just something I made up in the bath, mind, it’s the result of having read all sorts of different points of view and assimilated a reasonable amount of data. Some of the latest stuff says that there are now 44.5m Twitterators globally and that, in the UK, the fastest growing age range for Twitter is the over 50s (this from Nielsen). Search the web – there’s loads of stuff – but it all (in a roundabout way) points to two things. That no-one really understands where social media is going or how to harness it and that, unless someone develops that understanding, it is (and will remain) little more than a passing fad.)

Of course, as with any new shiny object, there are those who are terrified that they’re missing out on the next big thing and there are those who feed on that terror to further their own ends. So we’ve seen the rise and rise of the ‘social media strategist’ and we’ve seen more amd more companies embracing social media strategy – some sensible, some less so. At best, you have companies creating networks of highly, trained, carefully controlled brand spokespeople (which they probably already had anyway) with a specific remit to comment on their areas of expertise through social media. At worse, you have an unseemly and dangerous free-for-all, propagated by the cyber-hippies and cyber-socialists, who believe that vox populi, vox dei and that social media is going to change the face of capitalism as we know it.

Still – and so I thought – there’s no need to have – unless you’ve got some spare people, time and budget just sloshing around – a social media strategy. Be aware of what social media is, keep up to date – but as long as your company or brand has a good corporate reputation, is reasonably ethical, fair and honest, and has a decent corporate culture (am I asking too much here?) then you’ve very little to fear and very little to gain.

Of course, there’s always going to be the odd blip, isn’t there? Damage done to corporate reputation by misguided or malicious use of social media? People (employees who are either not enrolled enough in corporate culture, or who are simply not clever enough) using social media without thought for the consequences. Dominos Pizza. Then, earlier this week, Currys and PC World (UK high street retailers). And I’m certain that there are plenty of other examples that simply haven’t attracted as much attention.

Clearly, this is nothing new. There have always been idiots who, given an opportunity to write in a comments book, or give answers to a survey, or email to a suggestion box, are suddenly overtaken by a severe case of Tourette’s. The difference is that, in the past, inappropriate behaviour was generally confined to small audiences of colleagues, or the employee’s friends and family. If it came to light, then suitable disciplinary action was taken. Now however, the Tourette’s-afflicted staff member has instant access to an on-line audience that can number tens of thousands.

So, social media has forced our hand. Doing nothing is not an option. Every company that has a reputation it wishes to protect should now be working on, and implementing , a social media policy which outlines, very clearly, what is and what is not acceptable in the workplace and when/if discussing the brand. As social media use (especially content) cannot be monitored or regulated, it should really be banned altogether in the workplace and the penalties for failng to abide by the policy should be draconian.

All well and good – but imposing a policy like this will inevitably be seen as removing the employee’s right to freedom of speech. (Mind – since when did employees have a right to freedom of speech? They turn up, they work, they get paid for it. Nothing about freedom of speech.) Social media and its soya-sandalled, hessian-draped, patchouli-doused acolytes are creating/have created an expectation of utopia – where everyone is an individual, where everyone has a voice, where the relationship is not between consumer and brand, it’s between consumer and brand employee.

Thus, for the sake of your corporate culture, for the sake of employee relations, it’s not going to be enough just to have a policy on social media usage. No, you’ll also have to have an identification and training programme for social media spokespeople, and a communication programme in place to explain to general population why they can’t post to social media sites and why the accredited spokespeople can.

In fact, you’ll have to develop a social media strategy. Luckily there are simply zillions of social media strategists out there who’ll be delighted to help you work this one out. For a simply stupefying amount of money.

On second thoughts, forget you ever read this.

As you were. Carry on.

Social Media – Vox Populi, Vox Dei?

Those of you who’re regulars here will know my views on social media (blah, blah blah, don’t ignore it, yadayadayada, better ways of spending your money, time and effort) and you may aso have some passing awareness of how those views have got me into some small amount of trouble (mainly in the States, unsurprisingly) with those who see Social Media as the Next Big Thing, a digital messiah, a cure-all and something that will change life as we know it. (Don’t get me wrong, it might. Who knows what it might do. Ah – yes – that’s it – no-one knows what it might do. Which is the problem in grasping it with both hands too readily. It might be poisonous.)

Anyway, there’s this school of thought that says that the nature of the contract between audience and brand or organisation is changing. Has, in fact, changed. It says that the contract is now – because of social media – between the audience and the employees of the brand or organisation. That you should mobilise your workforce. That you should allow your employees free access to social media, to post on your brand/organisation’s behalf.

What the school of thought is saying, in summary, is ‘vox populi, vox dei’. Now, as any fule kno, if vox populi, vox dei, then the devil’s in the detail. But it goes further than that. The quotation ‘vox populi. vox dei’ is but part of a larger quotation:

“Nec audienti sunt qui solet docere, ‘Vox populi, vox dei’; cum tumultuositas vulgi semper insanitas proxima est.”

The literal translation of this is: “Do not listen to those who are accustomed to teach [claim], ‘The voice of the people is the voice of God’, because the tumult of the masses is always close to insanity.”

I rest my case, m’lud.

Internal Communications – Here Be Debate!

This is a follow-up to the post in which I suggested that it would be an act of near-criminal lunacy to advocate (like Ford and Coke seem to be doing) giving employees of large organisations the freedom to post to social media sites, without any corporate control. (I’m paraphrasing.) Anyway, here’s another reply:

“Yes, employees need to be briefed. And the article you quote (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124925830240300343.html) states that they will be trained! So I don’t see the idea of letting trained, briefed, hand-picked employees interact with customers on the company’s behalf as a dangerous one.

 Can you imagine someone trying to Tweet on behalf of the company, answering customer service complaints/queries, etc. and having to go to PR for approval of every tweet? No – you pick the right person to tweet and train them so they understand the limits of what they can say and when to get help from PR/Legal, if things get nasty or something big happens. You’re talking about responding to a lot of “I like coke better than pepsi” “why does BK serve Pepsi and not Coke” types of tweets.

 Also, the Domino’s example is one where employees weren’t tweeting or videoing on behalf of the company. Running all official Dominos Tweets and posts through PR wouldn’t have stopped it. And certainly, this was a crisis situation and professionals handled it – I don’t think Dominos let just anyone respond on the company’s behalf.

 I see the Domino’s case as an example of how easy it is for what’s happening internally (especially the bad stuff) to go public, rather than a reason to try and stop employees from talking about work. And I don’t believe it’s possible for a company nowadays to maintain 100% control of messages that go public.

 One of my favorite reads is the Authentic Enterprise report by the A W Page Society: http://www.awpagesociety.com/images/uploads/AE_Summary_4.pdf

Talks about how the walls are dissolving and what a company says externally has to match the way they really are internally – authenticity is key to success. This means trusting employees and moving away from pure command and control.

 Last thought: social media is conversational and personal. An individual needs to post – imagine if a company ran an ‘official’ Twitter stream with no person’s name, only press releases and ‘we’re so great’ messages. It would be a flop and would turn people off. The companies seeing a positive response to their efforts are those who let the customer service rep/pr person/exec be themselves and talk about the company (within a set of guidelines).

 My twenty cents!”

Great reply – and worth responding. 

The WSJ article actually says ‘some companies are training staffers to broaden their social media efforts’ – this is journalese for ‘I’m about to introduce two examples of companies that have told me they’re going to start letting their employees post to social media’. The companies themselves – Ford and Coke – talk more in terms of ‘teaching employees how to use sites’ and ‘authorizing’ employees to post without recourse to the company’s PR staff. This does not automatically imply training programmes for nominated Tweeters and posters – and in any case, when you’re messing with a company’s reputation, even if someone has been trained, you still monitor what they do very closely. Hence briefing documents, position statements and Q&A documents every time a senior executive speaks to the media (common practice in the majority of listed companies).

The whole Customer service scenario described is, I believe, discrete from the plans of Ford and Coke. Customer Service staff normally have sheets of pre-prepared responses which they use (reactively) to answer general complaints and queries and they never stray from the script. If I’ve read the WSJ article correctly, what they’re talking about is allowing staff to be active in their use of social media – not responding to general enquiries, but posting their thoughts, opinions and commentary. This is very different, fraught with danger and would require a whole different type of training/preparation. It could be argued that one cannot train someone to post to social media – you’re talking about delicacy, sensitivity, social awareness etc etc – arguably stuff that you cannot teach.

 As for the Dominos example – the only way to have stopped that happening would have been to have had a policy in place which says Dominos franchisees and their employees do not post Dominos-related material on social media. Any franchisee or employee found in breach of the policy will be fired. Simple and – once you make a couple of examples, pour encourager les autres – highly effective. You’re right, it’s impossible for a company to be 100% in control of the message – but there are ways that the company can get close to it.

I totally agree that the external perception of the company has to reflect the internal reality – but giving employees freedom to post to social media is not the way to achieve this. A good internal comms programme – enrolling employees in the corporate goals and ethos and allowing them to understand why the messages are controlled, what the potential issues are and what the effects could be – is.

I’m afraid that trusting employees to do the right thing is a beautiful idea, but in the real world it cannot work – not because they are inherently untrustworthy, but because they are human and therefore fallible. Even letting them operate ‘within a set of guidelines’ doesn’t work – guidelines are open to interpretation and – therefore – misinterpretation.

I read somewhere recently that in today’s web-based society, a consumers’ relationship is no longer with the company or its brand, but with the company’s employees. I fundamentally disagree with this. The role of a company and its brands is to make money – for its owners, shareholders and employees and, through them, for the country/countries in which it is based. This is capitalism, this is the way of the world – let’s not get it confused with the new New Age that seems to be arising from the social media phenomenon.