In this fourth in a series of advice for building a successful enterprise social network (ESN), I want to discuss the rules and guidelines related to an ESN. First the tip, then the explanation:
Have rules, but don’t overdo it.
Since an ESN is a means of communication within a business, it’s reasonable for there to be some rules of the road. Companies frequently have policies in place about what is or is not allowed in various forms of communication, so it’s understandable to have such expectations around an ESN. However, the fact that an ESN is a form of social media can lead some businesses to strangely think they must go far above and beyond in detailing (and supposedly controlling) what is said and what happens there. That’s unfortunate.
I suggest two levels of rules: (1) a formal social media policy for the company that covers internal and external social media, and (2) a set of simple guidelines that serves as the practical, day-to-day rules people are more likely to remember and follow.
As for the formal policy that covers all forms of social media, it should focus on what the employees are encouraged to do – the opportunities they have to use the media creatively and successfully for the business. Too many such policies focus on what employees can’t do, what they’ll get slapped on the wrist or even fired for doing. Again, that’s unfortunate. Employees need to be guided in making the most of this vital form of 21st-century communication – not cowering in fear that Big Brother is hovering over them, waiting to catch them doing something wrong.
When forming a formal social media policy, several business areas will be stakeholders in the process – HR, Legal, Marketing, IT, Communications, Public Relations and perhaps more. The larger the business, the more likely such a policy update process will take woefully long due to the involvement of so many business areas, each with its legitimate concerns in the final product. At our company, the most recent major update to the social media policy took about two years (gasp!) for the process to work from start to finish. That’s inexcusable, really, but that’s what happened. (p.s. – I wasn’t in charge of the process.)
One of the temptations of some involved with setting such policies is the desire to protect against anything and everything that might go wrong. If you succumb to that temptation, you’ll end up with another wrist-slapping policy of “don’ts” rather than a helpful and encouraging policy of “do’s.” I love what Carrie Young has written about this temptation in her article “You Might Die Today from a Lethal Spider Bite, and Other Pressing Enterprise Concerns.” Take the time to read it. Didn’t you hire trustworthy people? If so, act like it in your policies.
Unlike our company’s formal policy that was devised over two years by multiple official departments and countless meetings, the Buzz Ten Commandments were crowdsourced. That means that I simply posted to the community upon its launch in 2010 an open discussion asking the members of the community what rules they thought we all ought to live by on Buzz. We got a lot of thoughtful suggestions, some helpful discussion to massage ideas and improve on them, and then I took those suggestions and logically grouped them together, coming up with a final list of ten simple rules. They ended up being a mixture of do’s and don’ts. The whole process unfolded over a few short weeks and required no meetings – just open dialogue on Buzz.
Because the community was involved in the process, they have ownership of those guidelines. That ownership dramatically increases the likelihood that community members themselves will do the self-policing necessary to stay within the guidelines and to call out others and reference the guidelines when needed.
Let me ask you… When someone on our ESN crosses an acceptable boundary and needs to be informed about it, which do you think our people reference the most – the formal social media policy developed by specific offices over two years and stored someplace where it’s never seen, or the Buzz Ten Commandments which are easily accessed from the community and referenced often in training and discussion? You know the answer. (Another good, simple example I heard of recently was from Chris Catania of Walgreens who spoke of his company’s guidance to “Be helpful. Be human. Be smart.” That’s brilliantly simple and easy to remember. It’s also six words. I think I like six-word policies.)
Even though our community is largely self-policing when it comes to the rules (impossible otherwise with 8000-9000 posts per week currently), I still have an additional, simple policy of my own as the community manager that I enforce when needed. I have a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy. That means that if someone insists on consistently and belligerently disobeying the rules – either HR policy or the Buzz Ten Commandments – then I issue a strike and a warning to stop whatever the behavior is that warranted the strike. Should the person receive three strikes from me, I ban them from Buzz for at least three months, after which they are welcome to return under a one-strike-and-you’re-out rule. The good news is that I’ve only had to ban two people out of more than 44,000 accounts in the past four years.
So, yes, go ahead and update your company’s formal social media policy if you haven’t in a few years so that it covers internal and external social media, and please focus on the opportunities – the do’s – of the platform rather than the don’ts. But also think of some simple, easy-to-remember guidelines that community members are more likely to learn and reference as they interact with others. Better yet, involve the community in establishing those simple guidelines so that they have ownership of them and can self-police as needed.
In summary, if you want to have a successful ESN when it comes to establishing effective rules, guidelines and boundaries, follow tip #4: Have rules, but don’t overdo it.
See the following posts for previous tips in this series: