Over the last two years, more and more companies have been adding so-called, “Social Media Policies” to their employee handbooks/rulebooks. I definitely have two clear-cut opinions on this and they were formed only a few weeks ago in a debate over at Brazen Careerist. What I found from the conversation of my internet friends was a disdain for the policies in general, mostly because of what they aren’t.
So, for starters, does your company have a social media policy? No? Well, that’s good and bad. It’s good in that they can’t tell you to not do something. But oh yes, they can. When you work for a company, if you’re doing something, even if it is in your own time and it puts you or the company in bad light, they have every right to discipline and/or fire you. In that sense, the fact that you don’t have a policy in place does create a vacuum of understanding.
On the flip side, if you do have a social media policy it too is good and bad. It is bad because no one understands them and because it destroys free publicity for your company. But the powers that be believe that having the policy in place protects them from anything they don’t’ want ending up online or for having employees seem like they are spokesmen.
Here are a few of my favorite comments from the Brazen debate:
“What’s interesting is that the Communications office has asked all employees to remove the company name from our LinkedIn “professional headline” (although we’re allowed to continue to list the company in our work history) in order to “avoid the appearance that an employee is an authorized [company] spokesperson and to avoid the association of personal opinions” with the company.”
“Eek! See, I’m just not sure that’s worth it. You need to trust your employees and the infantilization if employees is rampant.”
“Wow. I think that’s a little nuts. That would make me feel like a) I’m not trusted b) they don’t want to promote the fact that I’m an employee c) still need complete control.”
Like I said, my final opinions on this area were only finally manifested in recent weeks, but here are my three main points when it comes to social media policies.
I understand the importance of branding. I really do. But branding by definition is about what a customer thinks and feels about your brand. Yes that can come from comments from employees, but personally, I care how I am treated, not you. Your experience is different than my own. So when it comes to social media, I really do expect my favorite companies to be out and about in the way that works best for them, but not with their head in the sand.
People have always been able to be fired for saying bad things about the company that feeds them. In that, I’m in favor of a simple policy that reads: “If you talk negatively about our company while employed in any medium, we reserve the right to terminate your employment.” Simple and to the point.
The argument for social media policies comes more from a branding fear and not wanting all these “spokespeople” out there delivering weak, false or bad company representations. But anyone who is employed is going to talk about their company and because they are employed by a certain company, whether a company likes it or not, they are spokespeople. Embrace it!
In the end, I am against a rigid and undefinable policy. Let your people talk. If you don’t like what they say, let ‘em go.