Creating Your Social Media Policy: It Takes a Village

It is so close to another continent, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin could have almost been describing this place when she said, “You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.”  It’s just above the Arctic Circle and the village has never seen 86 degrees Fahrenheit.    Google Maps will tell you that there are no roads you can drive to make the 549 mile trip between it and Anchorage.  The route can only be flown.

So I will be flying to Kotzebue, Alaska, a remote fishing village with a population of 3,200 people, to speak to an association there on, of all things, developing a social media policy.

Surely, you might think, there must have been some terrible, unimaginable faux pas that preempted such an invitation.  “No,” the organizer told me.  “We know how prolific social media is becoming, especially in a far-flung area like ours which needs to reach out to the rest of the world, and we’re just trying to be proactive.”

If developing a social media is of interest to a distant fishing village in Alaska, maybe it should be of interest to your organization as well.

Now, as you read about developing a social media policy for your business, you may be tempted to leave reading this article about as fast as a patron leaving a parking facility wants the exit gate to rise, but before you go, allow me to address two popular quotes on the subject.

“We don’t need a social media policy,” you might be tempted to say.  “We just prohibit employees to visit Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and every other social networking site discussed in this blog that we happen to come across.”

Just like Prohibition in the United States during the 1920s didn’t work, neither will blocking all social media sites at the corporate firewall. 

After all, if your employees can’t access their favorite Internet locations on their corporate-issued desktops or laptops, they will simply pull out their smartphones to get to those social media sites.  For instance, about 150 million users in the United States access Facebook solely from mobile each month.

“You can’t blame employees for violating policies rules that don’t officially exist,” says Debra Littlejohn Shinder, a former police officer and criminal justice instructor who now works as an IT analyst. “You need a social networking policy that explicitly lays out what is and isn’t permissible, both on the company’s network and outside of it if they are presenting themselves as representatives of the company.”

For instance, Shinder discusses a situation in which one of your employees gives a friend or an associate a positive reference either during work hours or even on their own time on a social media site like LinkedIn.  “It may appear that the company endorses the individual being recommended,” she says.  “This could create a liability situation” for your company.

Creating Your Social Media Policy

Yet before you think that developing a social media policy can be about as exciting as finally making that long-awaited trip to the dentist for root canal surgery, let me assure you that there is no need to painstakingly design a social media policy for your parking facility entirely from scratch.  To see what other organizations both like and unlike yours have already done, you can visit a website that currently houses about 250 actual social media policies.  The owner of the website, Chris Boudreaux, has categorized these social media policies into six industry groupings, plus a general guidelines and templates classification.

For instance, the Ohio State University Medical Center in their Policy and Procedure Manual tells their employees: “What you should do:  Be authentic.  State that it is your opinion.  Unless authorized to speak on behalf of the Medical Center you must state that the views expressed are your own.  Be responsible and act ethically.  When you are at work, your primary responsibility is the work of the Medical Center.

What You Should Never Disclose:  Confidential OSU information.  If you find yourself wondering whether you can talk about something you learned at work – don’t.”

Take the lead from a remote fishing village, as well as from a small online village of sample social media policies, and protect your organization.  View these social media policies at socialmediagovernance.com.

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