For any company with staff tweeting and blogging their way into public consciousness, what these staff are saying will be a concern. Even on their own time, an employee that comments on a competitors blog, or tweets a company secret is a huge liability. There are two camps on this one. Some people leave employees (within reason) to their own creative juices, in their own time and ask that they provide a "these opinions are my own" disclaimer. Other companies actively encourage employee social media activity on behalf of the company and set out regulations to guide their posts.
It's a tricky path that companies tread, between stifling micromanagement and potential PR disasters, and I personally don't think the balance has been found in a lot of cases. Social Media is about openness and sharing, and the more you restrict that, the less value it has to the individual. Who wants to speak when they're being told what to say? More importantly, who really wants to listen to someone who can't speak freely? It's a very hard task juggling transparency and professionalism on such new channels and it often requires whole new outlook.
Some businesses have decided to go public with their corporate social media policies which is great news for us as studying the social media strategies of the giants can be interesting reading.
I'll leave you with a positive example taken from IBM
BM Social Computing Guidelines
- Know and follow IBM's Business Conduct Guidelines.
- IBMers are personally responsible for the content they publish on-line, whether in a blog, social computing site or any other form of user-generated media. Be mindful that what you publish will be public for a long time—protect your privacy and take care to understand a site's terms of service.
- Identify yourself—name and, when relevant, role at IBM—when you discuss IBM or IBM-related matters, such as IBM products or services. You must make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of IBM.
- If you publish content online relevant to IBM in your personal capacity use a disclaimer such as this: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions."
- Respect copyright, fair use and financial disclosure laws.
- Don't provide IBM's or another's confidential or other proprietary information and never discuss IBM business performance or other sensitive matters publicly.
- Don't cite or reference clients, partners or suppliers without their approval. When you do make a reference, link back to the source. Don't publish anything that might allow inferences to be drawn which could embarrass or damage a client.
- Respect your audience. Don't use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in IBM's workplace. You should also show proper consideration for others' privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory—such as politics and religion.
- Be aware of your association with IBM in online social networks. If you identify yourself as an IBMer, ensure your profile and related content is consistent with how you wish to present yourself with colleagues and clients.
- Don't pick fights, be the first to correct your own mistakes.
- Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective. IBM's brand is best represented by its people and what you publish may reflect on IBM's brand.
- Don't use use IBM logos or trademarks unless approved to do so.
This is only a small part of the full policy, although somehow the guidelines manage not to seem to restrictive, just professional. Maybe it's because i've already read this lovely paragraph:
BM is increasingly exploring how online discourse through social computing can empower IBMers as global professionals, innovators and citizens. These individual interactions represent a new model: not mass communications, but masses of communicators. Through these interactions, IBM's greatest asset--the expertise of its employees--can be shared with clients, shareholders, and the communities in which it operates.
It's got a nice feel to it, no? The final two lines are my favourite though:
Don't forget your day job. You should make sure that your online activities do not interfere with your job or commitments to customers.
Right, back to work then! ;)