Social Media Policies & their importance for us all…

PushON | August 12th 2010
As we embrace the ever-changing environment of web 2.0, and come into contact with it more and more during our day-to-day lives, one thing that stands out is that social networks are proliferating. Not only in the number of them that exist but with the user base that exists on them. According to a study by Nielsen in April 2010:
  • 22% of all time spent on the Internet worldwide is on a social network
  • 75% of Internet users visit a social network or blog when they go online (24% increase from last year)
  • The average worldwide user now spends 6 hours using social networks a month, this was only 3 and a half hours last year (66% increase)
I’ve noticed this change, 3 years ago I would have never thought that I would have to one day explain to my [rather upset] mother why I ‘ignored’ her friend request on Facebook…
With this proliferation, comes the extent to which these social networks are encroaching on peoples lives. One question that business leaders are asking themselves nowadays is, whether or not they should seek to stop their employees using their social networks (which has happened increasingly with the rise in smartphone penetrations) or embrace it.
One area where this becomes apparent is when you recognise that many of the world’s largest multinational corporations have embraced these networks and empowered their employee base on them, to use them to greater effect. Many times embracing these networks have shown positive changes in the way that they conduct business. There are numerous examples of this, many of which are recorded on the Social Media Governance Database. Some of the companies have social media policies to steal from these, plus others, are summarised below:
  • Dell – Have invested large amounts of money into building a cross-platform community, this includes: Numerous Twitter usernames (for each country, as well as for different areas of business), a very active presence on Facebook, and host a growing network of blogs.
  • Intel – Like Dell, have fully embraced social media usage across their company. The foundations of this started with the creation of Intelpedia, a team based collaboration in the form of a wiki which now holds some 15,000 articles. The development of this eventually led to the establishment of the Social Media Guidelines (now, impressively, available in over 35 languages). And most interestingly the creation of the Social Media Center of Excellence demonstrated the impact of social media on Intel, where a multi-disciplined team with knowledge spanning legal, marketing, PR and web-based communications was formed in order to establish protocols and strategies for Intel employees and their use of social media tools. Furthermore, Intel’s benefits from using social media has been proved by the introduction of the Digital IQ certificate offered to their employees, the content of this course is explained in more detail here. One key learning here is their views on moderation and their Good, the Bad, but not the Ugly framework – simply put, if content is good or bad then it is approved (you should not dissaprove negative content, it could lead to vital learnings about your company) however, if content is ‘ugly’ offensive or discriminatory then dissaprove it.
  • Kodak – If you’re looking for a concise introduction to social media from the perspective of a global brand, whilst also gaining tips and insights into how they approach it as a corporation then the most all encompassing guide would be Kodak’s.
  • And, (rather bizarrely) the US Air Force – Where some companies have detailed their policies through practice and the development of schemes, others, such as the US Air Force (of all people!), have formalized their practices in a framework widely referenced in the digital circuit. Their approach the social media as a whole should also be praised for their forward looking stance, especially when existing as an entirely different organisation as the others listed here. Their reason for the adoption of social media protocols can be understood by Colonel Caldwell’s (acting Director of Public Affairs) realisation that ‘75% of Airmen use Myspace, 70% use Youtube and 50% use Facebook’ (a number that has no doubt grown since that interview) and his wish to have “330,000 people [the entirety of the US Air Force] to be in Public Affairs”.

I know what you’re thinking, “knowing all this is great, but what does it mean for me?”. Well if, or more appropriately, when you embrace social media I would take away some of the common themes that arise in all social media engagement guidelines that I have come across, these are:

  • Be Yourself – When posting online ensure that you always name yourself (and job title/position, if appropriate) and are open about who you are. Remember, you are engaging people on a ‘social level’ – speak to them as you would in person. Hopefully it goes without saying that ‘gansta’ or ‘txt’ speak probably won’t be understood by all, so ‘avoid spkin n a wy ppl wnt undrstnd’…
  • Cite Your Sources – If you’ve gained the information/opinions that you’re writing about from somewhere then tell people where to find it by linking to it, give them the credit they deserve. It’s worth noting here that passing work/information off as your own is a big no no in social media, don’t do it – you will be found out!
  • Authorship – Take ownership of what you’re saying, the content you post is your own. Some of the major brands also say that when in doubt here post a disclaimer alongside your message,Intel’s suggest using this: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Intel’s positions, strategies, or opinions.”
  • Don’t Denigrate – Avoid conflict with others and as with most professional conversations avoid politics and religion. Remember that in the digital realm it is very hard to remove what you publish once published, and sometimes simple deleting content can have even worse consequences. Be mindful that what you publish will be widely accessible, and will be around for a long time.
  • Add value – IBM are considered social media policy pioneers and their view on adding value is one to learn from. They state that if information: ‘Will help people do their jobs and solve problems, improve knowledge and skills, contributes to your companies products or services, promotes your companies values or builds a sense of community’, then it is ‘adding value’.
  • Sometimes Everybody is Wrong… – Did you post something that has since been disproved? If so, don’t be afraid to follow up a blog post explaining this and admitting that you were wrong. As it has been stated before, treat it as though you would in real life.
PushON’s Recommendations for starting out in Social Media are:
  • Get Involved – Like so many other aspects of online and digital marketing the best advice is to simply use it and learn as you go along, you’ll be surprised how quickly you pick it up.
  • Create Accounts (Even just to have a play) – My suggestions would be to create a Twitter and Facebook account (if you haven’t already then get with the times, I mean my mum is on it, come on!). If you want to get more adventurous then have a play with the newer social networks too such as Gowalla and FourSquare.
  • Download Social Media Client[s] – There are lots out there so have a look around everybody has their own preferences, personally I use Tweetdeck which is the market share leader and is also used by the majority of PushON staff (there are versions for your PC, Mac, smartphone, iPad etc). This client can add columns from a variety of social media networks including: Twitter, Facebook and FourSquare amongst others…
  • Manage You Accounts – If you begin getting experienced with social media then you may find yourself using multiple accounts for each network. Please take my advice and be careful which account you are posting on. Nothing’s worse than accidently telling your entire corporate followbase that “you got so drunk you vommited on your neighbours cat last night…”
  • Post Frequently – The SEO’s reading this will know how important this helps to gain ranking, but think of it this way: If you’re going for a beer and looking for some company, are you more likely to invite the person that you go out with on a regular occasion and that will have stuff to talk about, or the one that you see rarely and that never replies to your texts? Catch my drift?…
  • Be Interesting – One of the best ways I’ve gained a good follower base on Twitter is by posting (and retweeting) stuff that I read and find interesting, whether this is on social media methods, riding your bike, or your collection of old crisp packets – you’d be surprised how many people there are out there interested in the same things.
  • Respond – Remember that one important thing about social media is that it’s ‘social’, so respond to people is they have questions, or strike up conversations with people that have posted something of interest to you.
Whilst in the bigger organisations social media governance has become a key area of consideration for the legal teams. Smaller organisations might not have quite such a rigorous approach, but that still doesn’t mean that you should disregard it. Being mindful of your own and your employees’ actions whilst in your business context is one of the oldest good management styles, and these days this expands into the social media realm.
By learning from these examples, following the guidelines set out above and by implementing your own Social Media Policy you could avoid any disastrous consequences developing from social media usage, and “who knows?” you could learn something…