Social media has opened the floodgates to content production and information distribution; everyone now has a voice. This is the beauty of technology. Nonetheless, while the benefit to individuals and corporations can be limitless, so too can be the risk.
Corporations now have a voice and so do their employees. This poses a critical question: How can one derive benefit, while mitigating the risk of open communication? As social media usership continues to increase (and it shows no sign of stopping) so too will employee usage. These technologies often blur the line between internal and external communication in companies and it is of the utmost importance to ensure that your workforce conducts itself in a respectful manner –to both the public and to their company.
It’s a simple fact: employees will blog, tweet and update. Therefore, it’s in every company’s best interest to embrace this fact, while setting guidelines for conduct that enable these platforms to be leveraged for benefit while hedging against risk. Social media policies are basic rules set in place to inform employees on how to utilize social media in the context of their business, essentially while keeping everyone happy.
Many companies have already put these communication policies in place, citing codes of conduct for more conventional practices and creating specific guidelines to govern employees’ usage of new media. It’s no surprise that tech companies have been the first to enter the fray, with an eye for new trends and a plethora of sensitive internal information in an industry rife with competition.
IBM takes a stance that encourages its employees to enter the sphere of social media, to participate in ‘open exchange and learning’ as well as to contribute to the public dialogue. Their guidelines are firmly based in their Business Conduct Guidelines, but also include many specific nuances for social media.
Rather than condescend and berate employees with rules, IBM reinforces good behaviour and suggests positive blogging habits, such as transparency, being ‘who you are’ and respecting your audience and co-workers. Along with these are the usual privacy policies, such as protecting confidential information and respecting intellectual property rights. The bottom line is that IBM seems to really get what employees are trying to do through social media; rather than burdening the process, they embrace is by creating a guideline that supports the activity.
HP also follows suit. The forefront of their policy is promises honesty in dialogues with the audience and providing accurate information. Further, they will not delete posts unless they violate their guidelines – meaning: even negative posts will be maintained for the sake of transparency. Throughout, they mention the use of good judgement, leaving much of the responsibility in the discretion of their employees. Another recurring theme is only contributing within one’s area of expertise; much as IBM indicated, it is essential to provide value and contribute meaningful and relevant content.
Intel has yet another excellent example of a positive, reinforcing guideline, aimed at encouraging good behaviour, rather than stifling ingenuity. Their policy insists bloggers create excitement, sharing their high-value innovation with the world; rather than keep this information under lock-and-key, the company encourages employees to drive up buzz. Intel is also aware of the realities of the medium, noting that if you ‘screw up’ and make a mistake, admit it. Again, transparency is key: be upfront and people will appreciate your candour.
While the core precepts of these communication policies are universal – maintaining confidentiality and adhering to codes of conduct – each company takes has its own unique take. The key for these policies is embracing social media as a tool that presents unbridled potential – for transparency, for brand equity, for communication – tempered with an understanding of the potential risks it presents, if left unaddressed.