Social Media Policies and Corporate Governance.
Is it possible for company policy on social media posts from employees about the company to be promotional, non-restrictive and transparent all at once? Are the employees an ‘army of pro-business advocates’ waiting to be unleashed? On her weekly podcast entitled “The Guardian” Ryn Melberg takes listeners through the steps needed to have a good policy based on a governance framework, and not based on absolutes or unrealistic expectations.
Connecting Social Media & Governance
Governance policy is in place to protect stakeholder value. The policy about social media needs to be designed to maintain the reputation of the company and protect the bottom line. Negative posts from employees can harm the company’s reputation. Of course the challenge is that employees may chafe at the idea of restrictive policies. “In some instances the type of business and the type of employee you have is part of what will determine the social media policy,” Melberg told her audience. “If you have industrial workers these are incentivized differently than are knowledge workers.”
For the industrial worker, it is easy to put in place rules that state certain things are not acceptable. For the knowledge worker, this is not realistic. “The relationship between the knowledge worker and the employer is based on trust,” Ryn said. “Restrictive social media policy for knowledge workers will not result in long term employment relationships between employer and employee because the knowledge worker will quit and go elsewhere.” According to Ryn, restricting speech and expression of knowledge workers is practically impossible without an outright ban on any types of posts.
Talk About The Weather
People talk about what they do for a living. According to Melberg, censoring social media of knowledge workers is like insisting that they not talk about where they work. “Social media is an extension of direct conversations, so telling the knowledge worker not to discuss his or her work on line is like telling them not to talk about the weather,” Ryn said. “With a more enlightened and adult approach to a governance policy based on behavioral expectations is more realistic and will deliver a better outcome.”
Ignore The Trolls
The number one rule for companies on line should be to ignore ‘trolls’ or people who make a hobby of finding things on line about which to complain. Ryn pointed out examples of people who were posting on line where someone found a position they found objectionable and traced the individual back to their employer where they made a complaint. “If something is posted from an employee account that has nothing to do with the company then it is not the company’s place to have an opinion about it, whether positive or negative,” she said. “So in terms of governance, if a post from an employee on his or her own account is brought to the company’s attention, the complainer (troll) should be ignored. They are just looking for trouble and business empowers that behavior by recognizing and acting on it. ”
Designate Social Media Posters
Companies of any size will have a designated spokesperson to deal with media and reporter inquiries. Ryn suggests that the same approach be used for social media. The best governance policy names the person who represents the company on line. “If you have to stop and think about whether you are the designated spokesperson or social media designee for the company you probably are not,” she stated.
Listen To Employees
Ryn also points out that employees who go on line to complain likely did so because their concerns were not taken seriously inside the company. “When employees are not heard by their supervisors, you have a governance problem that manifests on line,” Ryn said. “If the employee is heard and their concerns addressed, it is less likely that they go on line to complain.”
Do Not Enlist An Army of Employees
For employee postings and brand advocacy from workers to have any impact, they have to be sincere. It is easy to spot a scripted or insincere post on line. Rather than trying to force this on the workforce, Ryn says to work with the employees and encourage them to use the company’s products and provide an internal feedback mechanism. “Take the internal feedback to improve the products and let the employees experience company culture that way. Forcing employees to post on line will not work, but allowing them to become brand ambassadors through the internal feedback and improvement process will yield organic advocacy from employees.”
A Written Policy That Is Known
Rather than conduct social media training for employees Ryn believes that the company’s code of conduct and social media policy should be part of the overall communication policy. “For people with a grievance, tell them where to take it as part of the overall employee conduct policy,” she advised. “The lunchroom or the hallway is not the right place to air grievances and neither is twitter. So give them a place and process to articulate complaints.”
A company with a clear culture that is well known by the employees will not have negative posts or other reputational challenges. “The culture is the embodiment of internal values at places like IBM, Google and Amazon,” Ryn said. “Those places do not have issues with negative postings on line or employee led revolts the way others do. Learn from those examples.”
The reputation of a company does not hang on a single person or a single tweet. Ryn advises companies to keep their monitoring of social media posts to be part of the overall media monitoring process. “Companies monitor what is broadcast and published about them, so what is posted about them on line should just be an extension of that monitoring process,” she said.
Provide Proper Guidelines
Governance should provide a framework for employee behavior. It should not be a checklist of do’s and don’ts to be micromanaged. “If you tell a knowledge worker not to offend anyone on line or anywhere else, you just shut them down with an impossible and unrealistic standard,” she said. “Avoid absolutes. Anytime there is an absolute for employees, it is a pretty good bet that they are about to step in it.”
To Learn More
To learn more and hear the podcast, go to www.rynmelberg.com or to iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/social-media-governance-policy/id977764101?i=360896618&mt=2.