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Social Media Policies: Promoting or Regulating Use?

  • 05 April 2012
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

Fact: most employees occasionally use social media tools at work for personal reasons, anyway. Unsurprisingly, business leaders want guidelines in place for regulating employee use of social media outlets--and protecting against misuse--on personal and company accounts alike. Many 2012 corporate to-do lists include creating an official policy for regulating employees’ Tweets, Likes and Shares while at work.

One thing that I've noticed, though, is that while regulation-focused policies protect an organization against any potential social media blunders, they cast a shadow over the shoulder of every employee who uses the internet on a daily basis (shudder). Well-intended though they are, this approach to establishing guidelines often prevents the company from seeing any benefits whatsoever from employee use of social media. My suggestion: If your employees are already using social media while at work, why not make the most of it?

Though there's certainly more than one way to skin this cat – there isn't one universal social media policy that works for all, right? – there are a few things to consider when creating a more forward-thinking policy.

The Purpose

For example, you want to be sure you, your leaders, and your people know what you want to accomplish through social media. Are you using it for recruiting? Marketing? Branding? Promotions? For many organizations, the first step in creating a social media policy is to define the who, what, when and where of social media usage in the company. But according to Maren Hogan, Chief Marketing Brain of Red Branch Media, "that's doing it a little backwards." With a clear purpose informing your policy, people will have an easier time understanding and following your guidelines.


On that note, you're going to make sure that – regardless of your specific business goals – you are sure to invite everyone in the organization to participate. Of course, you'll work with managers to decide which departments must incorporate social media into their daily workflows... But how can you encourage other departments to participate? One note: Set separate guidelines delineating voluntary users and mandatory users, so your people know what's expected of them.

Damage Control

At some point, you're going to need damage control. "When social media issues arise," says Hogan, "who do you go to for help? IT? Marketing? A social media coordinator? The CIO?" Get proactive, and establish a hierarchy of ownership – that way, your people will know when to talk to whom about what. Assign responsibility to the most sensible parties and provide a course of action for addressing mishaps and escalating issues when necessary.

So maybe you're not paying people to hang out on Facebook all day. Structure is certainly important, and defining who is authorized to access various platforms makes sense... but "Our brains don't work with don'ts--they work in a positive way," says Rob Garcia, VP of Product at UpMo. "Policies that limit and regulate are bound to be unsuccessful. They push people away from social media, rather than using it to achieve company goals." Bottom line: People are bound to make mistakes, your policies should be driven by what to do, rather than what not to do.

Culture Type and Social Media

You're bound to run into a few challenges when creating, implementing and supporting an official social media policy. Hands-down, the hardest part is building a company culture that embraces a social mindset, one driven by the sharing of ideas and information. With that in mind, leadership should lead the charge in adopting your social media policy, paving the way for the rest of the organization. Garcia's straightforward advice to leaders: "Show up and participate. The companies that are the most social media savvy are led by people who are plugged in and using different platforms to have valuable conversations."

Speaking of company culture based on the Competing Values Framework, we have four archetypes of culture: the control-oriented Hierarchy and Market culture types and the flexibility-focused Clan and Adhocracy culture types. No wonder that regulating social media policies are more often found in the control-oriented cultures while the flexibility-focused cultures seem more open to social media use. Social media seems to align best with the features of Adhocracy Culture that appreciates innovation, growth, experimenting and entrepreneurship. But Clan Culture with its people-focus and value of collaborating and participating can be an excellent breeding ground for social media use as well. Think of professional blogging, Tweeting or a special interest Facebook page. On the other hand, there are results-oriented Market Cultures from the control-orientation that use social media for a clear purpose: to enhance brand awareness and eventually turnover and profits. Every culture type has to find their own best fit when it comes to social media. It is a fact indeed: employees use social media tools anyway. You can't pretend to work in the nineteenth century. Better make the best of this 21st century!

Kyle LagunasAbout the Author

Kyle Lagunas is the HR Analyst at Software Advice. On the surface, it's his job to contribute to the ongoing conversation on all things HR. Beyond that, he makes sure his audience is keeping up with important trends and hot topics in the industry. Focused on offering a fresh take on points of interest in his market, he's not your typical HR guy.