Well it happened again. I reviewed another social media policy written by people with good intentions who were intent on reducing risk. The problem is that the policy was quite clear on what the company’s employees should not do – but left some unanswered questions about what they should do. We believe a more useful approach so social media policy writing is to focus on the do’s, not the don’ts. And here are some reasons why.
- Just telling someone what they should not do doesn’t automatically help them understand what they should do. In cut and dry situations – the ones we’ve all been through a dozen times before – it is easy to infer that if the sign says “stay off the grass” it means we should use the paved path instead (although I do remember how that slogan was co-opted during my college years to mean something else). With social media, inferring the positive action that is desired from the negative action that is forbidden is not always so easy. Will every employee know how they can avoid violating applicable copyright laws and statutory requirements? Can they list the five signs that indicate when they are not appropriately safeguarding company assets?
- Another reason a policy written with more don’ts than do’s is problematic is the knee jerk reaction it elicits from most people. It causes the rebellious teenager in all of us to emerge, the one that screams “you just try and stop me . . . ” If you doubt this, just take your policy home, have your teenager read it and wait for the heavy sigh and eye rolling.
- Lastly, legalese confounds interpretation. It’s similar to how some people respond to math problems. Throw some some “heretofore” “affected party” and “aforementioned” statements into a document and otherwise literate people’s eyes glaze over. The language used in the social media policy needs to be precise but not stilted. Remember, in most sizable organizations, English will not be everyone’s primary language.
So what should a well-written policy look like? Here are a few tips:
- They explain why employees should take a certain action.
- They are comprehensive in scope but concise enough to fit on one or two pages.
- They are consistent with the organization’s culture and values.
- They include references and links to other relevant policies, guidelines and educational materials
If you are writing or revising your social media policy, here is a database with examples you may find useful. I hope it saves you some work.
When you are done, let me know what you come up with.