Does your company support your participation in social media? Are you apprehensive about admitting you work there when you comment on blogs, participate in forums or list your workplace or contact information on social networks?

Employee AshesChances are those of you reading this blog have discussed your social media participation with your employers or you work for yourself, so the questions are more rhetorical than direct. But think about the millions of people out there who either choose to separate themselves from their professional life in online activities or are forced to do so.

Organizations have every right to fear employees identifying themselves as such online, especially if the company doesn’t have a clear communications policy or training for such outreach. The reasons range anywhere from legal issues to inappropriate comments made about competition, other employees or the company itself. Individuals, likewise, have every right to participate in social media outside the office and to keep their work and play lives separate.

But what about the employee who is as proud of working there as anything? What about the companies smart to the fact that their employees are often times their biggest brand enthusiasts and should be let loose on the world wide web to spread the good news?

If you’re laughing at that last possibility, let me assure you there are some.

Earlier this week, I was asked to develop a policy for employee participation in social media. The impetus was because the brand recognizes that people out there are talking about them whether they are participating or not. They not only want to participate, they want to encourage their employees to do so as well. But, like any corporation, they know there must be guidelines. Here are my initial suggestions.

SIX RULES FOR EFFECTIVE EMPLOYEE PARTICIPATION IN SOCIAL MEDIA

  1. Be honest.
  2. Always clearly identify that you work for the company, but don’t necessarily speak for the company.
  3. Respect our competition.
  4. Never write or say anything you wouldn’t say in front of your boss.
  5. When you don’t know, say, “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out.” Then try to find out and respond.
  6. Avoid arguments and direct discussions with those derogatory about the brand. If pressed, direct them to the public relations/customer service department for better information.

None of these are always true for every organization (except the honesty one, in my opinion) but should outline a set of easy-to-understand parameters for employee participation in social media. The question is whether or not this list is enough? Are there other policies that should be included? Are there angles to employee interaction I’ve missed?

Take a brief moment to jump in the comments section and tell me what you think. Should companies allow employees to raise their hand as brand enthusiasts and participate in social networks, blog comments and more? I promise to collect suggestions and repost a polished list of rules next week.

Other Posts You’ll Find Interesting:

  1. The Social Media Rift Between Employees And Companies
  2. Stifling Social Interaction
  3. Does Your Company Support Employee Blogging?
  4. Consequences For Not Having A Blogging Policy
  5. Social Media Policy: Corporate, Personal Responsibility

IMAGE:Ashes of Problem Employees” by mio_pls on Flickr.

[tags]employee policy, social media, social media rules, participation, privacy, personal, professional, social networking[/tags]

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://thegrubhound.com/ The Grub Hound

    A great post…I like the fourth rule…sounds almost golden.

  • http://www.blahblahtech.com/2007/12/the-business-of-social-network-profiles.html Wayne Smallman

    Before I begin, I just want to say that I totally agree with the advice, OK?

    It’s very much in line with what I’ve been going on about for some time.

    The thing is, a lot businesses have little or no concept of what their “brand” is, let alone how to manage it.

    Plus, their employees might be less revved about talking up their employers and caring less about what brand they might or might not have.

    So for a lot of businesses, this kind of advice — sound and sage as it is, and believe me, I’ve doled out the same advice myself — is like talking to the wind.

    I’ve been in same situations myself with people I know — both as employers and employees.

    I recently had a security specialist by the name of Paul Maloney write for my ‘blog about the issues inherent to things like Facebook, as an example.

    These are genuine issues that people genuinely know very little about, and don’t really want to know anything about.

    For the most part, they have their heads down, micro-managing their businesses and Facebook is for teenagers and never the twain shall meet.

    So there’s a lot of edification on the in between…

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Wayne — You’re absolutely right in a generic assessment of business today. But as that education process evolves, we as social media thinkers should be spending more time framing their experiences in defined ways (with rules, instructions, measurable outcomes) to foster understanding. It is frustrating to run into the roadblocks most CEOs, CMOs, brand managers or business owners will put up, and you’re right, there won’t be success pushing social media understanding and implementation in the majority of cases for a while, but if we don’t continue to patiently guide the process, it will be slower and more frustrating.

    Thanks for the thoughts!

  • http://www.1GoodReason.com/blog ckieff

    Jason,

    Thank you for the excellent article. You’ve summed up the best guidelines in an excellent way.

    One thing occurred to me while reading Wayne’s comment, “employees might be less revved about talking up”. This type of problem is self-correcting. If they don’t want to talk about work, and there are lots of people who don’t, then they simply won’t. The idea here is to say to people that if you decide to do this- here is how to stay out of trouble.

    It’s no different than the company bowling league or softball team. It doesn’t matter if you are heckling the other team or clicking away on your computer. Be smart in what you do and think about how people will react to it.

    Thanks,
    Chris

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Chris — Great point and nice analogy. You’re right that the excitable ones are the people we’re talking to. The ones who don’t care to participate or identify themselves as working for the company aren’t going to be effected either way. Thanks for the perspective.

  • http://www.searchenginepeople.com Jenn Osborne

    Jason, great post! Companies that don’t learn to embrace social media are going to miss out.

    Employees can be our best brand evangelists. If you do a search for any major company on Facebook you’ll find groups of employees who’ve already started their own groups because they feel an affiliation with each other.

    Smart companies will find a way to encourage this behavior and channel it with reasonable guidelines. It’s the companies that stick their heads in the sand or try to outlaw social media all together that lose out on the discussion that’s already happening.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Jenn – Amen, sister. I hear ya and completely agree. Thanks for the offering and for stopping by.

  • http://www.blahblahtech.com/ Wayne Smallman

    Maybe it’s less about education and more about adoption & up-take being a generational thing?

    Could just be that people like us here are the new thinkers who will replenish the managerial pool with a more network-centric outlook…

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Wayne — I sure hope so, but I think it requires a healthy balance of both while we’re still underlings (heh). 20 years from now, executives will even be web savvy and our world will be a different place. It’s exciting to think. What’s even more exciting is that we’ll be the folks who get us there.

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  • http://eightstraight.com/ sleeping disorders

    pretty interesting stuff, thanks for sharing.

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