Building a Strategic Social Media Policy That Supports an Ethics-Driven Culture

The majority of employees fully embrace the Web 2.0 world, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. In fact, YouTube receives more than 1 billion views per day, and Facebook and Twitter both experienced triple-digit growth in 2009. If your Human Resources department doesn’t have a strong sense of employee’s social media activities, then you need to start the discussion on appropriate engagement as social media continues to grow explosively.

There are many departments that need to be involved in developing a social media policy including Human Resources, Legal, Compliance and Marketing. Yes, Marketing. Your brand is how your company is perceived throughout the marketplace be it an industry, consumer group or customer base. Postings on social sites may significantly impact brand image; an image that has taken years to develop can now collapse or expand in just a few days.

The best practice for managing social media use among the work force is to embrace it as a part of the current business model. When linked with a proactive approach to the opportunities presented by social media sites, you will have a new platform to support your goal for an ethical-driven work force. Even if you choose not to aggressively use social media as a marketing tool, you need to develop a policy for the work force that explains your position and how you expect your employees to follow that policy.

For example, an integral part of my company’s social media policy is an introduction to social media and the opportunities as well as the challenges it presents to the success of our company. It ties with our belief that each employee is an important member of the team and that each member has a responsibility to uphold our code of conduct and contribute to the company’s success. It also reflects the diversity of our work force. While many of our Generation X and Y employees are active social media users, many Baby Boomers are not familiar with the tools or the impact social media can have on our company’s overall business success.

A great starting point is to review what other companies in your industry or with a similar business model have developed. Several examples of social media policies may be found at

Social media policy best practices
Once a strategy is in place, the crafting of your policy should incorporate several best practices, including:

-¢ A customized approach: A policy should mitigate organizational risk with organizational climate.

-¢ A spokesperson’s guidelines: With social media, everyone is now a company spokesperson and must be dealt with as such. Analyze your current media training exercises and pull out highlights to help develop your policy.

-¢ Protect confidential and proprietary information: This includes every aspect of your physical image and data such as company logos, trademarks and copyrighted material.

-¢ Foster open communication: Start with a discussion with employees to find out how, if and when their role in the company comes up on social media and/or do they have a desire to mention the company on social networking sites. If they have questions when situations arise, employees should feel as if they can come to different members of your organization to discuss how and if they should respond or comment to situations.

-¢ An emergency plan: A good public relations plan always includes a “what if?” scenario as part of its crisis communications strategy. This strategy should now consider the revealing of negative or confidential information on social media sites.

-¢ Consequences: As outlined in your code of conduct, consequences of inappropriate actions should be clearly written. Employees need to be aware that the sharing of inappropriate company information should not be posted on social networking sites.

Leveraging other social media to promote an ethical culture
An internal blog on your company’s Intranet is a great avenue to promote internal discussions on ethical behaviors. It provides a way to start discussions, solicit immediate feedback and answer questions. Developing an Ethics and Compliance Facebook page can furnish organizations another means for talking with -“ instead of at -“ employees about ethical issues.

In addition, Twitter offers an interactive forum for the exchange of ideas. Organizations can distribute short messages that direct readers to relevant ethics Web sites, blogs or Intranet sites or insightful tone-from-the-top posts from company management. It is critical that an organization’s social media platform offers something of value and that a particular strategy is developed for attracting -“ and maintaining -“ fans.

With a well-thought out social media policy, employees are armed with the guidelines and tools necessary to handle social media situations. If they are faced with a question regarding the company, they will be able to answer, ignore or escalate it as outlined in the policy. Regardless of the situation, a strategic social media policy-”combined with the right tools and means of awareness to communicate its content and value to employees-”will lead your efforts for an ethically-driven work force in the right direction.

Luis Ramos is the Chief Executive Officer of The Network, a leading provider of governance, risk and compliance solutions to nearly half the Fortune 500. Ramos can be reached at [email protected].