If you've ever checked out your coworkers' or employees social profiles (and let's be honest, we all have) you've probably experienced what I affectionately refer to as Werewolf Syndrome. Although employees are well behaved and professional within the confines of the office walls, sometimes their personal behavior online seems to signify they lead an entirely different life post 5 PM. You've seen it yourself: Janet from accounting has an entire Facebook album dedicated to her 4/20 themed birthday party, and Tom in HR seems to enjoy checking in at bars at 2 AM. To top it off, Tammy from the sales team uses Facebook to broadcast her vehement despise for the President and anyone who supports his communist agenda.
There's nothing wrong with any of these behaviors, and we should absolutely respect the personal passtimes, beliefs, and opinions of our employees and peers. But it's not hard to imagine how questionable content could potentially be destructive to your company's reputation if perceived as a representation of your business. And unfortunately, in an age where invisibility online is impossible, it will.
Every organization is the sum of it's parts, and the parts are the people in this instance. Every employee status update, Tweet, Instagram post and Foursquare check in is a part of your collective corporate identity.
This explains the growing trend among socially-savvy businesses of instituting a social media policy to clarify how employees are expected to behave online. Asking employees to abide by a set of standards in relation to Facebook opinion sharing, Instagram party capturing, or Twitter rampages may seem over-the-top, but it's imperative to the preservation of your brand.
In this post and another to follow, I'll be exploring the two dimensions of corporate social media use: first, for employees personal pages, and secondly, on branded accounts. Outlining expectations and guidelines in both categories is pivotal to preserving your company's identity, so I hope to provide some valuable insights to steer you in the right direction!
Today, we'll be exploring how to appropriately go about outlining employee usage of personal social media accounts. Prior to establishing your social media policy, you'll need to consider a fundamental question:
Do I want my employees to affiliate their social accounts with my business?
This is, beyond a doubt, the most important issue in the process of policy creation. While some companies allow and even encourage their employees to identify their occupation in the "About Me" sections, some prefer for employees to make no mention of the business at all. Both strategies can be beneficial, but also come with inherent risks.
- Allowing (or asking) employees to list your business on their profile generates greater exposure for your company via the followings of your (hopefully) talented and eloquent employees. This becomes more attractive as the personal brands of employees are increasingly relevant in the overall perception of any company. But remember, granting employees the priviledge of affiliating their account with your business means every personal update will show up alongside your company's name.
- There is the option of simply banning employees from affiliating their online personas with your real-life business to avoid potentially negative associations. While this can effectively safe-guard your business from being perceived as aligned with the personal (and perhaps questionable) social sharing of your employees, it also inherently limits your visibility on social networks and could result in poor office morale.
Assuming you opt to allow employees to list you as their employer online, your subsequent social media policy will be comprised of several considerations which will be unique depending on the size of your business, industry, and general brand identity. Jeanne Meister wrote a great piece for Forbes, which outlines five basic rules of employee social participation:
- Reason: Use the same reasonable etiquette online as you would offline
- Representation: Accurately identify yourself, as annonymous accounts lend themselves to the posting much more insensitive content
- Responsibility: Ensure all sharing is not only factual, but also legally allowed
- Respect: Don't behave online in any manner which you wouldn't want displayed to the entire office
- Restraint: Always stop and review a post before hitting send, and ask whether you want that sentiment associated with your name forever. (Ever heard of a screenshot? Think of every single post as being concreted in history)
Utilizing guidelines like Jeanne's as the foundation of your social policy will serve as a great starting place for building the do's and don'ts of online behavior. You may want to write specific guidelines for each platform (Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, etc) - but this could certainly become cumbersome.
Instead, focus on overall messaging and the types of content which are deemed absolute no's. One such guideline might be to ban the sharing of opinions or content which sheds negative light on your organization.
A word of caution: social media policies are meant to enable open communication in explaining basic expectations of online behavior, but should never be used as a means to monitor and dictate the entire private social existence of your staff. Although I can't tell you how to screen candidates or ensure employees aren't engaging in questionable activity after-hours, I can state without trepidation that making this type of demands will only widen any existing gaps between management and employees, as it fosters the "us-VS-them" mentality and implies that privacy is a privilege, not a right.
Remember, they're your employees, not your prisoners!
I encourage you to develop a social media policy to keep the entire organization on the same page while protecting your brand, and to steer clear of earning an irreperable reputation as Big Brother.
With a comprehensive and clear social media policy developed and communicated, your business will take major strides in eliminating the potential for questionable or negative representations online. Make sure your employees understand not only what is expected of them, but also how their behavior impacts the organization as a whole, and you'll create an environment based on mutual respect.
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gloomystudio/2248873923/sizes/z/in/photostream/