The Social Media [Non] Policy – Julian Stodd

As the walls between our formal and social lives are eroded by technology and social habits, the questions of privacy, ownership and responsibility come to the fore. Who owns which space? What can you do or say in privacy and what right do you have to protect that space? For example, if you post photos on your private Facebook account of a party at the weekend, can your boss justifiably search for it, take a screenshot and confront you with it when they question your energy levels on Monday?

In the Social Age, the social contract between organisation and employee is up for grabs, not least because the very notion of ‘employee‘ is degraded. Very few careers are for life anymore and no employer, however ‘nice‘ and well meaning they are, can offer absolute security. The only thing that will be constant is the reputation we forge in our communities, in our social spaces, and these are democratised (in most parts of the world), free for us to claim. But what if your employer doesn’t like what you say on LinkedIn? Against this backdrop, how can we have any clarity on what we can do and say justifiably in any space?

The world is even more cluttered by the ways that organisations infiltrate social spaces with formal or semi formal presence. So when you join a company, you may either be told not to Tweet at all, or given a ‘formal‘ Twitter account. Whose voice are you using in that space?

There are clearly a spectrum of spaces, from the fully formal to the fully social, and it’s reasonable to expect people to differentiate behaviours across them. But there’s a mindset to apply to this: one of creating frames. It’s not about telling people what is right or wrong, because there are very few absolutes, but rather about providing a frame to operate within.

But there is some inevitable pain: in the formal space of the office, the organisation is used to owning the conversation, but in the social spaces that surround it, it’s just one part of the conversation. It’s ok to be there, but you don’t own it. So you don’t own what is said either, which means that, as in real life, sometimes you won’t like it. But because it’s social, you have no remit to apply formal sanctions: that’s not how the game should be played.

So any approach to defining a social media policy needs to have two components: intent and clarity. We have to be clear on any absolutes, but build a shared intent that is fair. For example, if people are engaged in racially abusive behaviour through social channels, it may be fair to make clear that there could be an impact back in work: because by association you bring the organisation into disrepute. But if you are just stating a strongly opposed political position? Well, that’s fair game, or at least, it is in a western, liberal democracy. We may not like the fact that people take an active and opposing stance in democracy, but we have no right to do anything other than get into the conversation. We certainly can’t stop it.

So much organisational behaviour is based upon control and absolute power (within hierarchical authority) that it takes a new mindset to abandon that and, instead, earn the respect.

So what can we do about it?

I’ve been thinking about this myself as we grow our own SeaSalt team. Suddenly people ask me what the Social Media Policy is, and i realise that not only do we not have one, but i don’t want one. Although that’s not a good approach either, because without any frame at all, we’re not in the conversation, which leaves people exposed to accidental mistakes.

So, in the interests of #WorkingOutLoud, I thought we could hack one here.

Is it right? Probably not. Is it fair? Maybe. Will it work forever? Probably not. Will it work for now? Probably.

Does that make us agile, recognising that agility in the Social Age is what we need to aim for: yes, it probably will.

Do something today, co-create it with the team, be ready to change it later as our views and environmental pressures change. This is what i got for starters:
“Social Media provide a channel for us to share views, news and opinions. Our belief is that these spaces are democratised and semi formal. They are for each of us to claim and own.

There are two types of spaces: official ones, such as the SeaSalt twitter feed, which need to tell our official story, and then there are our own personal accounts, which are our own space to own.

As a member of the SeaSalt crew, what you say or share online in your personal space is your decision, but there are some things to be aware of.

Many of our associates, friends in the market and clients will have their own online presence and may explore our online spaces in detail before they meet us. Anything which is posted online may be seen, even if we think our privacy settings protect it.

Our clients are global and cross different sectors, markets, ethical and legal frameworks. We need to respect their views and lifestyles whilst never compromising on our values of being fair and equal in everything we do.

Our stance should be this: we share and do what we each think is right, but we respect the views of others as we do so.”

Does that strike the right balance? It’s not easy is it, working in a globally diverse marketplace, with a diverse range of clients and partners. But if we’re afraid to try and do things differently, then we’re just perpetuating the status quo.

I was talking to a lady in a global bank recently: she told me that she couldn’t use Facebook because she worked in HR and it would be disastrous if a picture of her drunk got out.

But is that fair? Is that right? Surely she has every right to be as drunk as the rest of us from time to time. I mean, it’s not like she’s going to start sending official Tweets, which would be a mistake.

To be fair, we have to explore boundaries, we have to co-create the rules. Sometimes there will be absolutes: no bullying, no talking about clients, no private data, but other spaces have to be left open. Can you express dissent? Within limits, that has to be fair. But do you have responsibilities too? Absolutely. The Social Contract runs both ways.

Follow Julian on Twitter @julianstodd

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