by Nathan Egan
on February 13, 2013

Social Business VS. Social Media Policy

Just a few short years ago, the early adopters in the social space were those companies who had a social “media” policy – or had borrowed one that they tailored for their own needs from IBM, Intel and other leading-edge companies (note: “tailoring” often just meant doing a “find & replace” to change company names).

And still, these organizations were some of the first to attempt to provide swim lanes for their employees to guide acceptable social networking activity. Statements abounded on compliance, maintaining confidential company information, using “common sense”, and showing respect for coworkers, managers, and clients.

For the most part, these social media policies worked at making corporations feel as if they had protected all parties involved. In fact, having one today is the norm rather than the exception: gather a group of corporate leaders in a room and ask, “Who has a social media policy?” and everyone’s hand will go up. Take a look at most employee handbooks and you’ll find, at the very least, a list of do’s and don’ts for acceptable use of social networks.

While these policies attempt to provide governance, they may not be the endurable answer. A recent New York Times article by Stephen Greenhouse highlights some of the challenges that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has created for employers with confusing and often-contradicting blanket statements in their social media policies. The legality and enforceability of your social media policy is certainly a cause for concern and consideration, but those potential pitfalls don’t get to the heart of why it may not be the ultimate answer for how or why you attempt control your employees’ usage of social networks.

So rather than trying to put the genie back in the bottle (impossible) or even trying to control the message (a huge resource drain), you should be looking at how you can provide a toolset that makes your employees’ social activity mutually beneficial.

Let’s go back to that same group of corporate leaders and ask a slightly different question, “Who has a social business policy?” Not quite as many hands, if any, will go up this time. The reason? The social business policy and all that it entails is today’s leading edge. Although many of these leaders will be astute enough to realize that a social business transformation is taking place within their organizations, shifting the focus from mitigating risk and controlling the message to breaking down silos and empowering experts within the workforce, they may not be harnessing the full benefit that this transformation offers both to their company and their employees.

Achieving this benefit is the next step in the evolution of a social business, and gets closer to the ultimate answer that a mere social media policy may not be able to provide. It comes from a commitment to investing in your workforce. It guides their setup and activity on social networks and helps them use social technologies to succeed at their jobs. It comes from being a partner, not being “Big Brother”.

Think of your social business policy as the foundation to develop a shared understanding of the professional opportunities of social networks as well as to give platform specific guidelines and performance metrics to help employees achieve their individual goals. It should be about business and it should empower them to demonstrate their expertise in ways that may have been impossible in a more traditional environment, benefiting both them and the company. It should help organizations foster and accelerate this type of mutually beneficial partnership by showing employees how to move directionally and perform to their maximum business potential when using social networks. Layered on top of this foundation, tools like social business optimization (SBO) software, which include dynamic eLearning, quizzing, and certification transform an unread social media policy focused on controlling risk – into a living, breathing module that changes with the environment and leverages social networking usage for achieving specific business goals.

So, will the social media policy become a thing of the past and social business policy the new norm? Regardless of the ultimate answer, it’s becoming clearer that the most successful companies today are taking the steps to empower their employees to use social networks to reach their business goals.

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