Social Media Is Here to Stay: Time to Start that Workplace Policy

As of mid-September, there are 300 million Facebook users worldwide. The announcement came just two months after the company reached 250 million users in July. For those of us not inclined to do the math, at the current rate, Facebook is growing to the tune of 25 million new users per month.

Faced with these statistics, it’s hard to deny the reality-social media is here to stay. So it makes sense that more and more employers are (finally) turning their attention to the many implications that sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter can have on businesses. Taking a proactive approach makes obvious sense to many of us, especially considering some of the better known blunders that have made their way to the mainstream media.

Despite their good intentions, though, many employers have gotten stalled. They recognize the potential value and potential risks inherently associated with social-media technology. But when they sit down to put pen to paper, they can’t seem to get started. So, since the hardest part is figuring out where to begin, I’m going to provide a quick checklist of fundamentals. Think about these first and the policy will be far easier to create.

What Is the Purpose?

First, what is the purpose of the policy. Is your focus to prevent potential liability or are you more interested in harnessing the power of the web through the voice of your loyal employees?

What Technologies Are Covered?

Second, what technologies will your policy address? Do you have any internal social-networking sites or blogs? If so, will they be covered? Will different rules apply to employee posts on your internal wiki than to employee posts on a personal Facebook page?

In addition to purely internal and purely external sites, there is a third category to consider, as well-public content posted on behalf of the organization. This blog is an example. I am posting on my firm’s nickel but, with any luck, I’m posting in the hopes that someone from outside the firm actually reads it.

Decide which of the three will be addressed in your policy and then identify the specific technologies that will be covered. If the decision makers aren’t familiar with the technologies on a basic level, this is the time for some education in Web 2.0.

Who Is Covered by the Policy?

Third, who will be covered by the policy? All employees? Will some employees be subject to more expansive restrictions? For example, should employees in R & D be subject to different obligations than those in customer service? And what about managers and supervisors? They should be given a larger share of responsibility not only for their own online activities but also for communicating and enforcing the online presence of the members of their respective teams.

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