Monday, May 28, 2012

Social Media Policies in the Social Media Age

In the shadow of a Facebook IPO, a lot has been written lately about social media policies - How should social media be used by a company, if at all?  What policies need to be in place?  Can we screen candidates Facebook profile?   All of these questions are interesting and great discussions have been had. But one thing is missing, once you’re created and disseminated the perfect social media policy how do you enforce it?  Do you really fire someone for posting on Facebook?  In addition to the obvious questions about whether an employee have a claim for being fired for a tweet; there are other, more practical issues like how to you retain and recruit employees if you’re acting like a big brother over their social media?  And how do you encourage the social media use that’s beneficial to your company while keeping control on use that can be damaging?

I predict this is one of those generational issues that will fade over time.  In the meantime, it must be addressed.  Employees under 30 grew up in the social media age, they’ve been labeled by Nielsen as “Generation C” for “Connected”.  They were the early adopters of Friendster, MySpace, Flickr, Facebook, Foursquare, YouTube, etc.  Many can’t imagine their lives without tweeting at least daily.  Their main method of communicating with family is over Facebook.  Many of them view it the same as talking with friends on the phone.  ?  It’s extremely personal to them, yet many don’t fully comprehend the permanency of those conversations or how they could be used against them.  And now you, evil lawyer, are telling them they have to watch what they say?  And worse, that you’re going to be watching it? 

You’ll definitely lose employee loyalty and potentially also lose otherwise valuable employees if you’re too draconian about it. It’s a balancing act for the employer that recognizes that happy, loyal employees boost productivity and are good for the bottom line.  So what’s an in house lawyer to do?

My best advice is to educate and don’t stop educating.  Too often we roll out policies without an explanation of why they are what they are.  Sometimes, we hold back this information for good reason.  But with regards to social media, it’s better to err on the side of over informing your employee bases as to the benefits and dangers of social media – both for the company and them personally.  I use real life examples of past employees thinking something they posted was “private” because that’s how they have their settings but the post goes viral because one of their several hundred “friends” thought it was funny and reposted it in another less private forum.  I use examples of Facebook being used by police, insurance agents, and divorce attorneys, and examples of tweets being snapped up by the media for better or worse of the companies involved and the aftermath for their employees.  Making it relatable to the employee is key to getting them to understand that a properly drafted social media policy leaves room for them to share the pictures of their kids (or their crazy Friday night party) without violating the policy but sharing tweets of what they’re working on is a bad idea that will get them disciplined, if not fired. 

For the most part, this has worked for me.  There are still outliers who think any censorship; even self-censorship is bad.  When faced with them, I smile knowing that someday they’re going to regret it – if only when their grandchildren see grandpa doing handstands on a keg in a skirt (you know who you are…)  

No comments:

Post a Comment