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?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Stop Irrational Fear of the "Twitter Lawsuit"

In my last post, I wrote that the Twitter Lawsuit filed by Horizon Realty Group against its former tenant would make PR pros' job harder as we work to bring our clients into the world of Social Media. I want to expand on the two reasons I think that, and offer some suggestions for PR pros to deal with it.

Reason 1
Senior Management allows legal considerations to trump all others.

I've been in meetings where lawyers simply provide a laundry list of potential lawsuits rather than ways to proceed AND avoid legal action. In the face of all the potential negatives, management caves.

I bet it won't be a month before someone uses the Twitter Lawsuit as an example of why Social Media may be more trouble than it's worth.

So what can you do?

Push back and highlight that Social Media didn't bring this lawsuit; lawyers did. This isn't a Social Media lawsuit, it's a frivolous one.

Horizon's lawyers discovered the offending tweet while preparing a defense to the lawsuit filed by the former tenant. The defamation suit is a defensive tactic. Defensive tactics rarely protect your reputation.

Reason 2
Key Audiences get lost in legal disputes.

Companies build and protect their reputations with good operations and effective communications. Great messages acknowledge the concerns and feelings of key audiences (stakeholders) and, in the best cases, ease them.

Let's break this down.

The key audiences for Horizon are current and future tenants. The lawsuit reinforces two critical fears for these stakeholders. First, that the landlord will ignore their problems. Second, that they may be powerless in their own home.

The Twitter Lawsuit actually validates those fears instead of easing them, while making future tenants less likely to rent from them.

PR pros can keep the focus on the audience by pointing out that Social Media engages key audiences and is a two-way communication. If you are engaged in conversation with someone, you will be able to identify problems and hopefully resolve them long before anyone thinks about going to court.

In the event you do have to go to court (Horizon is being sued, too) you can use Social Media to reach the huge majority of key stakeholders that you won't see in court.

I know I'm just a PR guy, but fear of a lawsuit is a dumb reason not to communicate. People can sue you for any reason, even stupid ones.

A good lawyer will remind you that they are there to protect your reputation in court. A good PR pro will remind you that using Social Media can protect your reputation with the public. You know the public, right? The place where juries come from.

Bill Salvin