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7 questions for developing a social media policy

February 14, 2011 • Top Stories

As social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, disrupts the the long-standing rules of business in many ways, some companies are starting to embrace these often maligned communication tools.  But crafting a social media policy is premature unless the designers of the policy answer certain critical questions first.

“Social media offers tempting opportunities to interact with employees, business partners, customers, prospects and a whole host of anonymous participants on the social web,” said Carol Rozwell, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, Inc. “However, those who participate in social media need guidance from their employer about the rules, responsibilities, ‘norms’ and behaviours expected of them, and these topics are commonly covered in the social media policy.”

Gartner, a leading information technology research and advisory company, has identified seven critical questions that designers of social media policy must ask themselves:

What Is Our Organisation’s Strategy for Social Media?

There are many possible purposes for social media. It can be used for five levels of increasingly involved interaction (ranging from monitoring to co-creation) and across four different constituencies (employees, business partners, customers and prospects, and the social web). It is critical that social media leaders determine the purpose of their initiatives before they deploy them and that those responsible for social media initiatives articulate how the organisation’s mission, strategy, values and desired outcomes inform and impact on these initiatives. A social media strategy plan is one means of conveying this information.

Who Will Write and Revise the Policy?

Some organisations assign policy writing to the CIO, others have decided it’s the general counsel’s job, while in other cases, a self-appointed committee decides to craft a policy. It’s useful to gain agreement about who is responsible, accountable, consulted and involved before beginning work on the policy and, where possible, a cross-section of the company’s population should be involved in the policy creation process. It’s important to remember that there is a difference between policy — which states do’s and don’ts at a high level — and operational processes, such as recruitment or customer support — which may use social media. These operational processes need to be flexible and changeable and adhere to the policy, but each department/activity will need to work out specific governance and process guidelines.

How Will We Vet the Policy?

Getting broad feedback on the policy serves two purposes. First, it ensures that multiple disparate interests such as legal, security, privacy and corporate branding, have been adequately addressed and that the policy is balanced. Second, it increases the amount of buy-in when a diverse group of people is asked to review and comment on the policy draft. This means that the process by which the policy will be reviewed and discussed, along with the feedback, will be incorporated into the final copy. A vetting process that includes social media makes it more likely that this will occur.

How Will We Inform Employees About Their Responsibilities?

Some organisations confuse policy creation with policy communication. A policy should be well-written and comprehensive, but it is unlikely that the policy alone will be all that is needed to instruct employees about their responsibilities for social media. A well-designed communication plan, backed up by a training program, helps to make the policy come to life so that employees understand not just what the policy says, but how it impacts on them. It also explains what the organization expects to gain from its participation in social media, which should influence employees in their social media interactions.

Who Will Be Responsible for Monitoring Social Media Employee Activities?

Once the strategy has been set, the rules have been established and the rationale for them explained, who will ensure that they are followed? Who will watch to make sure the organisation is getting the desired benefit from social media? A well-designed training and awareness programme will help with this, but managers and the organisation’s leader for social media also need to pay attention. Managers need to understand policy and assumptions and how to spot inappropriate activity, but their role is to be more of a guide to support team self-moderation, rather than employ a top-down, monitor-and-control approach.

How Will We Train Managers to Coach Employees on Social Media Use?

Some managers will have no problem supporting their employees as they navigate a myriad of social media sites. Others may have more trouble helping employees figure out the best approach for blogs, microblogs and social networking. There needs to be a plan for how the organisation will give managers the skills needed to confront and counsel employees on this sensitive subject.

How Will We Use Missteps to Refine Our Policy and Training?

As with any new communications medium, some initiatives go exceptionally well, while others run adrift or even sink. Organisations that approach social media using an organized and planned approach, consistent with the organisation’s mission, strategy and values, will be able to review how well these initiatives meet their objectives and use that insight to improve existing efforts or plan future projects better.

By Angela Meadon

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