Social Media Policies and User Adoption
Social Media Policies don’t work. The only thing a policy provides is a way to fire someone you want to fire anyway. (Policies are most useful to the weasel-y type of passive aggressive manager who cares more about CYA than doing the right thing.)
Policies don’t teach, educate, inform, enlighten, or improve communication. They do cover asses, enrich lawyers, fill desk drawers, protect furniture from drink rings, fill orientation packets, and substantiate the lawsuits they cause.
So, why do you create a policy in the first place?
Generally, there are things that scare and worry the company. The policy manual collects all of these worries in a single binder, like the room service menu or list of local churches in a hotel room. While documentation is interesting, policies have almost no impact on employee behavior.
Policies are a lot like those signs in the company break room that say "Do the dishes;" "Please clean up after yourself;" or "Your mother doesn’t work here." If you stop to think, every time you’ve ever seen one of those signs, it was always over a sink full of dirty dishes.
That’s how well policies work.
So, what do you do if policies are the wrong way to go, if the goal is broad employee adoption and not rear coverage?
We are in the very earliest stages of social technology. All that you can be sure of is that things will continue to change and popular usage of the tools will expand. Like the dawn of the printing press and the emergence of the internet, social technology shifts the locus of power in the culture and in our organizations. Social technology inherently changes the things that employers and managers can and want to do.
Looking at the wave of technology that is flowing in the front door, executives worry that employees will make the organization look bad. They’re concerned that corporate secrets will flow out the door through social sites, that customer lists will be tacked on to the bathroom walls that dot the internet. They are scared that small bumps in small disciplinary matters will explode into full fledged PR nightmares in under 10 minutes. They imagine defamation law suits that gut the corporate treasury. They dread a level of transparency that makes financial audits look tame.
Policies, which are the way we tried to manage the unmanageable in the 20th Century fail completely in the face of accelerating change in social media. Being able to assign blame after the horse is out of the gate worked when a single employee couldn’t take down the company single-handedly. Today, the trick is figuring out how to socialize the principles that make employees the guardians and champions of the company’s reputation.
Effective executives understand that managing risk is better accomplished with proactive strategies than defensive maneuvers. The best way to handle something that evolves rapidly and feels risky is to imagine and articulate what you want. Then you socialize it. Rule 1: Treat people like adults. Give them principles and the responsibility for execution.
John Sumser is the founder, principal author and editor-in-chief of the HRExaminer Online Magazine. John explores the people, technology, ideas and careers of senior leaders in Human Resources and Human Capital. John is the also principal of Two Color Hat where he routinely advises Human Resources, Recruiting Departments and Talent Management teams with product analysis, market segmentation, positioning, strategy and branding guidance.