How Your Social Media Policy Could Kill Your Culture

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I love Social Media. But really, it’s not that important.

Not compared to some things.

I’ve begun to see a few posts suggesting that companies need to take more control over their employees social media output. That word – ‘control’ – has actually been used on more than one occasion.

An unwelcome trend.

It’s obvious to see why this is happening. Last year saw some big organisations fall victim to social media “blunders”. Although personally I prefer thinking of them as “lessons”.

And we’ve just had one of the most high profile UK cases to date – the redundancy tweets at HMV. That event has been blogged to death and I don’t want to add to it. I’d rather concentrate on what I think are some of the incorrect conclusions that have been drawn from it , and cases like it.

If you somehow missed the incident you can have a read about it here , or you can read my 140 character summary below:

"Company goes bust. Calls 60 staff into sacking. Staff tweet live from corporate account about what a bunch of idiots the managers are."
“Company goes bust. Calls 60 staff into sacking. Staff tweet live from corporate account about what a bunch of idiots the managers are.”

In the weeks that followed there have been a number of suggestions , often from Social Media and PR experts, about how we could avoid these kind of incidents in the future.

Some of the suggestions have included:

  • Only permitting “Junior” employees permission to draft social media messages, and making them go through an approval queuefor senior management to sign off before they are published
  • Banning all your employees from using social media at work and asking them to hand over their phones as they enter the premises

I couldn’t agree more.

Most employees are borderline psychotic. Little time-bombs preparing to explode at the slightest incident. In fact, rarely a day goes by in my team without one of them tweeting “@paulbromford – what a tosser” – just because I don’t make many cups of tea.

Seriously – is this what we have come to?

I think we are learning the wrong things. Here’s what I think we can take away from such incidents:

1 – Treat your employees well at all times.

2 – Don’t employ managers who are rubbish.

3 – Educate employees about the magnificent positives of social media but also the negatives. Support them and learn together.

This has nothing to do with social media and everything to do with leadership and culture.

Culture is what allows my own organisation to have such an open approach to social media. Everyone has access. Anyone can tweet or blog. My Opportunity4Employment Assistant – Chai Podins was set up with social media accounts on his first day at work. He would qualify as a “junior” if we used such archaic terms. Which we don’t.

A risky approach to social media? Maybe. But all use of social media has risks.

It does make sense that corporate accounts are protected. There should be plans in place for when errors are made or there is a hacking. Both of which are far more likely to happen than a colleague going into meltdown.

But if you write a Social Media Policy and it effectively says:

  • There is a hierarchy for message approval.
  • That you start with a belief that colleagues are going to “go rogue”
  • That you don’t trust the people you employ with 140 characters of text.

It will kill your culture. And that will take you years and years to rebuild.

So if you or your company are risk averse , and you don’t trust your people with social media, my advice is simple:

Don’t use it. It’s not worth it.


11 thoughts on “How Your Social Media Policy Could Kill Your Culture

  1. Find your commentary very interesting Paul and something I have given much thought and reading time to recently. ‘The don’t use it – it isn’t worth it’ is sad but sound advice for companies who are participating with corporate accounts because they feel they have to rather than out of any real desire to maximise the un-lockable benefits. Have read several articles by particularly savvy exponents recently who suggest that a restrictive/restricted prescriptive presence is actually more detrimental to a company’s profile and image than no presence at all.

    Suggestions too that it is not an ‘at all cost’ media and so if your company is not yet ready to embrace wholeheartedly and would rather just ‘dip the toe to test the water’ this does not give a realistic feedback of the potential and is therefore a flawed approach – better not do it at all – yet. Suggestion also that Companies who protect their accounts and therefore have to approve their following are also missing the point – relying on their customers being overwhelmingly curious about what can be so secret and exciting that only they can have, that its locked, that they will apply to follow? Locked corporate accounts attract very few followers .There seems to be a consensus of good reasons to protect certain personal accounts – many people have more than one these days – but no good reason to protect a corporate one – what is that saying about the company??

    Good advice abounds – Sort out the inevitable blur between corporate tweeting and personal accounts first perhaps, so it is clear what employees can legitimately refer to in personal ‘private’ accounts (not sponsored ones) re their views about their work sector and specific examples of work related material – not their employers perse – clearly no one should diss or be critical of their employers even in personal accounts if they have any sense they won’t, but make it clear – when does a personal tweet on a personal platform about a work sector risk becoming perceived as a reflection of their employers view, opinion or policy? eg a senior health worker tweeting their views on a new piece of heath related legislation or a piece in the papers about the Staffordshire hospital debacle or an Educationalist tweeting their views about the state of the education service or proposals to revamp the GCSE exams – recently seen specific and pertinent points well made about both…. not critical of their employer just professional commentary about a sector which they have personal professional opinions on? Even when the profile bio clearly identifies it as a personal account where views are personal but any products referred to belonging to A another employer – perhaps a named one? An increasingly common disclaimer ‘views mine products not’ etc. Does perhaps referring to ones employer (nicely) in one or two tweets irrevocably link all ones other tweets and risk forming a corporate association between the private opinions to be those of the employer?

    Guess the question is relevant to other professional platforms like LinkedIn – where most if not all members bios say who they work for so discussion posts and views risk being linked back to the employer – if not by the employer themselves but perhaps another unhappy or even malicious member – we hear about trolling being on the increase as well as estranged friends and spouses using SM activity to ‘stick the boot in’? I exclude facebook having always seen this as a wholly recreational media and thus even corporate FB accounts are predominantly as only a ‘window display’ intended to be looked at whilst customers are at play as opposed to actually interacted with – company websites fulfil a similar broader function these days exp with the increase in use of ‘comment facility’ ?

    It is important ground to trawl over and over in order to get it right – SM offers huge benefits and it has ‘caught on’ especially since the boom in mobile connectivity and instantaneous nature of communication in your pocket – no longer reliant on ‘when I get back home I will send an email or …etc’ those in the know suggest that SM will take over as the preferred communication of choice for the next generation who will know nothing else so if companies don’t get stuck in for fear of the damage that might be done are they really shooting self in foot?

    I remember my ex, an IT director in the early 1990’s, assuring me that the WWW would never catch on because it was too slow and that chip and pin was still decades off – are we making the same errors of judgements in forming our views about the huge benefits of all generations using and embracing SM now?

    1. Great points Carmel – which I really appreciate. I agree that the “don’t use it – it isn’t worth it” response is sad – but I think better than doing it because the only motivation is , er , everyone else is. Worth remembering that very successful companies can exist without social media. Take Apple. Or Amazon , whose social media is pretty appalling. Few though , are in the position they are. Thank you for such an insightful response

  2. Brave, committed, passionate and spot on as always Paul. Lets stop blaming the tools for cultural problems within organisations. Companies use trust as a “term and condition” of employment. When actually we should start off giving everyone our trust and ask people to keep it (much more empowering) Not by telling everyone you don’t trust with something like social media. As you said it’s not this that is the problem it’s the leadership and culture, seriously if you feel like that before you start the social media conversation don’t bother having it at all .

  3. Great Read. I have falledn foul of such “control” public sector employee (Blue light) and started a blog to engage like minded professionals and initiate debate. I was a little critical of what we have become but kept names and locations out. Always been seen as a straight talker prepared to speak up and have my opinion heard in a dignified, respectful and well informed manner. Such a pity that some view individuals trying to improve their profession as something to fear and control. All in the name of maintaining the reputation of the organisation, wouldn’t mind if I was being radical. 7 years to go before my release from this culture!

  4. I was reading along and before I got to the end was thinking that organisations with the types of things you mention in their social media policies probably dont have the right culture for social media anyway… And then your final sentence said it all. Love it.

  5. Interesting post that really got me thinking! I agree the risk to a business’ culture from social media control is very real.

    For me, at HMV the issue wasnt the live tweeting of the sacking. Those tweets were brilliant and honest. The company had gone into administration, and the awful reality of that fact was coming home in the worst way to the staff. They tweeted because that’s what we do all the time in the 21st Century – and the honesty of those tweets went round the world.

    Meanwhile the Marketing Director was running around panicking on how to kill it. In seconds he turned all the very human public sympathy for those staff affected into ridicule and resentment towards a faceless corporate HMV. People wont be surprised to learn the next 24 hours the company was deleting a huge amount of very angry Facebook posts, and from its other social media sites, as the public reacted.

    I actually believe tweeting the sacking was “Good Social Media”, stepping in so poorly to control it was the worst kind.

    Accepting your staff tweet and letting it happen is far safer than trying to control it. And while I totally agree with your last sentence Paul, I would add if you’re really risk adverse then make sure you employ smart E-commerce leaders.

  6. When I wrote the Spin Sucks blog post on this topic, this was precisely my feeling: Most companies will have to let people go at some point. If you handle it in a humane way, people won’t go rogue. I cannot imagine laying off 60 people at once as a group. I understand there are HR reasons to do so, but there also human ways to do it.

    1. Thanks Gini. I agree let’s start with finding a human and trusting way to deal with things and then maybe policy could just be in the background.

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