Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Corporate social media/networking policies; Part 2 - Framework

By Thomas L. McLain

For companies, the fundamental problem with social media and social networking is that employees use them to manage not only their professional relationships, but also their personal relationships. While this dual purpose component of social media may not seem any different than email, the very public nature of social media makes it far different. Part 1 of this series on corporate social media/networking policies established the need to develop policies to address micro-blogging sites such as Twitter, professional networking sites like LinkedIn, social networking like Facebook, and information sharing sites such as Digg, YouTube, and Flickr. In this Part 2 of the series, the framework of a corporate social networking policy will be outlined.

Definition of Social Media. Any social media policy needs to contain a definition of the term "social media" so that employees will know what will be governed by the policy. Social media applications are all Web 2.0 applications; applications that essentially allow real time interaction and collaboration over the Internet. The definition should describe generically the sorts of Web 2.0 applications that are included within the definition and it should also contain a non-exclusive list of specific applications.

Company Social Media Philosophy. A company needs to determine how far its policy will extend in the workplace and beyond. In the workplace, it will want the policy to govern company-sponsored communications, or "official communications," and personal communications. Common topics for official communications include: proactive sales/marketing, reactive sale/marketing (monitoring social media and reacting to "bad press"), direct inquiry customer service, reactive customer service (monitoring social media and reacting to problems), and human resources recruitment. Official communications and personal communications outside the workplace will also have to be addressed. The philosophy should stress that regardless of whether personal communications or official communications are involved, employee productivity is not to suffer as a result of involvement with social media.

Mechanics. Employees will often already have social media accounts so the policy will need to require disclosure to the corporation of all social media accounts. Accounts which will be used for official communications will need to be reviewed for consistency with the public image the company wishes to portray. The company should also have the passwords to all accounts from which official communications are sent. Employees need to understand that accounts will be monitored and that violations of the policy may result in the termination of the employee.

"Playing the Game" and Online Demeanor. Many social media sites are set up so that a participant needs to endorse others in order to gain credibility; however, such endorsements may give the appearance that the company is actually giving the endorsement. Thus, the company has an interest to protect in connection with any social media account used by an employee that identifies the employee as an employee of the company. The policy will need to be defined and require that the employee exercise appropriate business behavior. This requirement will need to be supplemented by training. Employees must not forget that, despite the informality of the communications, the comments they make online are public and essentially permanent.

Compliance. The policy will need to be conformed to all other policies, such as the company's email, confidentiality, privacy and communications policies. The policy will need to remind employees to protect proprietary and confidential company information and trade secrets.

Legal Issues, Monitoring, Training and Enforcement. Whether addressed directly in the corporate social media policy or indirectly outside of the policy, these topics will be discussed in Part 3 of this series.

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