Social networking policy: what’s in yours?
From today British author Guy Clapperton, who specialises in social media, small business and technology issues, joins our blogging team. In his first post, Guy looks at social networking while at work – how much freedom should employees have?
So here’s the thing: a report in the UK from a recruitment specialist called Hyphen says the current generation of employees, or candidates for employment, is demanding the right to use social networks in the workplace. The feeling among Facebook, Twitter and users of similar services is so strong that 47.8% of them won’t actually apply for a job if it’s known there’s no social networking allowed.
Consider too the fact that if an employer knows they’re just going to sit around tweeting all day there’s probably nothing to be gained from employing them anyway. That said, would they shut off any other communication service quite so wholesale? In recruiting someone, would you specify that they must not use the phone for personal reasons, ever? You’re more likely to ask them not to abuse it – reasonably enough.
How accommodating should you be?
In fact you’re probably hoping most employees would be reasonable about this and just about everything else. The thing is, “reasonable” can be a bit of a moveable feast. The only realistic option is to have some sort of formal policy. This can be divided into two sections. One is about how employees use their own social media while at work – phrase it how you want but it basically has to say “don’t abuse your employer’s hospitality”. Whether that means limiting the time people spend on their own Facebook interests, or asks them to complete their core tasks first, it will be up to the employer, but it needs to be stated.
The other area can actually be more important, and covers what staff members actually say while they’re on social media representing your company or organisation. They need to observe confidences, not insult customers – all those things from which so many colleagues seem to consider themselves exempt. Some will hold the view that “because it’s on Twitter so it doesn’t count”. Which is why there needs to be a document that tells people what is and isn’t acceptable.
What a social media policy should cover
Simon Collister, consultancy director at agency We Are Social, has a few recommendations for what should go into this sort of document. “Responsibility and transparency are key issues,” he says. “Any rules need to make sure bloggers know they must take responsibility for their own content and make sure they state that opinions held are personal. If relevant, then they need to state their position as an employee.” He’s right – how many times have you seen someone praising a company or denigrating its competition only to wonder whether there’s a vested interest?
Of course there are grey areas and here you need to identify a named person employees can talk to. Tutoring is important as this stuff goes outside the company. “It’s a good idea to produce a ‘legal basics’ document,” says Collister. “Something short that can be handed to all staff – and to offer twice-yearly legal training workshops for those that need them.”
“Day to day, employees should also remember what might be classed as company information, and act as they would do in any other sphere of life,” he adds. “Along with trusting employees comes the caveat that they need to participate in social media with a full understanding of the risks and rewards – and that ultimately, it’s just another means of communication – albeit with an audience and a reach that can go far beyond what’s imagined, if guidelines aren’t in place.”
Being taken seriously
The other thing this sort of policy document needs is teeth. Your staff need to know what they are and aren’t allowed to do on social media by all means – but they also need to know what happens if they don’t comply.
Of course you want to manage your staff like intelligent adults, and speaking to them rather than writing everything down is a better start. Chances are they won’t abuse your company. But a formal document is an essential backup.
Have you got a social media policy? What’s in it?
Guy Clapperton is the British author of the books “This Is Social Media” and the forthcoming “This Is Social Commerce”. He has been a technology and business journalist since 1998 and is also a speaker and broadcaster who has addressed audiences in seven countries during 2011. Guy appears on the BBC’s News Channel regularly and writes for the Times, Guardian, Telegraph and other national newspapers in the UK.
Read more about Business