Creating a Policy for Social Networking

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My team at work is trying to create a policy for employees wanting to use social networking, so I’ve been doing some research on this area.  The first sticky point – this policy has to apply to both personal and business use of social networking.  Why?  Most people probably don’t have a separate online persona for their business network than they do for their personal network.  For instance, if you are a Facebook user, you probably only have one Facebook page.

So, how does your company regulate a community that requires open person-to-person communication?  Gartner Research urges businesses not to discourage social networking participation, but stresses the importance of having a policy in place.

It seems that the best practice around this is to have a trust policy that outlines the guidelines and acceptable practices around employee involvement.  Policies should be incorporated into the corporate communications policy as well as into the hiring process paperwork.  Forrester Research mentions in its report, “Getting Work Done in Virtual Worlds,” that IBM has an internal policy which includes words such as “use good judgement” and “protect your – and IBM’s – good name.”  Some organizations extend their ethics policies to include online profiles and communities.  In fact, I was listening to the radio the other day as a caller said she was reprimanded at work for inappropriate content on her Facebook profile.  It’s important that employees are aware that if their profiles identify them as an employee of a company, their postings could have an impanct on the company’s reputation and brand, says Gartner. 

It’s also important that employees know not to disclose company-sensitive information, trade secrets or anything that could be seen as an official view or statement by the company.  Which brings me to an important update – you know “Janet”, the ExxonMobilCorp twitterer?  She’s now claiming that she is an employee of the company.  Remember, people thought she was a corporate official, and even quoted her.  See some of the damage she has caused here, here, and here.

While its impossible to control everything that’s said about a company, businesses need to be aware of the risks of promoting online participation.  (And, also know, whether you’re promoting it or not, your employees are participating.)  Discuss the risks with your marketing and branding team, as well as with your corporate sponsor.  How will you react to a negative comment on a corporate blog?  What happens if someone tags an inappropriate video on YouTube with your company name?  What if an employee airs a disagreement to corporate policies online?  While these are hard to counteract, it’s important that you are prepared.

Let me know how your company is handling the online groundswell.

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