Question 245 of 365: What is our social media policy?

An institution will be known by its use of social media. They will be seen through the lens of every contributor in their ranks. They will either be well represented or incredibly absent, nothing in between. The identities of every Facebook and Twitter user will build into an army of advocates for the institution, so long as the institution doesn’t squash that reality.

Social media policies govern what can and cannot be posted, connected, and learned from the networks that drive many of our work and personal decisions and plans. And mostly, they do it rather badly. These policies tend to confuse guidance with enforcement. Here are my biggest infringements with social networking policies that have been floating around for the past few years:

  • They are overly long. There is no reason to have a 4 page social networking policy. Either people will follow the guidelines or they won’t. There is no reason to have a stipulation for blog posts that is different from Facebook updates.
  • They try to regulate privacy settings for employees. By asking people to hide certain parts of information about themselves, you are asking them to not represent themselves completely online. You are asking for less real interactions than if they had the option to reveal more.
  • They try to separate professional and personal life. While this may have been easy to do in the past, it is nearly impossible to sanction when “working hours” happen for many positions. I wake up at 3:00 am some days (because my daughter felt it was a good time to get up, mostly) and get started on answering emails and working on the things that require most attention. These kinds of policies would mean that I couldn’t tweet out about anything else but work during those times. It also means that connections that are made based upon work can never become more than those connections. Some of my best friends are a part of my twitter network as well. They aren’t one or the other. They are real people that live and work really hard. Let’s not regulate that out of them.
  • They dictate (or try to) what company ownership of ideas is. Many communications and legal departments see anything that is done on company time as being a part of the company’s assets. Their understanding is that there is very little co-ownership of reflections, annotations, or conversations about the work that is going on. In essence, they claim everything. And at least according to my understanding of copyright law, unless they have signed something to that affect (which most places, unless there are strict non-disclosure agreements) this is not the case. The one thing that claiming everything does to employees is that they decide to save their best ideas for themselves. They don’t post things that could help the company, but rather they separate out what it is that is beneficial and they take it elsewhere. This drains value from the organization and takes away a big incentive for staff to want to contribute in a collaborative way to the projects that are in front of them.
  • They impose disclaimers for all social media that do not have any basis in what social media is or can be. By putting a disclaimer on everything that says you can in no way speak for your organization is incredibly disempowering. The whole point of social media is that you are speaking for a unique perspective that others will want to listen to. By adding this disclaimer, you are essentially saying that you don’t want any of the value that others are creating to reflect back upon the employer that helped him/her to grow. These disclaimers are superfluous in a day when everyone has a profile and the profiles most certainly are not official. It is clear that when John McCain is tweeting, he is not speaking for the entirety of Arizona or for the whole senate. He is bringing his unique perspective to bear on the events of the day. This is what social media does; it gives a voice to everyone. Those voices are ones that we should celebrate and reward, not cut off at the knees in the hope of getting disavowing the disgruntled employee.

Mostly, the world of social media is so new that many places do not understand how to embrace a different paradigm of communication. The communications department can not control the message simply by putting out an reactionary policy. By assuming the worst of people, they are creating an environment of distrust and miscommunication. They are taking all of the bad things of social media out of context and convincing those with power that social media is bad for business. It isn’t. It is one of the things that will save your working life. It is engaging and invigorating because it brings all of our personality into a one space. We can be real people in social networks, and that is what we should want for our employees.

One of the best social networking policies I ever saw was this, from the blog Gruntled Employees. It is an entire policy put into a single tweet:

Our Twitter policy: Be professional, kind, discreet, authentic. Represent us well. Remember that you can’t control it once you hit “update.”

It is simple and authentic. It is exactly what we need for our organizations. Let’s do that and nothing else.

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