It's easy to see why social media makes a lot of companies freak out. The prospect of their employees freewheeling around social sites like Twitter, Facebook, or blogs is scary: What if an employee misrepresents us? What if a staff member speaks out of school or embarrasses us? Stories of plummeting employee productivity, compromised confidentiality, and soiled brand or company reputation only heighten the worry.
You can see why it's easier to ban social activity outright, or to impose social media policy rules that border on the draconian. And you can see why the rules sometimes come off as just plain silly: The UK's "Twitter Template Strategy for Government Departments" acknowledges that one of the goals of Social Media engagement is to "provide an informal, human 'voice' of the organization…." Later in the same doc, it specifies, "Though the account will be anonymous (i.e., no named official will be running it), it is helpful to define a hypothetical voice so that tweets from multiple sources are presented in a consistent tone (including consistent use of pronouns)."
In other words: Don't actually be real, fake it! And for Pete's sake, use consistent and proper English!
But this past week I came across one organization's social media policy that I think can be a model to help other entities figure out this new social frontier. The policy is from the 9,000-member Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), one of the UK's leading public relations industry professional groups. I particularly like it because it gets to the heart of the matter in a manner that respects an employee's intelligence and judgment and credits them with a certain trust—something I think is lacking in many social media policies.
CIPR's guidelines use the organization's stated Code of Conduct as the cornerstone of any social media efforts, especially its three principles, which it calls “specifically relevant to any member giving consideration to social media."
The three principles are:
Integrity: "Integrity is key to the ethical treatment of social media, as indeed it is key to all elements of professionalism," the CIPR policy states. "It requires that members are honest and open in their use of social media.... They should be accurate when disseminating information. They should never use social media knowingly to mislead clients, employees, employers, colleagues or fellow professionals."
In other words: Own your own social media activity. Be real. Use your real name. Speak the truth, to the best of your ability. (And with discretion. See the third principle.)
Competence: From CIPR: "Members should, in this area as in others, be aware of the limitations of their professional competence, and should therefore be willing to accept or delegate only that work for which they are suitably skilled and experienced." What's more: "Members' use of social media must be transparent, and they must make extra effort to disclose any potential conflicts of interest."
In other words: Talk about what you know, and be transparent. Be open and honest about whom you represent. If you are tweeting on behalf of a client or employer, say so. If a company blog is authored by several folks within your company, reveal that, too. When in doubt, disclose. Oh, and if you don't know anything about a topic, it's better to simply shut up.
Confidentiality: "Material posted using social media should not disclose privileged information," CIPR says. "Confidences of present and former clients and employers should be safeguarded. Care should be taken to avoid using confidential and 'insider' information to the disadvantage or prejudice of clients and employers, or to self-advantage of any kind."
In other words: Don't speak out of school. Don't disclose anything you wouldn't want posted all over the interwebs, and, above all, maintain loyalty to your company or client.
So that's it: Three simple words. What do you think?
Photo credit: Scion driver
Ann Handley is an 11-year veteran of creating and managing digital content to build relationships for organizations and individuals. Currently, Ann is the Chief Content Officer of Marketing Profs which provides strategic and tactical marketing know-how for marketing and business professionals through a full range of online media and live events. She also blogs at her acclaimed personal web log.