A Corporate Guide For Social Media
Joshua-Michele Ross, 06.30.09, 6:20 PM ETSEBASTOPOL, Calif. –
A PC in every home and workplace, a smart phone in every hand, all connected 24/7 to the hundreds of millions (and growing rapidly) of other people actively participating online via blogs, social networks, Twitter and multiplayer games.
Whether you call it Web 2.0, the social Web or any other neologism, the new network economy is about communities, collaboration, peer production and user-generated content. It is a place where business reputations are defined by customer opinions and ratings, where press is delivered by independent bloggers, and product development and insight is driven by customers. As digital natives–those who have grown up with the Internet–flood the workplace, your employees will expect to be part of the social Web and they’ll have a lot to contribute.
Does this sound like business as usual? It shouldn’t. Social technologies turn many corporate policies upside down.
Big corporations are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to harness the benefits of increased employee participation while mitigating the risks. Clearly there is no one-size-fits-all: If you are in financial services you have unique concerns for privacy, if you are part of the YMCA, you must be aware that having counselors “friend” teenagers is not appropriate, etc.
That said, here is a set of guidelines for corporations considering how to integrate social media in the workplace.
If you are an executive, keep in mind two points as you gear up your social media strategy: First, social technologies including blogs, social networks and Twitter are communication tools. That means a company’s social media approach must integrate with its existing communications channels and goals. Second, if you think these guidelines don’t apply to you, you are probably already on the endangered species list.
Social Web Guiding Principles for Employers
Lead by example.
Rules aren’t enough. Leaders should model the behavior they would like to see their employees take. Chief executive Jonathan Schwartz of Sun Microsystems set a standard on blogging. Chief Executive Tim O’Reilly has established the bar on Twitter. A corollary to this rule: don’t delegate social media to interns or people who can’t possibly represent your culture and brand.
Build your policies around job performance, not fuzzy concerns about productivity.
If your employees are using Facebook at work, they are also likely checking work e-mail after dinner or at odd hours of the day. Don’t ask them to give up the former if you expect them to continue the latter. If you have good performance measurements, playing the “lost productivity” card is a canard.
Encourage responsible use.
Encourage employees to use social tools to engage and interact with one another and with customers. In all likelihood they are already using the social Web. The difference is that currently they are using these tools without any guidance. Company’s like Zappo’s encourage using social tools. Check out http://twitter.zappos.com/.
Grant Equal Access.
Don’t block your employees from any site that is already talking about your products or that you would like to see talking up your products (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and so on.). I have had many experiences sending instructional material to clients and having them tell me that they can’t view the video or site at work. Enough said.
The social Web is a cultural phenomenon; don’t go there without a guide. Consider providing some form of education for your employees (including discussion about what tools are available, how to use them and what are the prevailing cultural norms for use). You can use one of your own employees (a power user) or bring someone in–but get educated.
Begin from a Position of Trust.
While there are possible negatives involved in having employees on the social Web, most employees have common sense. Begin with a set of possibilities first (increasing awareness, improving customer service, gaining customer insight and so on) then draw up a list of worst-case scenarios (bad mouthing the company, inappropriate language, leaking IP, to name a few). Modify the guiding principles for your employees below to help mitigate the risks you’ve identified.
Once you embrace having your employees participate in the social Web, give them a few basic guiding principles in how they conduct themselves. You can start with these:
Social Web Guiding Principles for Employees
Listen before you talk.
Before entering any conversation, understand the context. Who are you speaking to? Is this a forum for “trolls and griefers?” Is there a good reason for you to join the conversation? If your answer is yes, then follow these rules of engagement:
Say who you are.
In responding to any work-related social media activities always disclose your work relationship.
Show your personality.
You weren’t hired to be an automaton. Be conversational while remaining professional. If your personal life is one that you (or your employer) don’t want to mix up with your work, then consider establishing both private and public profiles, with appropriate sharing settings.
Respond to ideas not to people.
In the context of business, always argue over ideas not personalities. Don’t question motives but stay focused on the merit of ideas.
Know your facts and cite your sources.
When making claims, always refer to your sources, using hyperlinks when possible. Always give proper attribution (by linkbacks, public mentions, re-tweets and so on).
Stay on the record.
Everything you say can (and likely will) be used in the court of public opinion–forever. So assume you’re “on the record.” Never say anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face and in the presence of others. Never use profanity or demeaning language.
If you respond to a problem, you own it.
If you become the point of contact for a customer or employee complaint, stay with it until it is resolved.
Has your company crafted a social media policy? If so, please share your thoughts here. If you are grappling with issues, what are they? I will respond to all comments. In the meantime you can catch me on Twitter at @jmichele.
As vice president with O’Reilly Radar, Joshua-Michéle Ross runs O’Reilly Media’s consulting practice, helping clients apply Web 2.0 principles. He is also working on a video series, “The Future at Work.” E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jmichele.