Having “The Talk” with Staff, Social Media Style


social media guidelinesListen, it doesn’t matter if your company plans on getting actively involved in social media or if you’re just gonna sit on the sidelines. It doesn’t matter whether you have employees specifically tasked with engaging and listening or if you prefer to stick your head in the sand. It doesn’t matter if you love social media or whether you choose to ban it from the office entirely. You still need to train your employees and staff on how to use it responsibly.

Because if you don’t teach them, someone else will. And you may not like what they’re instilling in your offspring. It’s time for you to sit down with employees and have “the talk”, social media style.  It’s natural. There’s no need to be embarrassed.

The social media talk is really just about safety. You wouldn’t allow your 19 year old daughter to go off to college without talking to her about sex, drugs and the various frat boys she’s going to meet. So why are you giving your social communications staff member the rope to hang himself (and your company) with? Educate your staff before they become the next Ben Kaplan.

Earlier this month we heard that 54 percent of CIOs have completely banned social media at work. Employees simply can’t use it at all. Nineteen percent said they allow it for “business purposes only”, as if there was a clear difference. The thing is, you can’t live your life with “fear” being your default response, especially in social media. You rid yourself of that fear when you take control. Banning social media doesn’t work for a number of reasons.

  • Your employees eventually leave your office and can bash you (accidentally or not) just as well from their home computers.
  • There’s really no way you’re going to keep your employees away from social media during 9-5. Are you confiscating their cell phones, too?
  • Education is a far more effective way to handle issues.

You can “ban” social media all you want. Your employees are resourceful. They will find a way to tweet about their [boring meeting], how they [hate their boss] or perhaps even worse when a competitor buddies up to them to get confidential information. And if you think it doesn’t happen, well then you live in a world of bunnies. I know I was.

On December 1, new FTC regulations will take effect that will change how many businesses and individuals practice disclosure. Those same FTC regulations also protect companies from staffer who go against recorded social media policies. If you don’t have a policy for your company, you need to do two things right now.

  1. Make one.
  2. Educate your staff on how to use social media within the confines of your organization.

If your company isn’t equipped to educate its employees on how to use social media responsibly, either for work purposes or just on a personal level, bring in a team of consultants for social media training. It’s important.

Social media education should focus on:

  • What social media is, what it means and the opportunity for businesses.
  • Highlighting and explaining how to use various social tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg, your niche sites, industry blogs, etc for good. [Perhaps a condensed version of the ultimate social media etiquette handbook.]
  • How employees should represent themselves online – being respectful, genuine, transparent, and NOT picking fights or offering free merchandise for votes, etc.
  • The proper way to engage people and build relationships. [ie NOT “Digg this and we’ll send you free stuff.]
  • How to use good judgment and understanding the dangers of social media’ing ‘under the influence’ of anger or alcohol.
  • What they can or cannot share about the company, company projects and clients.
  • Case studies in positive and negative social media use. There are plenty of them out there, good AND bad.
  • A lesson in your company’s community guidelines

Should you need helping crafting your own, here are some good examples of social media policies:

The best way to get rid of the fear involved with social media is to educate yourself and your staff, and then to create reasonable guidelines for its proper use. Don’t tell them exactly what they can or cannot say, but do stress responsibility of their words and actions. This is going to become increasingly more important with the new FTC guidelines. And beyond that, it’s just good business. It’s time for you and your employees to have “the talk”.

Your Comments

  • Victor

    Wow. 54% of CIO’s ban social media. Not smart. I am trying to get my troops involved in social media. Thanks Lisa. Big fan of yours. You remind of Calvin and Hobbes. Every other tweet cracks me up and you content is always good.

  • David Zemens

    A company that bans social media contact is cut from the same cloth as a company that would ban talk around the water cooler, or in the break room. All three are forms of “social media”. The most popular kind of “social media” and the subject of this post has to do with “web based” social media.

    Let’s face it, social media is really just talk. Between friends or acquaintances. The same talk that has been going on between human beings since whenever communication skills came into being.

    Burying your head in the sand and pretending that social media will go away is a recipe for disaster. I agree that social media needs to be embraced by your business and handled accordingly. Within boundaries. But ban it entirely? Bad idea.

  • Lisa Barone

    Victor: Crazy number, right? It seems like the education level for social media should be far above where it currently is…but it’s really, really not. Congrats on getting your own training stared. And, uh, Calvin & Hobbes, eh? I guess I’ll take that. :p

    David: Agreed. Though this “web-based” social media can be a lot more damaging to a company than the stuff I used to let loose around the company water cooler. :) I think companies are just afraid to turn on that faucet in fear of what’s going to come out. They don’t realize there is a way to control the flow, if they take the necessary steps. Totally agree with you though. Burying your head in the sand is not only not wise, it’s dangerous. You can’t lock your kids up because you’re afraid of the world. You have to teach them how to survive and be safe.

  • Victor

    Sorry. Meant to be a compliment. How many people though do you know that post a blog like this and then a picture of jack hammer rubble. Your funny!

  • reiko

    In the last 2 days I have had this kind of conversation with businesses. Education and guidelines is key. Thank you for some good reference links.

  • Ari B. Adler

    If you’re interested in fighting for more open social media policies at work, check out http://www.stopblocking.org. Of course, you’ll need to do this at home, since many companies now block access to it!

  • Data Entry Services

    This is excellent information – especially the links to policy examples. Thanks for this!

  • Yawn Webmaster!

    “A company that bans social media contact is cut from the same cloth as a company that would ban talk around the water cooler, or in the break room.”

    “I think companies are just afraid to turn on that faucet in fear of what’s going to come out.”

    You are both wrong…only kidding :)

    I quote myself
    “From the time it takes to register a new user account on Facebook, to writing the first message, as little as 60 seconds can pass. It’s a testament to both the advances made in technology, and web architects ability to create easy to use globally accessible platforms. But this ease of use can also be its undoing.

    All messages sent via social media platforms are transcribed and stored on a server. A server which, as a business or organization you can’t access or control. While you can delete messages, in some cases, you have no way of knowing if the information is going be kept ad-infinitum, or whether through company mergers, it might end up in a far away land with a nondescript policy on privacy protection. Friends, colleagues and competitors can all access your information and store it locally. For Professional Communicators the ‘eternity of information’ can be problematic because while policies, practice and conventions at a business or societal level evolve over time, the Twitter Tweet, Facebook ‘post to your wall’ or forum comment can remain fixed in time. Something posted on social media might actually provide a competitor with a great publicity piece in five years time.

    While it’s true that a TV and video recorder could provide the same ‘eternity of information’, it’s social media’s ability to store, share and disseminate information that is worthy of a red flag for professional communicators.

    Key Message: Communicators should not sideline the impact that social media could have on other areas of the dissemination process. It would be a mistake to classify social media as a passing fad and not assign to it the same rigour and control as the other established communications channels.”

    The reality is there are many reasons why companies would not want to engage in Social Media Marketing.

    Personally, I don’t think every company should be using social media, and neither must they have a website. If I sell you something, it’s because you need it.

  • Lisa Barone

    Yawn Webmaster: Whether you want to engage in social media or not, I still think you need to educate your staff. Because chances are they WILL be engaging, whether or not they’re doing it on your hours (which they probably are). With the FTC protecting only companies who’s employees have specifically broken a stated policy…I’d probably create one.

  • Matt Sullivan

    I feel that these CIO’s have the attitude of “if I close my eyes, they can’t see me”. Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between the CIO’s policies and the CMO’s needs. Everyone praised Frank at Comcast for his sudden involvement with Twitter, but there is not much that has come from it 10 months later.

    My last company, Ektron, has decided to allow employees to individually represent the company in the social media space, instead of a faceless corporate account. If you Tweet a problem with the software you’ll most likely have a call from your Account Manager, and an @-reply from the CTO. Plus, there is a swarming of voices going after negative Tweets from competitors.

    The conversations are happening with, or without, your policies.


  • Matt Cheuvront

    Great post and resource Lisa. I currently work for a Pediatric Therapy company as their Internet Marketing Developer and have essentialy been given the responsibility of launching everything from the ground up. I love the challenge – and part of that has been in incorporating Social Media into our marketing mix. “Thought Leadership” is one of our primary goals – and we want Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, etc) to be a resource for parents and families – both at a stand-alone level, and in pointing to other helpful resources from our site and around the web.

    The challenge is getting people on board and involved. I’m starting small and asking for some <140 character "tips" for parents, building up a library of resource info to use both now and have something that is retweet-able for the future. There are goals on the horizon for blogging, webinars, etc – but I think it's important to 1) educate – as you have laid out here and 2) take things slow – get people involved who WANT to be involved, and don't force things.

    Again, great info here. Thanks Lisa!

  • Yawn Webmaster!

    You’re reading just the bare framework. the background ;)

  • Nathan Hangen

    You know, this is a tough one…I work in a secure building that doesn’t allow cell phones and we don’t have access to social networks, even though we’re supposed to be using them for open source intelligence (go figure), but…that doesn’t stop me from going out to my car, grabbing my phone, and forwarding important stuff to my email.

    It’s tough to monitor social media, and if I was a CIO…I’d probably have a strict policy as well. Heck, text messages alone are productivity killers, so I can imagine how bad it could get with social media.

    I never expected to find myself on that side of the fence, but I suppose there’s a time for everything :)

  • norcross

    For most companies, I completely disagree with their blocking of social networks (as I said in a post of my own), since it’s a human resources problem, not a technology problem. However, I can understand the CIO’s perspective that so many people have bad browsing habits that one bad link can open a shit-storm in their entire network.

    Also, there are some regulatory issues involved, mainly with financial firms. Sarbanes – Oxley requires that ALL personal communication done via the company resources is archived. The social networks that offer messaging functionality aren’t built in such a way that this can happen, so the only real way to be in compliance is to ban it all together.

  • Strung Out

    Good discussion here. I have to say that Yawn and norcross make really good points. Essentially, the appropriate regulation/utilization of “social media” (a term I disdain) is completely dependent on the type, size, etc. of the organization in question. Goldman Sachs is going to require a different policy than Conde Naste, and Outspokenmedia will have a different policy than NY State Dept of Transportation. Obviously, they all need one.

    As Lisa says, education is essential. But, if I were a boss I may be more concerned about productivity losses through non-sanctioned communication forums, and thus I understand the 54% percent number. In theory, it is a nice thought that the adequate level of education and instruction for SM usage will enable a utopian and uniformly positive exchange of information and ideas. We need not look far to see the fallacy of this assumption.

    But I have to say, you guys are light years ahead of some other companies looking to do what you are doing. Kudos.