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Head In The Sand – SM Policy

December 21, 2010

Get me a Social Media Policy STAT
What does an organization do when something big, scary and disruptive heads their way? Well as any good risk manager knows, they implement policy. Organizational Policy on Social Media implemented! Risk averted! Now the Board and Executive can breath a sigh of relief. Am I being too cynical?

Three Approaches to Policy

1 Denial – pretend Social Media doesn’t exist and hopefully it will go away. Denial is the classic policy approach for difficult topic areas like inter-staff relationships and the timely seasonal issue of staff behaviour at the office Christmas function.

2 Shutdown – the fast-acting policy that says ‘you’ll be fired’ if you do it. Or the more politically correct version that just makes the whole thing so difficult to understand or enact that avoidance will be the operationally practiced path for the majority of staff.

3 Understanding – the much harder ‘road less travelled’. The ‘enlightened’ path is particularly difficult when you have to wrap your corporate head around something like social media. The is why ‘understanding and enablement’ is not the normal first-step for a business in relation to Social Media practice. This is a big mistake, since policy drafted for ‘shutdown’, simply closes this entire market channel and opens it for competition. Then of course, there is the issue that the ‘bad news stories’ are still going to be out there in any case, unfettered by response from the organization involved.

Shooting Down ‘Head-In-The-Sand’ Policy
What follows is my recent advice to a well known brand on their policy to dissuade staff from engaging with Social Media. The names are removed, but maybe this could apply, as the case for the affirmative, within your organization (you can make me the bad cop) …

Policy Critique
The current policy (of the unnamed organization) makes it clear to employees that Social Media is a no-go-zone for loyal staff. If someone should want to proceed with Social Media engagement, they do it against policy and in a framework that requires strict approval and complicated guidelines. Clearly the vast majority of staff will simply avoid Social Media engagement or take their use of Social Media platforms ‘underground’.

Resulting Issues
The principle problems for the organization are threefold …

ONE – The organization will be unable to effectively use Social Media as a business growth platform and has through its policy limited brand reach, message frequency and the use of a powerful group (staff) that would primarily advocate on the organizations behalf.

TWO – Negative comment and external Social Media conversation will occur regardless of the policy and since the ‘positive’ internal channel has been locked out, the balance of Social Media comment will favour the negative rather than the positive, and there will be no ‘corrective’ counter commentary.

THREE – Both staff and customers that have a preference for Social Media channels will see the organization as largely inactive in this innovative space – something that will increasingly impact the perception of the brand in the eyes of customers and staff (current and prospective) and allow competitors open access to this channel.

Resulting Message
The current policy, in practical effect, says ‘Social Media is off limits and not valued’. The policy statement that the organization will “appoint someone” to handle Social Media accounts from a central location is particularly poor. The person is not named, the process is not stated and the contact details are not provided. This is clearly an accommodation and in practice, who in the organization would realistically hand over their digital persona to an unknown corporate junior or external vendor? How would this ‘centrally appointed person’ speak more compellingly on behalf of the organization than highly experienced, highly qualified, on the spot, and invested voices that already exist within the organization?

Policy Wording
The 16 rules (guidelines) are far too complex and poorly constructed to be useful. Once the overly wordy comments are removed, the guts of the guidelines are: get permission, be authentic, consider comments carefully, be respectful and use the channel to provide and gain value on behalf of the organization. The guidelines are too complex to be remembered and work against the overarching policy of centralization. Clearly the only value in the current policy, is to scare anyone inclined to use Social Media away from doing so. There are certainly no ‘instructions’ on process or action for any employee who would want to use Social Media for the benefit of the organization.

What Other Organizations Are Doing
Telstra started, like most organizations, with denial and it looked likely that it might enact a lock-down policy. Given the negative brand sentiment attached to telecommunications and Telstra in particular, disengagement would not have come as a surprise. Sensibly, the policy makers within Telstra realised that this would prevent the channel from adding any value, leave negative comments unchecked, leave a market channel untapped and over time signal to customers and staff that the organization was out-of-touch. Telstra needed to be in all markets where its customers communicated, despite the undoubted reservations of management.

Telstra implemented a Three-Rs policy for Social Media … Representing, Responsibility and Respect. These are detailed more fully in terms of expectations and those Telstra staff that wish to engage through Social Media are encouraged to authentically advocate on behalf of the organization so long as their time use is reasonable and effective.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has perhaps the most simple policy, one that is respectful of its employees capacity to act appropriately and professionally. The single-page standard sets in place four guidelines (copied from the document – download PDF copy here) …
1) Do not mix the professional and the personal in ways likely to bring the ABC into disrepute.
2) Do not undermine your effectiveness at work.
3) Do not imply ABC endorsement of your personal views.
4) Do not disclose confidential information obtained through work.

Maybe if understanding and engagement is good enough for the ABC and Telstra, your organization should consider a more enlightened strategy and draft a more thoughtful policy.

Your Organization
I hope that this post can help you make a case for your organization’s engagement in Social Media. Of course you can always commission someone like Veridian to write policy, help your organization
monitor conversations, set standards and encourage staff to participate in a way that gains significant positive outcomes for your organization.

Let me know how your organization views Social Media and what policy initiatives they have enacted …

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