Friday, January 28, 2011

Corporate Social Media Policy: Much More Than "Be Authentic"

Now that more companies are getting involved with Social Media, there is a need for Corporate Policies that address the internal and external landscape of Social Media use. It's one thing to represent your business online - it's entirely another when your employees are representing it for you.

Most available guidelines, like this free article from Shift Communications, Corporate Social Media Policy: Top 10 Guidelines, address the main points of using Social Media - be authentic, relevant and real.

But any business that has more than two layers of management is going to have additional needs for a policy on Social Media use. Especially if that company is in an externally regulated field like finance or healthcare.

So, after the Top 10 Guidelines, what does a Corporate Policy have to address?

Internal Vs External Social Media 

Internal social media are blogs, forums, and wikis located on the company intranet or located externally, but restricted to members of the company, like Ning or Yammer groups. External corporate Social Media can be blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare or other profiles for corporate communications to the public.

Separate these two concepts and determine who is authorized to use which - and for what purposes. The company intranet blog, discussion group or wiki might be available to anyone, to facilitate sharing of ideas and experiences. Only certain people should have access to externally facing Social Media. These people should receive clear direction on what those media are to be used for, and how they are to be used. For instance, your policy might state plainly deciding that the Corporate Twitter account is not responsible for customer service, but the separately manned Company_Cares Twitter account is.

Employee use of Internal Social Media may be monitored - this also needs to be stated in your policy. And, if that monitoring will go beyond "appropriate use" to "we're including this info at your next performance review," that also needs to be made clear so employees aren't blindsided.

Employee Identification

If your Corporate Policy allows employees to represent your company, the policy should address how employees should identify and when they NEED to identify as an employee during use of Social Media.

For instance, a person responding to a question that is well within their scope might be told to identify with a hashtag for Twitter. A great example of this was  #IworkatNovartis, which was being used by Novartis employees who responded to questions through Social Media.

Even in personal use of Social Media, an employee of your company might need to identify, so that there are no questions of inappropriate information sharing.

External Regulation

In heavily regulated industries, all communications by employees can be considered discoverable. This includes "private" communication, like email. Your corporate policy needs to state what external regulatory bodies might be watching and what employees can and cannot discuss on official and private use of Social Media. This should be in addition to any other specific training your company provides about internal and external communication and document retention.

Lose the "Least You Can Do" Mentality

Corporate Policies need to also go beyond the "least you can do to be safe" mentality and ask employees to consistently present the best, most responsive, most authentic face possible to the public. Covering the company's ass should not be the main focus of Social Media or Social Media policy.

Allowing each employee the freedom to engage in Social Media on behalf of the company and providing clear guidelines to let them know what is an effective and meaningful use of Social Media will give your company many touchpoints to your audience and your market.  With a well-written policy, relevant, authentic and real is well within your scope.
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