“Work is an Online Conversation”: Guidelines, Restrictions, and (Online) Social Media Policy

I have used database thesauri to help refine my results in the process of researching social media and social software, and I have found that ‘online social media’ has often been an effective term to use. This specific term is a reminder that social media comes in many forms, and the type of media that falls within the ‘online social media’ category is yet another type of social media. Social media policy is essential—whether the social media in question is online or offline. The latter is not new, and it can be extended and reworked so that it can be applied to the online category.

To me, policy can seem daunting and terribly official. That said, it seems that if policy is ‘done right’ (i.e. strategically and thoughtfully), it can be a useful guideline that can help clarify the various worlds in which I am operating. It can help me maneuver and negotiate my communications, behaviours and expectations.

Social media policy and evaluation are pretty hefty topics. The class blog and readings touched on policy for employees, policy for users, execution of policy, and evaluating user interest in types of social media/evaluating use of social media following implementation. I’d like to begin my entry by addressing a common/recurring theme that appears in discussions about social media policy and in the policies, themselves.

It seems that many discussions about social media policy emphasize transparency, and I think this term deserves some brief clarification. A metaphor can help: Simply put, transparency means being clear—it means seeing through the window to the view outside without the interference of a curtain. Extending the metaphor: Transparency also means being aware of the window’s edges—it means understanding that the view is cut-off at a certain point so that the view outside is shaped by the window’s dimensions. Transparency is partial full disclosure; to be transparent is to disclose everything that falls within the window’s view and to foster awareness about the boundaries which delineate the view. In a sense, social media policy can help to create that awareness so that those who engage with such media can understand what to expect and can shape their contributions accordingly. For that reason, policy should be prominently displayed and widely disseminated.

Also, a social media policy should encourage participation and inspire its audience to get involved rather than restrict participation and intimidate its audience (making the essential ‘buy-in’ next to impossible). Crafting an effective social media policy seems to be about striking a balance between highlighting the fun and creative potential of social media and outlining the types of communication/content that will be deemed unacceptable in no uncertain terms.

The “IBM Social Computing Guidelines” is a good example of an effective ‘window frame,’ if you will. The policy isn’t too long while it also covers a relatively broad range of topics, uses language that is easy to understand while it also maintains the tone of an official document, leaves some room for interpretation while it also communicates overarching regulations clearly, and expresses the potential of social media as a tool that can strengthen the company and that can open new doors for employees.

Stan Schroeder critiques the Wall Street Journal’s social media policy as a restrictive set of rules which express a negative attitude that asks ‘how can social media harm us and what can we do to prevent it?’ rather than exploring the answers to ‘what can social media do for my organization?’. Schroeder points out that policies must not attempt to control social media output to the point of oppressive regulation and the constant looming threat of penalty—especially since participants should be encouraged to be open about mistakes when engaging social media.

Similarly, Maria Ogneva writes that “[t]he best way to ensure buy-in to your social media policy is not through the threat of disciplinary action,” but through education and outlining processes for implementation and participation. A social media policy should express excitement about the emergence of this new media as it communicates guidelines about how the organization chooses to approach the execution and development of online social media (the policy can/should even inspire innovation).

In “Let Them Communicate,” David Meerman Scott says that “[w]ork is online communication” (40). I like this statement because it indicates that online social media takes effort, but that it is also worth the effort invested in its development and maintenance since so many aspects of ‘work’ (whatever occupation/organization that refers to) can be augmented by online communication. The statement expresses the notion that online communication can be harnessed to facilitate the creation of an organizational identity or brand and the continual emergence of organizational functions through creative and collaborative communication among stakeholders (whomever they may be). A thoughtful social media policy is a major aspect of building a well-executed online social media presence, and it may even be effective to construct the policy using a collaborative wiki.

Meerman Scott, David. “Let Them Communicate.” EContent, 33.3 (2010): 40.

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