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Social Media Guidelines – The Sequel

Submitted by on July 30, 2009 – 8:29 amOne Comment

Thanks to everyone who attended today’s webcast.   As promised, I wanted to put some supporting materials online for you.   If you have any questions I will answer them here in the comments area.

There are two big reasons to get started creating a set of guidelines

1. The massive proliferation of so called “social” technologies means that our employees are WAY more engaged with each other and the “outside” world.  Most of this is a net plus but it does have its downsides – as the line between personal and professional can get seriously eroded and conflicts or misunderstandings are made totally public.   This extends well beyond just how you reach your customers – inter-office communication can also create serious issues such as workplace bullying.  Expect a new raft of laws in the near future similar to sexual harrassment laws.  It is good to get ahead of these problems.

2. As with any social group – the social web is full of communities that are bound by a common set of norms that guide behavior and denote inclusion in the group. The social web is all about identity and authenticity - and that is why violations of this compact are so eggregious.  This is why Walmart was so punished when they went out with a fake blog: Walmarting Across America


There are four pieces you need to consider when putting together your guidelines:

Your Industry – Regulations, known liabilities, standards of conduct etc. These can be very specific – A Financial Services firm has totally different considerations than, say the YMCA.

Your “as is” Culture value is created in social systems through sharing, soft leadership, natural hierarchies – some work cultures are much more amenable to this – others less so. Every company can take steps – but it is good to have a realistic understanding of your “as is” culture

Your Employees’ Social IQ – In the same way that we design solutions based on the affordance of our customers (are they online, do they use these technologies etc.) we should always understand the behavioral profile of your employees

Your Employees as co-authors – Consider having your employees help you create your guidelines. You can do this by creating a small guidelines committee and setting up a collaborative wiki where your employees can help you refine the document. You will be killing two birds with one stone – establishing clear guidelines with employee buy-in baked in and getting some experience with collaboration.

Whatever you do, Engage every key department.   This harkens back to understanding your industry (regulatory, ethical codes etc.) as well as general issues such as expectations of privacy, code of conduct for inter-office interactions  etc. – but also in understanding that Social Media cuts across the whole company – HR and Legal are obvious – but also Customer Service, Customer Insight, Marketing etc. Often you will find these engagements begin with marketing but – b/c of the two-way nature of social communication – the information and exchanges that start with marketing have direct impact on other groups.   Be sure that you can follow through — if marketing people begin receiving customer service inquiries (and they will) are they prepared?
Design for Possibility – Then Design for Risk
Disclosure of sensitive information is usually the biggest fear that companies have around social media. Really, this is not a new problem – email and telephone pose the same risks and are harder to monitor.
I talk a lot about beginning from a position of trust – facilitateWhile there are possible negatives involved in having employees on the social Web, most employees have common sense. Begin with a set of possibilities first.  These should be tied to business objectives (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.    If you get everyone on board first imagining what is possible — you will enroll them in helping you move forward.   Often I find that IT / Legal (the people charged with lowering risk)  are not engaged in any planning — just given a program that scares the heck out of them — and they they do their job:  tear it down because it is risky.  Engage them early and often in your planning.

Resources:Here are some of my favorite guidelines:

IBM:  My favorite set is here.   IBM wrote these in collaboration with a broad set of employees — To me even the language in these feels distinct and genuine.   Best section: “Don’t forget your day job”

Intel:A very healthy set of guidelines that harken back to an Intel Code of Conduct.  Best section, “If it gives you pause, pause”

Dell has been a leader in social media – from innovation hubs to using Twitter.

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great set of guidelines around safe blogging.

SAP is another company that developed their guidelines in collaboration with employees.

Laurel Papworth did a massive rundown of guidelines if you want more.  Thanks to Euan Semple for pointing me to these.
Lastly – this flowchart from the Air Force made the rounds a while back – Though it is focused on how to respond to blogs, it does a great job of visualizing how to engage in social media.

If you have any examples you would like to share – feel free to put them in the comments.  If you have any questions I will do my best to answer them here.


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