Companies Need a Social Media Policy

Reuters had an interesting article on social media policies on June 28 at:

The article pointed out that trying to stop employees from participating in the social media revolution is near impossible and is not the right strategy in any case. The article advocated giving employees some ground rules (via written policy) about what can be written and to always use a “professional” conduct.

In a perfect world…I would agree, but this assumes employees will follow your “general” policies.

The corporate brand is one of the most valuable assets the company owns with years of investment of money, time and goodwill. To simply give that over to any employee could be disastrous.  Let’s look at the problem from the lawyer’s point of view. Your attorney needs to protect the company from possible litigation and costly eDiscovery requirements wherever possible. Corporate social media needs to be managed just like any other marketing program.

All the social media venues I am aware of in one way or another record and displays thoughts, pictures, links etc for some period of time, sometimes forever. The fact to keep in mind is that if you put it in writing, it’s permanent and is out of your direct control from then on. Now, the first question you need to address is “is social media content discoverable (in the legal sense)? Depending on the case and relevancy of the content, the answer is of course! So do you want any employee “speaking” for the company? If your policy is you allow any employee to use corporate social media accounts or allow those employees to refer to the company in any way, then they could be seen as representing the company. Most successful companies I have worked for in the past have very specific rules around for example speaking to the media without prior approval or training. Why would an organization diverge from that strategy?

I know you can’t control what employees do away from work but companies do have a right to control their brand and that includes how they are represented on social media sites. For that reason, every organization should develop, implement and enforce a corporate-wide social media policy for all employees (because if you don’t enforce it, then do you really have a policy?).

Aspects of a corporate social media policy should include:

  1. A policy author with contact information in case employees have questions
  2. An effective date
  3. A definition of what social media is
  4. A description as to why this policy is being developed (for legal defense, brand protection etc)
  5. A description of  what social media sites the company officially participates in
  6. A listing of those employees approved to participate on those sites
    1. The fact that any and all approved social media participations will be done only from corporate infrastructure (this is to protect approved employees from discovery of their personal computers)
    2. A description of topics approved to be used
    3. A description of those topics not approved to be used
    4. A description of any approval authority process
    5. A description of what will happen to the employee if they don’t follow the approved process
  7. A direct statement that unapproved employees that mention the company, company business, other employees, company customers etc. in any social media venue will be punished in the following manner…
  8. A description of how these policies will be audited and enforced

Once the policy is developed, it needs to be communicated to all employees on a regular basis and updated by legal representative on an annual basis.

A side point is, for legal reasons, you should be archiving all approved social media participations much like many companies now archive their email and instant message content.

This type of policy will seem rather draconian to most employees but in reality the organization needs to protect the brand and always have a proactive strategy to potential litigation.

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