Social Media Policy – balancing freedom and corporate responsibility

I caught a very interesting article this morning from the WSJ about social media policy. It delved into the issues public companies face with respect to using social media tools and public disclosure/SEC compliance.

This is a topic I’m always asked about when I talk about social media with CEO’s and I think it’s a reasonable question to be asking. I commented earlier this month about Australian Telco Telstra’s recently announced social media policy which was good but I felt they were closing the gate after the horse had bolted.

Many social media experts put forward an overly simplistic ideal that the corporation should just get in and join the groundswell and let the information be free with this sentiment picked up in the article with reference to eBay seemingly putting some boundaries around an official Twitterer:

Some followers think the tougher oversight is squelching Mr. Brewer-Hay’s spontaneous, informal style

This type of mindset is dangerous as it fails to balance the desire to be open and collaborative with real world regulatory demands (such as continuous disclosure obligations).

This collision of ideals is where I feel many social media experts and participants really let themselves down in that they don’t or won’t accept realistic boundaries around the use of social media. If an employee puts information into the community that is wrong or is breaking the law why shouldn’t the company act? What justification is there for this ideal that “sanitising such posts risks hurting credibility with online audiences”?

If you step back from the regulatory aspect, it’s also good business to have a policy in place that reinforces mutual obligations as well as the overall strategy. The US Air Force has a very interesting flow chart that they use to help their employees understand how to engage. As David Meerman Scott discusses in his post, the USAF has a well developed policy that encourages every employee to be a communicator. The USAF’s blog assessment flowchart is something I was very impressed with as it’s a simple but effective tool to help visualise one aspect of a social media policy.

US Air Force Blog Assessment Flowchart

US Air Force Blog Assessment Flowchart

My advice to CEO’s is to focus on getting a clear and simple policy in place and then sticking to it. Get on the web and find examples of what others are doing well – i.e. Dell, IBM. If you find reason to intervene then make sure you do it in a way that is open and transparent. Most people in the community will respect this and appreciate the fact that a company is prepared to be open but is also prepared to be diligent and responsible.

Social Media Policy – Telstra Tries Hard

Telstra announced today the release of its social media policy. Given they’ve been in the Twitter space for a while I was surprised it took them this long to get a policy in place. Whilst it’s good to see a large Australian company formalising how they participate and the obligations upon its staff, aspects of the policy seem somewhat draconian.

Several aspects of the policy (as reported by Smart Company) puzzled me.

Firstly, Telstra employees need to undertake accreditation – or social media training. This seems like a fair request given Telstra probably uses this training to set expectations, reinforce the strategic objectives, ensure the right skills are in place (i.e. can the person spell…)

But after an employee has been accredited:

Employees will also need authorisation from their department head and the company’s public policy staff.

I’m not sure how effective this is going to be in the long run. Does this mean a Telstra employee running an official Twitter account needs to get approval from two layers of management before they can reply to a Tweet? I get the impression that whilst Telstra wants to convey the impression that they are progressive in reality it would seem they don’t trust their staff to be prudent and responsible.This flies in the face of how other large corporations (like IBM, Microsoft, US Air Force) set and manage their social media policies.

I guess this is more evidence of the fallout from the Fake Stephen Conroy saga that Telstra found itself in the middle of.

Australian Companies and Twitter

In January and February I wrote a couple of posts about Twitter and the fact (in my opinion of the time) major Australian brands were failing to register on the Twitter-scape and that Twitter might even be the great never was. My position regarding Twitter is softening, and following on from our survey, evidence is emerging that some companies and brands are starting to get into the space.

Funnily enough, through using Twitter I connected to @JamesDuthie and found a very interesting article he wrote about Australian businesses and brands on Twitter.

The post is a very good run down on what’s happening with some key, big brand companies. What I particularly liked about the post is the fact he did analysis on that the Twitter account was doing, giving us an assessment from his perspective. I concur with much of what James writes and some of the companies he’s highlighted deserve credit for getting in and having a public go (are you listening big Australian banks?). Clearly these companies are going to learn and start being even more innovative – James kind of alluded to this in his review of the travel related sites – so it’ll be interesting to see what they do going forward. We thrashed round a few ideas (yes, over Friday beers) that we feel would be simple to implement but deliver powerful relevance for their followers.

I am still of the opinion that the big companies aren’t getting this (or social media for that matter) but I am impressed that many small companies (i.e. @babysitterdirec) are using Twitter.

Finally, I was really impressed with the comment provided by Robyn Munro (@robynemu) of Atlassian. Her response outlines the challenges many companies face in terms of individual ID’s vs. company ID’s. I guess this is to be expected from someone like Atlassian given their stellar reputation for innovation and community engagement (I just wish they’d return my web form requests for partnership info). What stands out here is that they’ve decided to just get on with it. Yes there are challenges and issues, but let’s do something anyway and learn on the fly.

Finally finally, Inspiredworlds touched on an issue that doesn’t get much chatter – cyber squatters. I know Twitter has a policy on this but I’m wondering whether it’s a barrier and making corporate Twitter use all too hard for some of the big companies?