Monday, July 12, 2010

Do You Need a Social Media Policy?

Unless you’ve been vacationing in a cave or on a remote oil-free island for the past few months, you’ve heard about the Domino Pizza employees that posted a tasteless video on YouTube, and most recently four young TV news reporters and a photographer were fired at KARK TV for posting a profanity-laced video they thought was “funny.”

You also may have missed the various blog posts in recent weeks arguing for and against creation of a “social media” policy.

I used to have mixed feelings about a lot of “policy” stuff, but as I’ve gotten older and more experienced I have learned that fairly and carefully written policies can spare less experienced employees from potentially career ending blunders.

Unfortunately, those same policies will not likely save the careless and thoughtless employees, although a reasonable and documented policy saves management a lot of grief when they have to discipline or fire an offending worker.

I am old enough – I prefer to say experienced enough – to remember when I was one of the first TV news directors in the U.S. to computerize a newsroom. E-mail was not an issue, until later. I also remember when the workplace had policies about personal calls (on the company telephones), and when companies began to restrict access to the Internet and porn sites at work.

Now with Facebook, Twitter and a lot more, all organizations have a responsibility to their various constituents to do everything reasonably possible to protect their reputation and public persona.

Careless ramblings or contradictory statements on-line about an employer, a boss, business partner, customer, co-worker or even a competitor, that is not consistent with the organization’s public position, can be damaging.

A few companies have simple but excellent social media policies. Best Buy is one of those. The electronic retailer reminds its employees “whether you’re Twittering, talking with customers or chatting over the neighbor’s fence” good social media judgment applies.

And IBM urges its thousands of employees to be aware of their identification with IBM on-line. ”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.”

So what does this have to do with crisis management?

Two-thirds of all crises are what we at ICM call smoldering crises. They start out small, often internal, but not always, and they are the kind of issue that someone should spot and recognize as a potential future problem and fix it or tell someone who can fix it before it becomes a public embarrassment.

More and more “little” problems are getting started on-line and not recognized as the potential trouble they can become and then WHAM they hit a company or organization and all hell breaks loose.


  1. Good post, Larry.

    I agree with you -- policies set the boundaries of the field of play by describing the behaviors that are out-of-bounds.

    Good organizations also use training and constant education to reinforce the positive expectations WITHIN the field of play. This part is often forgotten.

  2. Every business would benefit from having a social media policy in place, but it should not be an all or nothing approach. Instead of having a policy in place that blocks social media completely or doesn’t block social media at all and expects employees to follow policy rules, why not block some pieces of social media and keep some parts of social media accessible? Social media is growing in the business world and companies would be missing out on its benefits if it is blocked entirely. Palo Alto Networks might have found a solution to this problem, they have a new software that has the ability to do thing such as a read-only facebook. I think companies could really benefit from something like this, what do you think? Here's a link to new whitepapers they have created:,,, and

  3. Marlon,
    I agree. The policy should be reasonable and practical, but not a free-for-all policy nor a strict, "no" policy.