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“We need a social media policy” appears to be the runaway hit buzz phrase of 2013. There’s hardly a business owner or manager on the planet who hasn’t shouted out these words in near panic as the latest employee social scandal breaks in the news. Yes, you absolutely need a social media policy, but they are far from a cure-all solution.
If you were hoping for good news, I’m sorry. Tackling the topic of employees and social media is not simple, and thinking that having a social media policy in place will save you is dangerously shortsighted.
Prevention above all else
A policy, no matter how well written, cannot undo the damage of a social media mishap. It cannot put the proverbial cat back into the bag. The sequence of events is painfully predictable: a person’s online behavior causes a massive uproar, said person is linked to company, company tries to distance themselves, company issues statement saying the employee was disciplined / dismissed.
Discipline or dismissal does not undo the damage that has been caused, and often the lingering ‘bad taste’ surrounds the brand and not the employee. People remember the brand name. It’s tough to quantify the brand cost of these occurrences but it’s safe to say they aren’t comfortable.
Too few businesses look beyond the social media policy or recognize the limitations it presents. This is not a box that can simply be ticked so you can move onto something else. In fact, it isn’t a box at all. It’s a culture that needs to be cultivated.
The culture of social media
It boils down to the clash of industrial age business and digital age employees, and it’s not good news for either party. The laws tend to support the business when acting against errant employees, but only after the employee has caused the damage to the business. It’s a lose-lose.
The alternative, a win-win, is actually possible if everyone is willing to put in the effort to build a strong social culture. In this situation, the business acknowledges the limitations of a policy and invests in education, training, sharing and empowering of all employees.
The potential collective power of your socially connected employees should not be overlooked, and with the correct mix of education and involvement, the business can turn something they think is a threat, into a golden opportunity. The ability to connect, learn, share and listen can positively impact many employees’ contribution within their jobs, as long as they are guided correctly.
Sounds like a parenting lecture because it’s pretty close to one. You can’t stop your employees from going online (no-matter how hard you try), and you can’t use a policy to protect them, or you, from getting into trouble. You really only have one option, and that’s to acknowledge that social is here to stay. That your employees will be socially active no matter what you want, and that the risks are there regardless of your policy.
The only way through
The solution is to turn social into a positive strategic objective. Educate and encourage employees to make the most of social media. Teach them the rights and wrongs. Show them successful case studies of amazing social usage, and show them examples of when things go wrong. Empower them to make smart choices, to proudly represent your brand and to grow themselves using everything that’s available online. Give them a directive for effective collaboration.
Or you can try block social media on work computers, pretend that your policy has you covered, and see what happens.
Craig Rodney will be speaking at the Cerebra Social Business Africa conference in Johannesburg on 20 August.