Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Good Social Media Policy Beats a Social Media Ban

Several high profile organizations have moved to ban employee use of social media sites from official computers. While blanket bans are usually a bad idea, there are things organizations can do to properly structure the use of Social Media on "company time." But first, let's take a look at the bans of the last few weeks.

Most notably, the U.S. Marines put a ban in place earlier this month. The official order ostensibly protects the Marines unclassified computer network from the bad people who lurk on these sites.
So what? So is Afghanistan! Instead of a ban, improve network security. By putting the ban in place the Marines have confirmed the vulnerability of their computer systems for "malicious actors." At least the policy has an expiration date.

The ESPN "ban" on social media is a different story. They are a journalistic enterprise. The internal memos from the network specify that there is an approval process for posting on Social Media. Imagine the intern privy to an exclusive that ESPN has spent months working on. That is not something you want Tweeted or posted on a Facebook page ahead of ESPN breaking the story. ESPN didn't "ban" Social Media per se. The network put restrictions in place designed to protect its product... content. ESPN's guidelines seem to make sense to me.

The NFL is working on its Twitter policy. According to the Washington Post, there is an existing rule "barring the use of cellphones, computers, PDAs and other electronic devices by players, coaches and other team personnel during games on the sidelines, in the locker rooms and in the coaches' booths in press boxes."

I would expect the NFL to extend that rule to Tweeting during a game. NFL Football is America's most popular sport and protecting the NFL "brand" means protecting the integrity of the game. Again, I think this is reasonable.

Where it gets unreasonable is when the teams put their own policies in place to limit what players say. The San Diego Chargers, for example, fined cornerback Antonio Cromartie $2,500 for Tweeting that the food at training camp was nasty. That feels a little heavy-handed. Maybe the food was nasty.

So, what needs to be in the company Social Media policy? There are four critical components that have to be included:

Employees need to know that they are responsible for what they say on social networks. The policy must answer the question every employee will ask: "Can I be fired fired for saying something on social media?" I would tell them yes, just as employees can be fired for other misconduct.

Employees should not hide behind pseudonyms on social networks. Pretending to be someone else to either bash the competition or pimp your own product will always backfire.

The policy needs to enhance productivity not detract from it. This is a tough one as some old-line managers I have talked to equate Social Media use with wasting time. Most companies allow a personal phone call during the work day so a few minutes of personal time on Social Media won't waste the day. Better yet, encouraging your employees to interact with your customers or clients with Social Media can make them more efficient, responsive and successful.

Critical jobs require critical focus. Police officers, truck drivers, Space Shuttle flight controllers and others for whom a lack of attention could prove fatal need to focus on their jobs. You don't want to be the cop parked in front of a bank Tweeting while bad guys clear out the vault.

Finally, remember that technology doesn't change human nature. Would you rather your employees spend time working with a common sense Social Media policy or working around an indiscriminate ban?

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