I was recently interviewed by Government Technology magazine for an article entitled Do Governments Need Personal Social Media Policies? My short answer to this question was (and still is: “Yes, But…”) In the interview, I described what I felt are several critical components of a social media “policy” that will help to protect both the employer and the employee.
Over the past several years, I’ve fielded many questions on this subject during presentations. Many of the questions I’ve received focus on the legal issues, employee rights and concerns over “brand” image. In fact, the topic is so new and evolving that Ines Mergel and I devoted an entire chapter to the subject in our Social Media in the Public Sector Fieldguide.
Once the article came out last week, several government practitioners appeared to disagree with my belief that we should have such a policy. I did some digging and had some great email and twitter exchanges and discovered that people weren’t disagreeing about the need for guidance – we were actually just hung up on the semantics of the word policy. Many people felt that policy indicated directive control versus guidance. I get that. Based on your organizational culture and the way your organization provides information, policy might be a hard word to take when it comes to the rights of employees. Fair enough. Fact is, I really don’t care what we title it. I use policy because that has worked well for the government organizations of which I have been a part.
Call it what you will: policy, guidelines, code, etc. Most organizations that I am familiar with include personal use of social media in a code of conduct manual/policy/guidelines/handbook that also includes things like what you can and cannot do in uniform (regardless of whether or not you are on duty) and how you can use or not use a company vehicle, etc.
Bottom line is, you need to include something, preferably something that offers guidance on protecting the balance of the organizations goals with the rights of individuals. The article has a couple of examples of suggested verbiage if you need help getting started with it. General experience has been that a common sense approach will address the majority of cases. Provide a wide set of parameters and expectations and then use this policy to manage the exceptions rather than trying to enforce a set of rules that are perhaps of questionable legality and probably will be very difficult to police via technology.
- Be Yoda, not Darth Vader. Provide guidance, not direction.
- Trust people to do the right thing.
- Deal separately with the ones who don’t.
- And call it whatever you want!