Understanding Social Media Guidelines for Employees

By Donald Sears  |  Posted 2009-06-26 Print this article Print

Oh, social media. You're taking up so much of our time and energy that companies need to tell us how to behave.

On one hand, it seems silly. Most of these guidelines are common sense, but common sense may not be enough where personal opinions and legal and human resource departments collide.

I don't blame them. In fact, I think there are smart things being said in these guidelines that would have been nice to have around years ago.

Protecting business and fighting negative perception are important to every company. The last thing they want or need is for employees to be out there in the social media sphere of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or anywhere else spouting false information, making their work life too transparent or arguing with other employees publicly.

Two companies taking social media seriously are Intel and IBM. Intel is taking it so seriously it apparently has created a department dedicated to the practices of smart social media, says ZDNet's Jason Hiner.

From a human resources perspective, it's a really wise move to have clear guidelines and policies, and for most employees, it's good to know where your company stands on posting information--especially with issues of legality, copyright, company secrets and the like. I could very well see other companies borrowing from Intel's and IBM's social media guidelines.

Here's why:

  • They accepts that things are going to change with emerging social technologies
  • They lay the behaviorial framework that it would expect to see
  • They protect themsleves in case of bad behavior, slander or offensive lawsuits
  • Implicit in these guideline is that for the right infraction you could be fired
  • In the case of Intel, they require training for employees and bloggers

So, what are Intel's guidelines? Here are some of the details:

  • Be transparent
  • Be judicious
  • Write what you know
  • Perception is reality
  • It's a conversation
  • Are you adding value?
  • Your responsibility
  • Create some excitement
  • Be a leader
  • Did you screw up?
  • If it give you pause, pause

The one that sticks out to me is "create some excitement," but if you are blogging or promoting Intel in social media, than there is certain level of buzz they are trying to generate. Makes sense, but feels like less of a guideline and more a tone they want. Respectfully, it feels a bit forced, but it's in their best interest to keep it as positive as possible.

IBM is another technology company that has its social computing guidelines publicly posted--and they are a bit more detailed about what they think participants should behave. IBM goes so far as to say that it discourages IBMers from being political or religious where IBM is part of the discussion--subjects that can easily flare up in social media. From the IBM guidelines:

Respect your audience and your coworkers. Remember that IBM is a global organization whose employees and clients reflect a diverse set of customs, values and points of view. Don't be afraid to be yourself, but do so respectfully. This includes not only the obvious (no ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, etc.) but also proper consideration of privacy and of topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory--such as politics and religion. For example, if your blog is hosted on an IBM-owned property, avoid these topics and focus on subjects that are business-related. If your blog is self-hosted, use your best judgment and be sure to make it clear that the views and opinions expressed are yours alone and do not represent the official views of IBM.

While having these guidelines helps establish the legal framework that these companies need to be able to operate in, it works as an added benefit to employees that they know where they stand if they post things deemed controversial. In IBM's case, it even has guidelines for virtual worlds behavior given its well-documented use of operating in that space.

In its virtual world guideline, the company goes so far as to advise about the appearance of your avatar, if that avatar is in fact doing IBM business virtually.

My advice: make sure your avatar has a shirt on and doesn't have a head of snakes.

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