The Role of Social Media Policy

Lethal Generosity

The following is draft material for my next book, Welcome to the Fifth Estate (the follow up to Now Is Gone, which is almost out of print). Comments may be used in the final edition. You can download the first drafted chapter of the new edition — Welcome to the Fifth Estate — for free.

The organizational social media policy becomes a critical document for employees. It defines what is safe to do, what the organization frowns upon, and how employees can navigate their day-to-day responsibilities while maintaining a social presence.

A social media policy is a living document reflecting management’s ethos about how much latitude the organization encourages with online public conversations. As an organization becomes comfortable with social media and its interactions with the Fifth Estate over time, the policy will likely encourage more transparency and authenticity. It will also reflect lessons learned, some of them painful, but necessary experiences on the path towards more extended networked communications.

There are several best practices documents that have already been created on what should be included in such a document. Consider Cision’s and Society of New Communications Research (SNCR)‘s best practice recommendations.

These are good starting points, but also keep in mind that your culture is unique. That means you may have special qualities that you want to show, or regulations that prevent you from talking openly (SEC, HIPPA, government clearance, client/case confidentiality, etc.). Or your organization may be conservative with its social media out of the gate, and that’s OK, too.

The Social Media Governance site published a list of open social media policies representing almost every type of organization imaginable, from Cisco to the New Zealand State Services Commission. Your organization may want to review them to see which ones work for you and your type of business or nonprofit. In fact, you may find that several parts of the different policies may work, and you will decide to take pieces of them. Simply provide attribution, like the American Red Cross did with it’s social media policy for personal communications.

Just remember that almost all of your employees are members of the Fifth Estate themselves. To not enable access in any form only encourages anonymous postings and veiled remarks. After all, to truly become visible in social media you must at least to some extent participate with the Fifth Estate as a community member.