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“What’s Your Social Media Policy?” – Are you an “Ostrich” or an “Agile Landscaper”?

August 12, 2010

[tweetmeme]As you may imagine I read a lot of blogs on social media policy, mainly to try and keep up with new thinking around a popular and rapidly evolving area. Mostly I try to retweet the blogs I think would be interesting or are note-worthy in providing a different perspective. Every now and then I do come accross something exceptional and I’ve decided that from now on I’ll share them on my blog with some commentry as to why I think these are worth some extra consideration.

This week Relationship Economics published a blog titled “What’s Your Social Media Policy?” and you can read the full blog here. This blog is not only exceptionally well written (thank you David Nour), but it looks at social media policies from both a practical point of view based on experience and a slightly different angle. What’s not to like?

The first thing David does is to divide the approach people and organisations take to social media policies into four distinct camps. One of the reasons I like his distinctions is simply because I agree with them; I see these types all the time through the course of my working day. Rather than trying to paraphrase this part of the blog I have just copied it for you to read with my comments in italics after each point:

1.  The Ostrich Look-A-Likes – “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, personal laptops, or around the corner at the coffee shop?  Here is one of my favorites: a local, well-recognized brand that promotes a payment application they’ve developed on Facebook, blocks access to Facebook for its employees!

If you are locking it down because you don’t want your employees to participate and adversely affect on your brand marketing, you’re right to do so. It is working, but probably not in the manner you intend when your biggest competitor allows its employees to engage with the market using social media, and is lowering their cost of customer acquisition and retention in the process.

Ok, I’ve bolded (word?) the comment on employees using smartphones etc to get around company access blocks on social media. This I just don’t get. And, it usually comes from the IT department in my experience. Surely they know that employees will find a way around these road blocks, even if it is just from their smart phone? The other overlooked aspect of social media is that because it is so public, everyone including the organisation not blocking it, can see it. This actually makes it much easier to monitor than the hushed telephone call, clandestine meeting in the coffe shop or email that can only be “seen” by the IT department?

2.  Generic Find & Replacers – “Just give me someone else’s social media policy, and I’ll replace their company name with mine.” How’s that working for you on HR forms, supplier contracts and other documents which clearly define your unique organization, culture, and relationships critical to your success?  Here is a website just for you:, It currently has 120+ different organizations to choose from.

Again, such a good point. A generic social media policy is hardly worth the paper it’s metaphorically constructed on. Like any other organisational policy it needs to reflect the specific and unique attributes that defines a successful business. By the way, we have been so inundated with requests for a “vanilla” policy that we now have one available for purchase very reasonably from our website – just put your own company details in it!

3.  Bureaucratic Wordsmithers – “We need to wordsmith this document as it is part of our policy.”  The only thing I think about when I hear this one is the mid-90s version of the company “Mission Statement,” where it took the entire organization countless 12-hour debates in fifteen 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 succinctly captures intent and direction, and work with social media law experts to “legalize it.”

Amen! Thank you for such simple logic and a reasonable approach combined with the risk management sensibility of “legalisation”.  Anyone looking for a social media law expert, please click here. Just a note on choosing a social media law “expert”, make sure your lawyer is actually using social media and so understands the nuances. There are many law firms out there proporting to be social media experts who simply have someone else tweet on their behalf occasionally.

4.  Agile Landscapers – “We understand that social media opens a whole new can of worms for our organization. We really need a strategic approach to developing our social media engagement program, as the very ‘squishy’ nature of social engagement lends itself to potential judgment calls on behalf of our organization.”  These leaders are really smart, because they get that the 20-somethings (and yes even sometime the 30-somethings) in the organization need to understand that 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!

These are the companies I really enjoy working with – this attituted is generally reflective of a particular culture which also encourages creativity and independence. These are the organisations of the future – watch them fly!

David Nour also uses a couple of descriptive corporate culture terms that I think I will quote regularly in the future; the new and rarely seen “track and trust” culture of the brave new world  and the prevailing “command and control” culture – which one do you belong to?

Finally, David gives us 10 questions devised by his team to “help start a dialogue in your organisation”. I think this is a really well thought out list of relevant questions and I could comment at length on each of them. If you can discuss these questions in your organisation you are well on your way to developing a sound social media policy. Here they are:

  • 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 is yours, your employees, your partners, 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 to vent for employees? Are you giving employees an outlet for voicing feedback? How is morale? Most who say, “I hate… websites” 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 concerning 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 better or worse. 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 for social media conduct. If you have loose expectations 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’s 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 with a personally branded account? What if your employee starts an account on behalf of the company?
  • Are you an Ostrich or an Agile Landscaper?

    1. UnrelentingSpark permalink

      Really interesting stuff. Writing for CIO Magazine, it’s always an interesting issue when I ask CIOs about their social media policy. There is such a need for guidance like this in Australia.

      • I agree, there is a great need for guidance around social media policy and CIO’s currently need to search far and wide for it. It’s particularly challenging because it’s still evolving so fast so it requires original thinking and an innovative approach to information and the way it’s managed.

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