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The Evolution of Social Media Policies into the Mainstream

March 21, 2011

I’ve been following the progress of social media policies in the work place for nearly two years and it’s interesting to reflect on how quickly they have evolved and where we are now with their ongoing evolvment. 

Stage 1 Denial

When I started getting involved in social media policies there was a lot of discussion on the actual need for one. “Social media is about freedom of speech and employees should not be constrained by policies” was a regular argument. The contrary argument was “just ban it”. That was real denial.  Another one was “you should just trust your employees good judgement”. I could never get my head around this as we never trust our employees good judgement in other areas of the work environment and I couldn’t see how social media should be any different. Did we all just get a dose of “good judgement” when we opened our twitter and facebook accounts?

Of course, many bad examples on the usage of social media have followed, resulting in an endless stream of legal cases in Australia around employees use (or misuse) of social media. Oops, how do we define “good judgement” from a legal perspective? How do we regulate a work place without policies for reference?

2. Acceptance

Recently there has been a general acceptance that social media policies are necessary in the workplace and there is less talk about banning social media at work as even tradtionally conservative industries get their head around this new phenomenon. Businesses are seeing the sense in being involved in social media activity as well as facing the fact that whether they like it or not, their employees most likely will be involved in social media in some way. Facebook continues to grab our attention and our social time while LinkedIn is becoming mainstream for busy executives wanting to stay in touch.

3. The Content Argument – the Present

So, having reached the stage of accepting that social media policies are as necessary as a bullying policy, now we are in the midst of the debate on what a social media policy should include, how it should be written and who should administer it? This is actually a really interesting stage in the development of social media policies and we’re lucky that due to the nature of social media, many organisations are sharing their experience along the way.

We provide our clients with a checklist (regularly updated by necessity) of issues to consider in writing a social media policy and always encourage them to write their own drafts that we then “legalise” for risk management. This is to try and get the language of a social media policy to reflect the culture of the company, something that is crucial in a social media policy document. Our challenge is to keep the policy succinct, industry appropriate and accessible while covering all the risk management issues.

Implementation is another challenge. We have found that the most important part of a social media policy is actually the education component. Once employees understand the inherent risks of social media (the publicity, the permanency and impact on professional profile) there are rarely any problems in the workplace. Generaly speaking, employees are not deliberately misusing social media, they just don’t understand the potential impact or how, for example, to consider what may or may not be, confidential information.

4. The Future

Trying to predict the future of anything is always fraught. I vaccilate from thinking social media policies will be totally unnessary in ten years time as it will be as integral a part of our communincation as the telephone (for which we generally have no content usage policy) to thinking they will become a complex and integral part of our suite of business policies into which most of our other business policies will be integrated. One thing’s for sure, the change in this area is so rapid that we will be revisiting our social media policies on a regular basis in the short term to keep them current and relevant.

I curate articles on social media policies on a daily basis and you can visit this collection of articles from around the world to see current discussions.

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