Three Key Characteristics of a Smart Social Media Policy

In my 17 years as a senior level HR practitioner, I’ve seen good and bad corporate policies. The only real difference between the two is that good policies are those that employees follow. Social media policies are no exception. But the most effective policies don’t just keep employees in line. They set consistent, clear, and common-sense guidelines that free employees to do their jobs better.

Here are three key characteristics that should define your social media policy:

1. It’s Clear

Your employees need to understand why the policy is needed; this doesn’t mean they have to agree with that reason. It’s unrealistic to believe people will automatically support your policies. And telling employees to follow policies “because we say so” is more likely to increase resistance rather than acceptance. Instead, the key is providing context. The best way to increase employee buy-in is to frame policies within a context to which they can relate. For example:

“Because we want to guarantee consistent external messaging by our company, only employees who have received prior training and written permission from the marketing department to blog on behalf of our company are allowed to do so.”

Good policies also are followed because they clearly spell out what’s expected from whom, and in which situations. What’s the scope of the policy, and who are the employees to which it applies? What kinds of social media activities are covered? Does the policy apply to all employees? What about contract staff? The devil is definitely in the details. If employees lack clarity around these issues, they’ll turn to making educated guesses — the very thing you’re trying to eliminate by implementing policies.

2. It’s Consistent

Research shows that our reactions to unfairness are actually hard-wired in the brain. No wonder employees, let alone toddlers, will lash out when they are being treated unfairly. Put bluntly, there’s no better way for companies to create utter disregard for policies and a lack of faith in management than to hold certain employees less accountable than others. For example, you never want to hear this from one of your employees:

“Well, I didn’t think it was a big deal to post that kind of comment on Facebook since I know my boss does it all the time on her personal blog. If she doesn’t have to get approval to do that, then why do I?”

This is why it’s critical that policies be applied consistently across all employee levels, geographic locations and functions. A lack of consistency can quickly lead to rogue behaviors. The only exception is when certain policies must be followed by specific subsets of employees due to legal or regulatory requirements. In this case, make sure all employees know who the policy applies to, and why it only applies to those people.

3. It’s Useful

Useful policies free employees to perform effectively by lowering their odds of making missteps. Your employees are some of your best brand ambassadors on social media. But if they don’t know what’s acceptable, they may shy away from this role for fear of hurting their careers due to an honest mistake. Similarly, companies that have invested significant resources in social media for collaboration and innovation will see a much larger return on that investment if employees are not afraid to use these tools.

Dealing with the “grey zone” of day-to-day operations is often the role of the line manager who is repeatedly called upon to answer questions for areas where written policies do and do not exist. But having clearly documented and easily accessible policies — especially for fast-moving issues like social media — will save both supervisor and subordinate from ever having to utter that age-old expression of horror, “If only I had known!”

Guest Post on Effortless HR Blog


What you don’t know can hurt you: assessing your organisation’s social media use

With social media, what you don’t know can seriously hurt your organization. An offensive or inappropriate blog post, tweet or Facebook comment can damage your brand, lower employee morale, and even lead to workplace lawsuits. Yet, providing technology tools, such as social media, also is one way to empower and engage employees. Social media can speed innovation and collaboration, but only if your employees know how to use it within a well-defined framework.

For HR leaders, the critical first step in developing that framework is admitting they don’t know.

Simple questionnaires can surface extremely important information that, especially in larger organizations, you may not be aware of. Even smaller organizations have disconnects between departments. Big or small, these organisational “black holes” tend to happen around situations, like past litigation, where confidentiality is a big concern. In these cases, policy-relevant information often gets hidden from those who most need it. But by asking the right questions, you no longer have to fear “not knowing” and its potential risks.

For managers

To assess how managers handle social media in your organisation, you need to not only know how they’re managing its use, but also how its use by employees is affecting their management:

  • Are managers aware of all applicable laws, as well as legal issues, related to social media use and data privacy in the areas in which they do business or manage employees? — If managers don’t know what rules and regulations govern social media use at work, this leaves you, and them, open to litigation and fines.
  • Could they comply with either an internal or court-ordered “social media audit”? — Managers are already required to keep detailed records of hiring, disciplinary actions, purchases, or contractor selection for potential audits or investigations. Social media use at work is no exception, especially as electronic business records (EBR) are increasingly being entered as evidence in lawsuits.
  • Have their employees’ use of social media ever triggered a workplace lawsuit or regulatory investigation? — This is the type of information that tends to fall into those organisational “black holes.” Confidentiality concerns, especially for the plaintiff, often lead managers to hush up these situations; the truth, however, is essential in order for policies to prevent similar future problems.
  • Have their employees’ personal use of social media during work hours impacted productivity? — The answer to this question doesn’t necessarily signal that social media use at work is “good” or “bad;” it’s just another data point. For example, some top-performing employees may spend four hours each day updating Facebook and Twitter, while their less productive colleagues spend half that much time.

For employees

Getting honest responses from employees about their social media use at work is critical for accurately assessing your organisation’s baseline; don’t be afraid to ask because you may not like the answers. Conduct anonymous, unsigned, untracked surveys, and give employees multiple assurances that their responses won’t lead to disciplinary action or impact their job safety:

  • How familiar are employees with your company’s social media acceptable use policies, and have they ever received formal training on them? — If you already have a social media policy, answers to this question will tell you how good you’re doing communicating it throughout the organisation. If you have no policy, the answers give you hard numbers to bolster your case as to why social media policies and training are important, especially if social media is a significant part of your organisation’s revenue-generating practices.
  • Have they either intentionally or accidentally violated your organization’s social media policies? — If the answers you got to the first question reveal widespread lack of familiarity or knowledge of your social media policies, don’t be surprised by what employees tell you here. Conversely, if you communicate well and give all employees formal policy training, then answers here could surface serious cultural disconnects.
  • Do they know what an electronic business record is? — If not, employees also probably don’t know that EBRs are now used widely as evidence in legal and regulatory investigations. And again, what they don’t know can hurt you.
  • Do they use personal mobile devices for talking, texting, web surfing, social networking, blogging or emailing during work hours? — The answers are, most likely, ‘yes.’ But they give you a hard number to replace nebulous guesses. Once you know the current scope of employees’ social media use (by level, function and job type), you can start developing smarter guidelines for acceptable use.

Finally, make sure employees know that final survey results will be shared throughout the organisation, within a formal social media training program. This program is the culmination of your policy development efforts; let all stakeholders know the significant impact they’ve made just by answering a few simple questions.

Guest Post on HR Zone Blog


Top 3 Things Every HR Pro Needs to Know About Social Media Policies

Companies are looking to HR to answer their social media policy questions.

Here are three (3) key policy-making strategies I’ve learned during my 16 years as an executive-level HR practitioner:

1. Employees want to do a great job: Make it easy

A job isn’t just a paycheck and benefits; most employees want to do a great job for their companies, and they consistently rank being recognized for their work as a top motivator.

Once their pay and benefits needs are met, employees want to know that their efforts are valued and contribute to company success. To that end, companies should enable — not inhibit — employees from getting things done and doing their best.

Providing technology tools, such as social media, is one way to empower and engage employees to work smarter, not harder.

Social media can speed innovation, collaboration and communication — but only if employees know how to use it within a well-defined framework. Social media policies that recognize this, and attempt to appropriately empower rather than inappropriately control employees, are an essential tool for helping employees succeed.

2. Discipline will set you (and them) free

I’ve found that when policies incorporate employee input, employees themselves become the strongest advocates for compliance. Employees need to understand the purposes served by social media policies, and that they aren’t simply additional burdens on getting work done.

How do you build this understanding? By soliciting employee input for creating disciplined — not restrictive — policies, and then training and certifying them to implement these policies.

Educated employees become proud, and confident, internal advocates for compliance. You know you’ve been successful when you hear someone say, “While I don’t like this Facebook policy, I understand why our company needs it.

3. Top down, bottom up: Multiple perspectives get buy-in

Social media is about personalizing experience, whether for employees working inside your organization or customers engaging with your products outside. And VPs have differing perspectives from entry-level managers on what those experiences should be.

By developing social media policies that incorporate perspectives from all employees, you can better balance your organization’s cultural needs against an appropriate level of risk management.

Moreover, this approach fosters buy-in. Employees at all levels feel seen and understood, which lays the groundwork for success.

Guest Post on TLNT