Why a Social Media Policy Matters (Especially When It REALLY Matters)

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Recently, I was invited to Chicago to be on a panel discussing social media, policy, and governance. One of my fellow panelists said, in reference to elements of a social media policy:

It doesn’t matter but when it matters it really matters.

What she meant was that during social media policy development, we often toss around ideas, scenarios, opinions, and more.

Some stand out in importance while others seem trivial. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that, while the discussion may happen in a safe environment (i.e. when the participants are talking in hypotheticals before something happens which a social media policy actually covers).

The policy is meant to cover situations that may never occur but must still be treated with absolute seriousness.

Past, Present, Future – The Role of a Social Media Policy

Also, we must accept that should any of these events occur, all parties involved should have a sense of what to do and what the repercussions might be. This is why a comprehensive social media policy and governance model are critical.

Granted, sometimes a social media policy discussion happens because events have occurred that were catalysts for policy development. Companies discover they have rogue employees that are active in social media and their activities may put themselves and/or the organization at risk.

Furthermore, social technologies and associated behaviors are moving faster than some organizations have been able stay abreast of. Now they are required to develop policies and governance structures that help them get out and stay ahead of emerging technologies and behaviors.

They must develop policies that strike a balance between being broad enough to address the issues being faced currently as well as in the future, but specific enough to provide clarity for those involved having to make informed decisions based on policy.

If it is too specific then the policy could quickly become outdated. If it is too broad then it could provide too much latitude for interpretation resulting in a weak and ineffective policy.

With a well-developed policy in place, governance plays a role in maintaining the policy as well as enhancements and revisions as time passes and new situations arise that are not addressed sufficiently by the current policy.

The Importance of Fluidity in Social Media

For example, IBM changed their social media policy three times in five years in order to reflect the current social technologies and behaviors. All organizations will need to be that fluid or organic with their policies, having something in place now but understanding that changes will likely occur over time.

To many organizations and individuals using or considering using social media this may seem like overkill – but almost daily, certainly weekly, we see examples of social media missteps or organizations falling victim to employees whose behaviors seem to have overstepped the bounds of employee conduct.

Having a comprehensive policy in place might not help an organization avoid every possible event but it could certainly help in most cases.

To truly put the minds of stakeholders at ease, an organization has to:

  • > Put a comprehensive policy in place;
  • > Develop and approve social media operating procedures;
  • > Develop a governance model for overseeing the policy, procedures, and ongoing management review.

Adapting a Social Media Policy to Your Business Needs

While this may appear to have the degree of complexity and scope befitting an enterprise, this can still suit a small business.  It is really about capturing the essence of what is being suggested here.

The policy doesn’t have to be a 30-page document. Some major corporations have summarized their policy in five bullet points. Some policies are really guidelines that empower employees to use best practices with respect to social media rather than take a “thou shalt not” stance.

It is better to have something simple in place so that it can be referenced instead of having no policy and the associated risks that such a situation presents.

We would like to hear about your approach to policy development.

Do you focus more on guidelines or more on rules? Do you have governance in place? If so, what have you seen work best and where do you see problems still occurring?

photo credit: Know the Rules White Background via photopin (license)

A recognized senior social strategist, speaker, and blogger. He has held senior strategy roles with wireless, e-business, financial, and social CRM service providers, helping clients remain competitive by embracing social media and digital technologies.

0 thoughts on “Why a Social Media Policy Matters (Especially When It REALLY Matters)

  1. ArCIntel says:

    @HowardBIA @ajenkins thanks for the mention Howard! ^HJ

  2. ryancox says:

    Andrew Jenkins I think you summed it up perfectly — it doesn’t have to be a 30 page document, but you’d better have something. Most of the blunders I’ve seen (outside of the far reaching extremes) are good people simply not understanding the complexity or AVAILABILITY of everything they’re doing. Steps 2-3-4, as opposed to Step 1.

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