Should every business have a social media policy?

by Ashutosh Desai    May 21, 2010

There have been cases where employees have faced the music for being too candid about their employers. On certain occasions, content on social media networks has also led employers to form pre-conceived notions about their employees. One can argue that these cases are few and a boss firing an employee for a video on Facebook — which he took to be offensive — is sheer narrow-mindedness.

But what comes to my mind is that all of a sudden, personal profiles are not personal anymore. Apart from colleagues, even seniors or those from different departments can view your profile — depending on your privacy settings, of course. This applies to Twitter as well — you might have made your tweets viewable to followers only but one RT (re-tweet) could be your undoing.

This is a direct result of companies eyeing the large communities on social networking sites. Sites like MySpace and Facebook have caught the fancy of businesses as a means of low cost brand building activities. As a result, questions are being raised whether employees who are already registered users on the social networking sites, must also adhere to certain ‘decorum’. For example, should a Dell employee be frank about his negative opinion for its products or after sales service? Should the employee tweet about a boring meeting with his boss?

How can organizations ensure that employees do not divulge information that was not meant to be publicized? Organizations that have decided to stay out of the social media scene for whatever corporate reasons must also consider formulating such a policy. It is imperative to educate employees on the kind of messages that may affect corporate image.

NPOs and NGOs, for example, have taken to social media quite readily since they have identified it as a viable means of information propagation and building strong networks. The Red Cross comes to mind when thinking about creating a social media policy. It set a precedent for employees or volunteers who have a social media account of their own. They not only devised a way to redeem their tarnished image in the US but also improved the way volunteers collaborated with one another with the help of social media.

If implemented, employees active on social media networks will need to be a little more careful about what they post on such sites. This could start a debate on the restriction of the ‘freedom of expression’. Apart from this, there could be a separate policy for the corporate communications team with regards to how updates are disseminated online and how they respond to readers. Either way, would it then be advisable to own a separate Facebook/Twitter/MySpace account for corporate use only?