Listen, 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.
- Make one.
- 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:
- BBC’s Online Services Guidelines
- Dell’s Communicatioin Policy
- ESPN’s Social Media Guidelines [coughSportsIllustratedcough]
- IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines
- Intel’s Social Media Guidelines
- Microsoft’s Tweeting and Blogging Guidelines
- U.S. Air Force New Media Policy (PDF)
- US Navy Policy and Guidance
- US Coast Guard’s Social Media Policy
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”.