By Joe Pulizzi published May 6, 2010

Is Your Social Media Policy Helping or Hurting Business?

Does your workplace have a social media policy?  Thousands of companies do and you can view some of them here at Social Media Governance.

I picked a few at random – first Ball State University (since I just came back from a college graduation).  It is three pages long, large type, easy to read, nice bullets.  It has some great points – reminders about confidentiality and respect and a reminder to link back to the university site whenever possible.  I expected a lot of jargon and guardedness from an institution like this, but was pleasantly surprised.

Next I tried Cisco Systems (I own stock in Cisco so I’m always interested in what they are doing).  They state in the first paragraph that blogging, social networks and wikis are included in what’s called Internet Postings. In the beginning of the post, they clearly state:

Please be aware that violation of this policy may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.

While I understand that they do not want employees releasing confidential information, which is more than fair, the tone of this policy is very different than that of Ball State.  Cisco’s policy is clear and to-the-point, but I perceived this as more about protecting Cisco’s assets than helping employees to properly share the right kind of information that will benefit Cisco and Cisco customers. I’m wondering if employees get nervous after reading this or are empowered to spread helpful information and share the Cisco story. NOTE: This Cisco policy is from 2008.  I could not find a more recent version.

For a different perspective, I checked out the community guidelines for Easter Seals, an annual fundraising partner of Junta42.  This one is more for use of their online community as opposed to an employee policy, but it comes across as friendly and helpful.  Again, respect privacy and protect confidentiality and a nice little note that they can remove inappropriate comments.  It includes links to the blog and community sign ups as well (now there’s a novel concept…nice job!).

And then there is IBM.   Called Social Computing Guidelines, it directly states inclusion of blogs, wikis, social networks, virtual worlds and social media.  This quote is out of their policy:

In 1997, IBM recommended that its employees get out onto the Internet—at a time when many companies were seeking to restrict their employees’ Internet access. In 2005, the company made a strategic decision to embrace the blogosphere and to encourage IBMers to participate. We continue to advocate IBMers’ responsible involvement today in this rapidly growing space of relationship, learning and collaboration.

Who wouldn’t want to work at this place? They have the same guidelines about confidentiality, respect, not bashing the company, etc. as the others, but similar to Ball State, they do so in a way that promotes using these tools…to share stories, and not to be fearful about what might happen.

Social Media Policy Checklist

  • Do you have a social media policy?
  • Is your policy easy to read?  Can you make it an engaging experience?
  • Is it welcoming to employees and customers, or does it sound like it was written by lawyers?
  • In addition to your policy, are you educating your employees on how to properly use social media in a way that will help them as well as help tell your brand story?
  • Are you continually updating your policy to reflect new social media channels?

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books, Managing Content Marketing and Get Content Get Customers. Joe's latest book is Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill). If you want to get on his good side, send him something orange. For more on Joe, check out his personal site or follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • http://www.russhenneberry.com Russ Henneberry

    I think it must be easier, more efficient or more financially reasonable for large corporations to just outright ban employees from talking about the company in social media channels.
    Interesting to see Cisco’s harsh stance on the subject.

  • http://blog.junta42.com Joe Pulizzi

    I’ve talked to a number of large brands about it…almost across the board they see social media as a huge threat than an opportunity.
    After a few years, all this will pass. In the meantime, lots of scared executives needlessly scaring employees.
    All big brands need to create a policy and educate employees, but there are different ways to do it (hence, Cisco).
    Thanks Russ!

  • http://www.crearecommunications.co.uk Nicola Connolly

    Social Media is a fantastic opportunity for small and large businesses as well as individuals. It gives personality to the company and also enables their customers to interact with them on a fun and friendly platform.
    Interesting to see these ‘policies’ which you’ve highlighted. I think being too restrictive and having a harsh tone, as you say, would not empower employees to share information and ideas/opinions freely, which is afterall, the beauty of the medium.