In my last several prospective client meetings, a consistent conversation has centered on the need for a social media policy. Whether you work for a progressive organization or a conservative, risk-adverse one, it seems that everyone has an opinion on the best approach. Here are some prevailing camps:
1. The ostrich look-alikes
“I’m on Facebook to keep up with my teenage daughter; it has no relevance to our business, and it’s going to go away soon enough. Besides, bandwidth, viruses and time-wasting are all good reasons for us to block complete access to any and all of it from our company.”
Seriously? You don’t think employees are getting online with their smart phones, or their personal laptops, or around the corner at the coffee shop? Here is one of my favorite examples: A local, well-recognized brand promotes a payment application they’ve developed on Facebook, but blocks access to Facebook for its employees!
If you are locking it down because you don’t want your employees to participate and you are worried about the effect on your brand marketing, that approach is working … but probably not in the manner you intended. Think about it this way: If your biggest competitor is allowing its employees to engage with the market and using social media to lower the cost of customer acquisition and retention, what advantage do you gain by sticking your head in the sand?
2. Generic find and replacers
“Just give me someone else’s social media policy, and I’ll find/replace their company name with mine.”
How’s that working for you on your HR forms, supplier contracts and other documents that clearly define your unique organization, culture and relationships critical to your success? If you’re into the one-size-fits-all approach, here is a Web site just for you: http://socialmediagovernance.com/policies.php, which currently has 120+ different organizations to choose from.
3. Bureaucratic wordsmithers
“We need to wordsmith this document as it is part of our policy.”
The only thing I can think about when I hear this one is the mid-’90s version of the company “Mission Statement,” which took the entire organization countless 12-hour debates in 15 conference rooms over a six-month timeframe to replace “a” with “the.” Power doesn’t corrupt — powerlessness corrupts! Focus on a plain English version, which can succinctly capture your intent and direction, and work with social media law experts to “legalize it.”
4. Agile landscapers
“We understand that social media opens a whole new can of worms for our organizations. We really need a strategic approach to developing our social media engagement programs; the very ‘squishy’ nature of social engagement lends itself to potential judgment calls on behalf of our organization.”
This one is really smart, because they get that the 20-somethings (and, sometimes, the 30-somethings) in the organization need to understand that their personal actions online reflect the corporate image. What you say and do online will either enhance or dilute your reputation and, thus, people’s perception of you!
If you fall in the first three camps — sorry, we can’t help you. But, if you’re savvy enough to understand that this is the “wild, wild West” and that a “track and trust” culture will get you a lot further than the prevailing “command and control” version, here are 10 questions our team has devised to help start a dialogue in your organization:
- What level of corporate transparency do we want to have? It is a spectrum, and you need to figure out how open you really want to be.
- What is our definition of “intellectual property”? Your corporate IP is a corporate asset; think copyrights, patents, trademarks; but also corporate proprietary information, customer information, etc. How do you define what belongs to you, your employees, your partners and your customers, and what do you share with the market?
- What is the customer’s level of expectation around the customer experience? Do they expect to be engaged? Do they expect real time feedback and response? Do they expect your people to be empowered to participate in social engagement? Knowing how much will also drive the organization’s view of how you should participate.
- What is our employee’s level of expectation around employee engagement? Do they expect a wide-open policy for everyone? Are there industry regulations regarding participation? How is management participating?
- Are there internal vehicles for employees to vent? Are you giving employees an outlet for voicing feedback? How is morale? Most who say, “I hate … Web sites” are actually ex-employees. Did you just go through a round of lay-offs? You may want to think about how your employee base will react.
- How do we describe our corporate culture? Do you or your employees have a clear idea of your culture? It will come out, so be prepared. If your management team is more paranoid than North Korea, don’t expect to see a rosy picture put forth to potential customers. Corporate culture is one area that definitely shows up on social media.
- What is the line between personal and professional branding? If an employee posts information on their company on their personal page, who owns the content? Can we influence what someone posts in his or her spare time about himself or herself? The short answer is that if they share with the world that they are an employee of the company, then they are responsible to the company for protecting the brand.
- What do we want the world to know about us as a company? Our employees are ambassadors for our company, for good or bad. For many prospective buyers, their first point of introduction may be through the social interactions of an employee, whether professional or personal. If we don’t have a clear message, what do you think will happen in the market?
- What are our expectations around professionalism for our employees? If you have a dress code, code of conduct, etc., then it would be logical to have a more restrictive code of social media conduct. If you have a more loose expectation around how employees are expected to engage, then you probably don’t expect to have a corporate image projected from your employees.
- Who owns the relationship/account? If your junior account team person connects to one of your customer employees, what happens when that employee leaves your company? Who owns the customer when a sales rep leaves who is directly connected to the customer on LinkedIn? How about when they have built their pipeline over social media? What happens when your customer service people build a following on Twitter over a personal/named account? What if your employee starts an account on behalf of the company?
Certainly not easy questions – but then again, social media is a disruptive force which we believe will evolve many industries. So, I ask you again, what’s your social media policy?