The basics of social media in the enterprise

Many companies only recently established corporate email and blogging policies, and now they have to revise those rules to reflect social media. And with sites like Facebook and Twitter increasingly being used for business purposes, it's difficult to block access to these tools in the enterprise.

Before you craft (or revise) your own social media policy, consider the following questions:

What constitutes public disclosure of information? 
A lot of policies prevent anyone from disclosing any kind of corporate information to the public. If this also applies to some product announcement that is Tweeted or posted online, then you might have a problem enforcing this aspect of your policy.

What happens with a departing employee's Twitter followers? 
When an employee hits it big on his corporate Twitter account, what happens when he gets a new job? Does the employee take his followers with him when transferring to a new position, or does the Twitter account get reassigned to some other staffer? It's important to prepare for such a situation.

If you can link to it, can it be shared outside the corporation? 
Some companies have rules against promoting outside URLs, which might inadvertently prohibit all social media posts.

Can employees use IT resources to solicit info? 
Check your existing policies and make sure this isn't banned. Staffers often use social media to obtain introductions to business partners or potential clients, and you don't want to prevent this. You might want to revise your policy to restrict "inappropriate information."

Can employees put Facebook or Twitter info in their email signatures? 
Again, some corporate policies prevent private information from being distributed via emails, but this should be allowed.

These concerns aren't just legal hair-splitting academic exercises. There are real consequences. Users have been fired and sued for what they've posted on Facebook and Twitter. For example, CNN anchor Octavia Nasr was fired for a Tweet praising Hezbollah last July, and Paul Chambers Tweeted (we assume in jest) that he wanted to blow up an airport in the U.K. and was jailed for his remarks last year. It's also interesting to note the National Labor Relations Board recently ruled that employees aren't liable for social media remarks that disparage their employers.

So what are some of the points that you should touch on in your social media policy?

Social media expert J.D. Lasica worked on a project with the Society for New Communications Research and put together a list of best practices. Some of the highlights include the following:

  • Foster a culture of openness, and be a good listener.
  • Trust your staffers to be good communicators with external people.
  • Train people how to blog, Tweet and post.
  • Disclose all relationships upfront.
  • Be accurate.
  • Make sure you have a solid policy on blog comments.

In addition, there are several social media policies available online that you can look at for inspiration. One of the best resources is from social media consultant Chris Boudreaux, who has assembled more than 160 sample social media policies in this database. You can sort by industry type, and more are being added all the time.

Another great reference is the book Social Marketing to the Business Consumer, by Paul Gillin and Eric Schwartzman. It contains tips and information on using social media, along with a sample social media policy template.

Social media policies will vary by organization. But regardless of your industry, it's important to make these rules a part of your desktop policy.

David Strom is a freelance writer and professional speaker based in St. Louis. He is former editor in chief of TomsHardware.com, Network Computing magazine and DigitalLanding.com. Read more from Strom at Strominator.com.

This was first published in April 2011

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