Companies need to plan social media policy

Companies need to ask seven critical questions before developing a social media policy, according to analyst house Gartner.

Social media offers tempting opportunities to interact with employees, business partners, customers, prospects and a whole host of anonymous participants on the social web,” said Gartner analyst Carol Rozwell. “But those who participate in social media need guidance from their employer about the rules, responsibilities, ‘norms’ and behaviours expected of them, and these topics are commonly covered in a social media policy,” she said.

Gartner’s seven critical questions that designers of social media policy must ask themselves are:

What is our organisation’s strategy for social media? Gartner said it is critical that social media leaders determine the purpose of their initiatives before they deploy them and that those responsible for social media initiatives articulate how the organisation’s mission, strategy, values and desired outcomes inform and impact on these initiatives.

Who will write and revise the policy? Some organisations assign policy writing to the CIO, others have decided it is the general counsel’s job, while in other cases, a self-appointed committee decides to craft a policy. It is useful, the analyst house said, to gain agreement about who is responsible, accountable, consulted and involved before beginning work on the policy and, where possible, a cross-section of the company’s population should be involved in the policy creation process.

How will we vet the policy? Getting broad feedback on the policy serves two purposes. First, it ensures that multiple disparate interests such as legal, security, privacy and corporate branding, have been adequately addressed and that the policy is balanced. Second, it increases the amount of buy-in when a diverse group of people is asked to review and comment on the policy draft.

How will we inform employees about their responsibilities? Some organisations confuse policy creation with policy communication. A policy should be well-written and comprehensive, but it is unlikely that the policy alone will be all that is needed to instruct employees about their responsibilities for social media. A well-designed communication plan, backed up by a training program, helps to make the policy come to life, Gartner said.

Who will be responsible for monitoring social media employee activities? Once the strategy has been set, the rules have been established and the rationale for them explained, who will ensure that they are followed? A well-designed training and awareness programme will help with this, but managers and the organisation’s leader for social media also need to pay attention.

How will we train managers to coach employees on social media use? Some managers will have no problem supporting their employees as they navigate a myriad of social media sites. Others may have more trouble helping employees figure out the best approach for blogs, microblogs and social networking. There needs to be a plan for how the organisation will give managers the skills needed to confront and counsel employees, Gartner said.

How will we use mistakes to refine our policy and training? Organisations that approach social media using an organised and planned approach, consistent with the organisation’s mission, strategy and values, will be able to review how well these initiatives meet their objectives and use that insight to improve existing efforts or plan future projects better.

Earlier this week, business consultancy Accenture said social media policy and planning was a key battleground in the changing face of enterprise computing. An Accenture report predicted the evolution of social media into social platforms. This means company web sites may no longer be the first port of call for customers.

For example, social identities based on the rich history of information that individuals leave in social networks will become much more valuable to businesses than the traditional and isolated information individual users can access on corporate websites.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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