Why your office shouldn’t have a social media policy.

By David Griner

This article first appeared on The Social Path.

Social junkpile

Does your workplace have explicit rules about how employees can use social media? Does it spell out Facebook and Twitter by name and dictate details down to the blog disclaimers and avatar photos?

If so, it’s probably not as effective as your HR managers might think.

Why? Because giving social media its own HR policy isn’t cutting edge. It’s short-sighted. Your company’s time and energy would be far better spent developing a policy that can be universally applied to all types of digital communication — e-mails, forums posts, blog entries, tweets, status updates, etc.

Trying to create a unique policy for each digital tool is like trying to stomp out a colony of ants one bug at a time.

Digital communication is simply evolving far too fast for any workplace to keep up with. If all you did was amend your HR rules each time Facebook changed its formatting, sharing options or privacy settings, that alone would be a full-time job. Why spend your time chasing the wind?

In its new (and free) white paper, “Is Your Acceptable Use Policy Social Media-proof?”, online protection firm M86 Security tackles this issue of creating guidelines that encompass social media without getting too lost in the weeds.

It’s a good read, even for us rank-and-file types. And while I don’t agree with all their takeaways, it’s definitely a sound starting point for managers looking to cover their bases.

Here’s the white paper’s summary on “why organizations need to be concerned about social media.”

Social media adoption is growing faster than anticipated. It is becoming the new de-facto way of staying in touch with personal contacts, and increasingly, to network with professional contacts. Users spend more time every day, even at the workplace, communicating through these new sites —typically with very little control or security enforcement. This is why organizations need to address social media activities in their AUPs. Simply blocking all access will alienate users and increasingly limit their work-related activities.

I’m sure we’re all in agreement so far. After that, we get into the weightier and more heavily debated issues, like determining “acceptable behavior” on social networks.

At this point, I’d argue the white paper encourages a bit too much granular oversight of privacy settings and parsing out which sites are “work-related.”

Some of the data along these lines is pretty fascinating, though, such as this chart illustrating which sites and tools have been the subject of corporate policies (click to zoom):

Policies by chanel

In my opinion, a digital policy for employees should be akin to the U.S. Constitution. It should convey the organization’s overarching stance on how workers should comport themselves online.

The question isn’t whether your policy includes Twitter, Facebook, LinekdIn and YouTube. The question is whether your policy acknowledges that there is no longer a clear divide betwen the personal and the professional.

You’re probably asking, “But shouldn’t we get specific about what employees can say and where they can say it?”

Here’s where management comes in. Just as the Constitution must be interpreted each day by politicains and judges, so must managers help clarify how a company’s digital policy applies on the day-to-day level. Such explanations shouldn’t be difficult, if you’ve got the right policy.

A few questions I’d recommend asking yourself while creating or amending your company’s digital policies:

• Are we creating rules we have no consistent way to monitor or enforce?

• Do we have a system in place to keep employees updated regularly about how the policy applies to the changing nature of social networks?

• Does the policy convey a central, easy-to-understand philosophy, or is it just a hodge-podge of prohibitions and finger-wagging?

• Is our policy limited to just office computers and work hours? Have we clarified what these rules mean if an employee is off the clock or posting from home?

• Does our policy truly take mobile into consideration?

• Would these rules make sense if they applied to real-world situations? (For example, when was the last time you were talking to someone at a bar and they said, “Of course, these views are my own and do not reflect the opinion of my employer.”

Let’s be clear: I’m not advocating a vaguely worded and impractical policy that attempts to apply to everything and ends up applying to nothing.

And yes, management will occasionally need to create specific rules and procedures for specific channels, especially in large-workforce environments like retail and manufacturing. But it’s vital that these rules can be tied directly to a central governing philosophy on digital communication.

Otherwise, you’re essentially just building a raft out of scraps and calling it navigation.

David Griner is a social media strategist for Luckie and Company and contributing editor for Adweek’s blog, AdFreak.com. You can reach him by e-mail or on Twitter.

Photo credit: amateur_photo_bore on Flickr.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s