How to Write Useless Social Media Policies

October 10, 2011

1:52 pm

Maybe your company is growing or just getting off the ground, and it’s sitting in a competitive tech space. Everyone is working hard to develop a product, sell it, tweet and blog about it, and secure angel investor cash injections.

Now is the time to start worrying about your employees’ unfettered use of social media. You want to secure patents and copyright registrations to cover the software your product team develops and protect sensitive company information from public forums. “The Coca-Cola® formula is . . . .” And you might encounter a situation where employees start tweet-bragging about secret development efforts or disclose a strategic purchase before the deal is inked. That’s not good.

Maybe you even learned that one of your sales reps vented about a difficult customer publicly on Facebook, or pulled back products that aren’t quite ready to go out the door (but were sold anyway on social media sites). Company tweets with images or videos of strange body parts could be a problem too.  Enough said on that point.

It’s time to roll out a social media policy. So what should it look like?

Many lawyers (some have a lot of clout but no Klout) advise their clients to write long and very restrictive social media policies. Some companies hire lawyers to do it for them. Often, what they receive looks like Miss Manners top 100 do’s and don’ts for formal dinner parties. The policy is stuffy, disconnected from the company’s business use of social media, hard to apply, and not read or followed by anyone. Sometimes it even prohibits any use of social media in the workplace (except for one person in marketing).

I find that policies that are complicated or say “No” to social media at work generally don’t work well. And companies can’t have it both ways. How can we require or promote use of social media for business purposes, but pretend that people can’t exercise discretion and judgment when using it for business or pleasure?

Either companies understand the power of social media and deputize their employees to be the human face on the company brand, or they live in an ivory ice cream tower (that is melting as we speak). If you can generally trust your people to make sound judgment calls in other ways, why not give them the opportunity to use that judgment when they are interacting, promoting, sharing, and selling in the social media space?

I suggest that you create a more flexible policy than Miss Manners’ list and provide a little training to your people. (And maybe you should ignore this post because you work with the government on a project that involves high-level clearance and regulations that lock down every scrap of information and behavior.)

So, without further ado, here’s my suggestion for your new social media policy:

  • Be professional and respectful of others
  • Take care with sensitive company information
  • Don’t do something rash, and if there’s a question, ask
  • Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want you mother (or boss) to see
  • Assume that anything you post will end up on the cover of the New York Times and act accordingly

Any questions? Are any of these policy points unclear? The nice thing about them is you can write them yourself—or copy them from this blog post.

Drop me a line if you have some useful pointers for social media policies or an interesting story to share.

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Antigone is a recovering BIGLAW lawyer who is now the founder and CEO of Cloudigy Law. She is an unabashed technophile who loves her day job because it’s about 50% technology and 50% law. Follow Antigone on Twitter @antigonepeyton.

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