By: Emily Bennington, Monster Contributing Writer
According to consumer analyst Experian Simmons, a whopping 66% of online Americans are visiting social media networking sites, up from just twenty percent three years ago. Moreover, almost half confess to accessing the sites multiple times per day.
Obviously, this can be a huge issue for employers, especially when it comes to staff productivity and message control. But what are companies doing about it? Sadly, most are taking a reactive stance by sometimes blocking social media altogether, or waiting for employees to “slip up” online (see point five below), then jumping in with disciplinary action. The problem with this approach, though, is that by the time the organization learns about the situation, the damage has often been done.
A better solution is to create a social media policy so employees know what to expect when it comes to online behavior. However, according to a recent study by Manpower, only one out of five businesses surveyed had such a policy in place. So, for now at least, it looks like social networking gaffs will continue to happen faster than you can say Cisco Fatty. “With social media, it’s all one big grey area unless you have written guidelines in place,” says Bob Coffield, an attorney with the law firm of Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso PLLC.
So if you’re looking to create a social media policy for your business, here are a few best practice tips:
1. Don’t ban access completely. Even super-restrictive policies can’t change the fact that most employees can still connect to the web from their phone. “The best approach,” continues Coffield, “is to be proactive and emphasize an understanding of social media and its proper use in the workplace.” In other words, don’t be afraid to give employees access as long as you provide them with clear boundaries.
2. Learn from the best. From Coca-Cola to the International Olympic Committee, a simple Google search on the words “social media policy” will turn up a massive list of real-world examples. Use these as a starting point and pay special attention to how other companies address issues related to confidentiality, inappropriate online behavior, intellectual property rights, and so on. “The best policies set forth constructive guidance on being transparent and authentic, being responsible for what you write, protecting proprietary information, and using common sense,” says Coffield. “You should also address proper balance between use of social media at work and your other required job duties.”
3. Involve your staff. Careerealism founder J.T. O’Donnell says you’ll have better buy-in if you involve employees from the very beginning. O’Donnell recommends a team meeting that starts with a discussion of social media marketing, leading to further discussion on policy. “By including staff in the development of a great social media strategy, you can then open up the discussion around what they feel are fair rules of engagement,” she says. “You'll find this approach results in employees volunteering ideas to be outlined so they can all be successful at social media without jeopardizing the company or their employment.”
4. Keep it simple. “Keep the policy as simple as possible while including all of the pertinent information,” says Alexandra Levit author of Success for Hire: Simple Strategies to Find and Keep Outstanding Employees. “You don't want it to be so convoluted that people ignore it.”
5. Take it off the page. Make social media training part of your company’s ongoing professional development and/or orientation for new employees. “Many organizations are providing formal training to ensure that employees not only understand the guidelines, but also comprehend the consequences,” continued Levit. “You don't want to talk down to your employees, but you should ensure that they are aware of the instantaneous nature of social media - once something is said, it can't be taken back -- so usage related to work and the company must be thoughtful and carefully considered ahead of time.”
6. Build company advocates. Avoid creating a policy or training that focuses solely on the ramifications of poor judgment and telling employees what they “can’t” do. Instead, make it easy for them to be advocates for your organization by incorporating a list of company-sponsored social media resources into your policy. Encourage staff to promote your organization through their own networks and provide incentives and rewards for doing so.
When it comes to social media policies, the bottom line is that they’re less about “micro-managing” everything your employees do on the web, and more about giving them the tools needed to successfully represent themselves and your organization. “The truth is, we all lost the ability to ‘control’ what is said about us a long time ago,” says Coffield. “Therefore, the best thing employers can do is hire the smartest people they can find, give them the basic ‘rules of the road’, and then trust them to drive responsibly.”
Emily Bennington is coauthor of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job (Ten Speed Press, 2010). She is a frequent speaker to students and organizations on the topic of career success and the host of Professional Studio 365, a popular blog for new grads transitioning from classroom to boardroom. She is a regular contributor to the college section of The Huffington Post. Emily can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.