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Should businesses and human resources departments create social media policies for employees? If so, how?

23 Oct, 2009 McKell Naegle


April 15, 2009 is a day that will go down in the annals of Domino’s Pizza history. The day started out just fine—the red-and-blue-and-black brand was as strong as ever.

Then the clock hit 3:30 p.m.—text messages, e-mails, and phone calls started to trickle in to corporate executives. Soon, messages started pouring in, and within an hour it was a deluge!

The cause for all the attention?

Two employees in the Conover, North Carolina Domino’s had been messing around the kitchen. They stuck ingredients up their nostrils, and then put them on sandwiches. They took kitchen cleaning items and used them in ways that would make any potential customer cringe.

What made it worse was they videotaped their “fun” and uploaded the footage on YouTube for everyone to see.

With the help of Twitter, Facebook, and other online social mediums, millions upon millions of viewers were drawn to the clip.

It was a corporate disaster.

Welcome to the (sometimes unwieldy) world of online branding!

Should businesses create social media policies? If so, how?

Recent research from Robert Half Technology reveals that over half of chief information officers (CIOs) do not allow employees to visit social networking sites for any reason while they are at work (1,400 CIOs from companies around the United States with 100 or more employees surveyed).

Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, reported that “using social networking sites may divert employees’ attention away from more pressing priorities, so it’s understandable that some companies limit access.” However, he added that for “some professions, however, these sites can be leveraged as effective business tools, which may be why about one in five companies allows their use for work-related purposes.”

Chad Houghton, the director of e-media and business development at the Society for Human Resource Management, states that “the old way of doing things is to create an unnecessarily restrictive model of engagement that prevents companies from leveraging new media appropriately.” He suggests that “it might be beneficial not to create some arbitrary rules without first seeing where the opportunities and risks really are.”

That being said, here are some things to consider as you weigh the pros and cons of creating a social media policy for your business:

Clearly think through and explicitly state your corporate goals for social media usage
Your policy should be an extension of those goals. When you clearly establish and communicate your goals and the tools available to accomplish them, it should be easier to train associates on the different social media tools and how they can be utilized appropriately.

Stress responsibility and good judgment
Educate your associates that they represent, if even in a very small way, your company when they are active on social networks. Help them understand they need to take responsibility for what they write and exercise good judgment and common sense.

Consider audiences
On any of the many social media channels, remember that potential readers can include prospects, clients, and employees (current and former). Consider who might come across different postings before publishing them and make sure you aren’t offending any of those groups.

Content is King!
Social media will likely pay nice dividends for your company if you and your associates add value to your followers, fans, viewers, readers, and users. Give them content that is educational, informational, and entertaining!

PPP (Protect Proprietary Property)
Make sure associates understand what they can (and should) share and what is to be kept behind the corporate veil of protection. Employees who willingly and knowingly share confidential or proprietary information should know they do so at the risk of losing their jobs and possibly even ending up as a defendant in a civil lawsuit. Make all ramifications clear in your company’s social media policy!

Stay productive and pay the bills!
Social media won’t help much unless your company is profitable and in the black. Strike the appropriate balance between social media and other work, and make sure you drive this point home with your associates.

Remember the “4 Rs”
If you are active in social media and are REAL, RELEVANT, and RESPONSIVE, you will create the business RELATIONSHIPS that will help make social media one of the best and most effective PR and marketing tools available.

So, what are the best next steps?

Search online and find examples of corporate social media policies, and use them to help you craft yours. Include your associates in creating the policies, and have them help create staff incentives for moving the needle positively and, conversely, negative ramifications if the policies are not adhered to strictly. Finally, consult legal counsel to ensure the policy is legitimate and can be reasonably enforced.

In the end, social media can be a medium that helps raise company morale while also raising company profits. Harness its power and leverage the abilities of your staff to help you spread the word about your product and services, and then sit back and enjoy the ride along the (new and improved) information superhighway!

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