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.

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