Do you have a Social Media Policy? ~ Part I of II

This is the first time, in posting over 200 times (not bragging …), that I have split my posts, and I would welcome your feedback. Do you like stuff chopped up in this way?

There is an argument that the only social media policy that professional practice needs is to BAN IT. It is sometimes referred to as a lock down policy.

I suspect that most firms – perhaps well over 50% – have this is place. It is usually spread across the staff handbook, IT policy or part of your contract of employment.

It may not have started that way and it may only have arisen because too many people were using Facebook during working hours or perhaps an inappropriate comment was posted by a member of staff. Even if this is not the case, a lot of firms will be playing a game of wait and see. They want to be certain that social media is going to catch on. Until then there is no need to have it in the workplace.

But everyone knows that however robust the firewall, you cannot stop a member of staff accessing any number of social media platforms through a mobile device or increasingly a tablet. Oh sure there will be bit of Big Brother about this. A bit like the ‘receiving telephone calls at work’ issue, however that is pretty easy to circumnavigate with a mobile unless of course you ask your staff to turn off their phones during working hours!

The thing is social media gives everyone a voice and the power is exponential. Of course, not everyone will want to engage with clients in this way and may be quite happy to use email, telephone and face to face meetings but increasingly, and as the age profile changes, more and more people will be happy to or need to Tweet with their clients, exchange comments on LinkedIn and, at the rate that Quora is expanding, perhaps chime in on the odd question. Of course with social media it is 24/7 which will have its detractors and enthusiasts.

Even if you do not propose to loosen the strings you still need to be aware that your staff may comment on your firm outside of work and it is better to have something than to leave things entirely to chance.

If you are thinking of putting a social media policy in place then here are my thoughts.

  1. To cut through a lot of toing and froing later on, involve all the stakeholders who need to have a say in the policy creation: HR, IT, Marketing and Compliance/Risk.
  2. Check the terms of your PI policy.
  3. Check out SocialMediaGovernance.com. There is a huge amount of information and may save you a lot of time in the drafting stage. Another good resource is davefleet.com.
  4. If you must define social media, it is best not to be too prescriptive bearing in mind how many channels and platforms now exist.
  5. Make sure that all your employees are covered including those that are working on temporary contracts and even if necessary your outsourcing supplier(s). And yes IT staff are covered.
  6. Make sure that you provide training on the use, etiquette and the house rules. You can kill two birds with one stone: people who are perhaps unfamiliar with some of the social media platforms can be shown how to use them and at the same time, by reference to some of the stories that exist, you can show examples of good practice and bad practice and weave in your policy.
  7. Don’t make the policy so long that even you don’t understand it. That said don’t leave yourself open with language that is opaque and open to doubt. If you are not sure about the drafting then open it open for discussion to those people that will or are likely to engage. At the end of the day, given the rapid development in social media, this is unlikely to be a document that will stay frozen in aspic for long.
  8. Don’t just look at the policy as a way of minimising or mitigating risk. Look for the upside too.
  9. You should consider a moderation or filtration process. In other words, you may want at least one pair of eyes to see the proposed Tweet, LinkedIn post or blog comment.
  10. You may need to think of having more than one policy. You may have to craft one that is generic to all staff and another for those who are to be actively involved and have the greatest potential to impact the firm – for good or bad.
  11. Dave Fleet in an article in the IABC bulletin says that “A good social media policy will clearly outline: What the company [firm] will and will not do online. What employees can and cannot do online. What members of the public can and cannot do on online company properties.” He also says that you should focus on the internal rules of engagement and an externally focused policy which deals with how people outside of the firm interact online with your staff. Blog comments or comments on LinkedIn are two examples.
  12. Ultimately, you will find there is no shortage of material to help you craft your policy but don’t just copy what someone else has done. The policy has to work for you and one size is unlikely to fit all firms.
  13. Make sure you carry out an audit within your firm because you need to capture all activity even if some of it has no bearing on the roles that each staff member plays. You are likely to find you will have more than a few people who already have a fairly well established web presence which you can learn from.
  14. Although incredibly basic, it should be assumed that everyone will adopt the Mum test. Do not say anything that you would not say to your Mum. The trick is to allow some spontaneity but at the same have some clear boundaries as to what is and is not acceptable behaviour.

If you are one of the many firms that are thinking of engaging in social media or have already dipped your toe in the water, NOW IS THE TIME TO PUT TOGETHER A POLICY.

Don’t wait for the horse to bolt…

Tomorrow’s post will look at how a social media policy, properly drafted, can help you leverage your on-line activity and tap into your employees position in the market.

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For more on developing profitable business, innovating in professional practice and implementing social media, subscribe to the RSS Feed of my Blog. Follow me on Twitter at @0neLife, or @Ju_Summerhayes connect to me on LinkedIn or friend me on Facebook. If I can help you or your practice, check out my coaching and consulting firm via LinkedIn, email me on juliansummerhayes [at] gmail [dot] com or call me on 075888 15384.

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