Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Social Media Policy

Information Technology solutions have the ability to dramatically improve efficiency, reduce costs, automate complex business operations, and can touch a business in so many positive ways.  Numerous companies and organizations around the globe have realized this years ago and have created IT departments, partnerships, etc.  This is not news.  If you want your IT solution to be successful, there are many factors to consider.  Budget, executive sponsorship, business driver, governance, policy, and enforcement.  Each of these things help bring the solution and the business closer together.  The closer they are the more successful the solution is and the higher the rate of adoption is within the population of people intended to use the solution.  Often, overlooked in this equation is the importance of policy and the consequences for not abiding by this policy.  Not all IT solutions can enforce the participants to follow the rules, and social media can be one of those solutions.

Your social media approach should include both public and private social tools, and since we can not enforce Twitter or Facebook to help us enforce our corporate policies, this becomes a function of the corporate community.  To have the ability to communicate quickly and openly through numerous means as social tools allow us to do so, we do not want to build too many restrictions into the technology it’s self.  I received this posting on Social Fresh from a colleague which is a “starter” Social Computing policy.

For the most part, I feel this is a really strong list of items on which to make decision and build your policy.  I often suggest to clients they use a very simple list of guidelines that summarizes a good deal of these points.  “If you would not say or do it in front of your grandmother, then do not do it in social media.”  This is often well received, and the point is made.  There was one item in this list that I did not feel sent the right message was:

“Each individual should choose for themselves if they will use social media.”

While this is definitely appropriate for a policy on public social media, this should not apply to a private social community.  If you have deployed Connections, Sharepoint, or open source tools to build a private social media outlet, then participation should not really be optional in my opinion.

If, for example, you were to start documenting company policies in a wiki, then reading these policies is not an option.  Users are now using your private social media.  This does not mean they need to contribute, but participate to me includes the act of reading or consuming the information in the social tools.  IBM has given us solutions for capturing metrics and develop trends to observe and drive direction of private social networks.  Often times, this data shows a relatively small percentage of the population that contributes the majority of the information to the social solution, while the largest group of people simply consume this information.  The argument can easily be made, however, that when using technology like tag clouds the tagging of information to classify and elevate an items importance according to how the community sees the item is only as good as the participation it receives. 

Said another way, if you have a company of 100 people, and 80 of them contribute to just the tagging of wiki articles, then the trends of how people group information contained within the wiki will be very relevant and reflective of your community at large.  If the same 100 person company only has 15 people contributing to the tag cloud, I would not assume the tagging of data to be accurately representative of the whole 100 people.

The article makes a really good point, however, and that is if you do not yet have a policy on the use and participation in public social media, you are too late!  I would venture to guess that more than half of professional people use some social outlet to communicate with at least friends and family.  If you have not set peoples expectations on what you feel is acceptable or not in these public forums then individuals can rightfully assume anything is appropriate.  Ignoring the importance of social media in your business strategies and market message is irresponsible and narrow sighted in my opinion at this point.  Since 2008, people have been saying social media is mainstreamed, and in 2010 we saw marketing through social media reach numbers of participants that would indicate mainstreaming as well. 

My advice, in closing, is do not dismiss social media any longer.  Make policy, educate your workforce, and include the use of these tools in your working environment.  The good that they bring far out-weigh the potential risks, and when proper policy is enforced around the use of these outlets, the results will be profound.  Look at what Ed Brill has done for Lotus with just a blog!

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