Tuesday, January 27, 2009

what not to know: social media policy

In recent weeks, I've seen plenty of postings--on Facebook, Twitter, or blogs--that tell me things I shouldn't know. I shouldn't know when your media relations officer has offered an exclusive item to a specific New York Times reporter. I shouldn't know how to get into an event that's closed to the public and has high security. I shouldn't know what your employees think about what your office spends on equipment -- but I do, thanks to social networks. And have you heard the one about the PR executive who made snide comments about his client's city while there for a meeting--on Twitter? The firm was Ketchum, the city was Memphis and the client was FedEx, where lots of employees are originally from the city and proud of it. And while all parties have said the dust-up is settled by now, it offers food for thought for your organization--do your employees have the guidance they need from you about posting about your company, clients or business matters on social networking sites? Do they agree with it?

While the answer to that question is "no" for many organizations just getting started in social media, it's time to start crafting your policies now--and making sure your employees are on board. The trick: Maintaining openness and transparency to remain credible with your audience and offering employees sensible guidance in case, like the person noted above, they haven't stopped to consider the impact of their actions. Here's a roundup of good policies to check out before you craft your own, with some notes on whether they'd have helped in the case above:

  • Dell has published its blog policy here (and a release about it here). Dell doesn't forbid opinions, but says they should be clearly noted as such, and goes further to say "Consumer protection and respect are paramount to Dell employees, suppliers and other company representatives." Note Dell's based its policy on ethics guidelines from the Word of Mouth Marketing Association designed to encourage honesty and transparency among marketers online.

  • In a good model for nonprofits, the Mayo Clinic just published its employee guidance on social media use, delineating between personal and work-related uses. It notes that "the main thing Mayo employees need to remember about blogs and social networking sites is that the same basic policies apply in these spaces as in other areas of their lives." Mayo Clinic cites the Blog Council as a resource, as well as...

  • Intel, with a policy that includes this useful item under "rules of engagement" that might've helped in the Ketchum case: "Be judicious. Make sure your efforts to be transparent don't violate Intel's privacy, confidentiality and legal guidelines for external commercial speech. Ask permission to publish or report on conversations that are meant to be private or internal to Intel. Also be smart about protecting yourself, your privacy and Intel Confidential information. What you publish will be around for a long time, so consider the content carefully and be judicious."

  • Government agencies also have policies about employee use of social media. The U.S. General Services Administration offers these guidelines for government blogs and websites, and this link to existing federal blogs. The guidelines note: "As informal as blogs are meant to be, if they're appearing on a government domain, they're official government communications...That doesn't mean you shouldn’t have a blog—you just need to think carefully about how to use it as an effective communications tool that can benefit both your agency and the public." (After reviewing all the federal blogs for a government agency client, I learned that all of them permit anonymous comments--something many organizations hesitate to do.)

It's important when developing a policy to involve your social media team -- and as many affected employees as possible -- in the process. Taking extra time to talk through assumptions, ideas and values with those affected will do more than any policy can to ensure you're all on the same page. Want us to lead a social-media policy planning process in your organization? Contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the mention, Denise. Glad our posting this was timely for you. In developing our Mayo Clinic guidelines it was helpful to have some published examples from other organizations, so we hope our example can help others, too.