Developing a Corporate Social Media Usage Policy for Employees


Corporate social media policy development has become increasingly important as organizations realize that social networking is more powerful in the hands of many than the hands of a few. 

In many cases, employees not serving in official spokesperson roles may, in fact, have more weight influencing corporate reputation than more conventional channels like public relations and marketing.

Rather than ask, “Should companies use social media?” organizations are asking “What is the most responsible, effective way for us to use social media and should we house a set of social media corporate guidelines so that everyone understands what the boundaries are for social media usage as employees?”

In this episode, we discuss many aspects of corporate social media policy, social networking policy, social media guidelines and best practices for social media policy development initiatives inside organizations.  

Our guest is Chris Boudreaux created a website that is no longer online to provide tools and resources to leaders and managers who want to get the most from their social media and social application investments.

Chris is a consultant who works with business and technology professionals to improve their marketing, sales and customer service capabilities through social media governance. 

He is a former product development and business transformation specialists, and a former United States Navy officer.  

This is a joint interview by Paul Gillin and me. We are collaborating on a book about B2B applications of social media communications titled “Social Marketing to the Business Customer.”.


01:58 — The business case for empowering employees to make smart decisions through social media policy.

03:34 — How specific social media policies need to be.

05:06 — Strategic approach to social media policy development.  

07:13 — Just because a company is blocking access to social media sites from its network does not necessarily mean that that company is going to take longer to develop a social media policy.

If you are developing a social media policy for an organization, your first order of business is to understand why the company is blocking access, because it may be they are doing so because social media tools do not allow them to comply with laws or regulations.  

In the insurance industry, for example, many companies are simply on the lock down because the penalties for making mistakes are severe.

08:40 — Organizations can and do turn on and off access to social media sites quickly, so don't assume that because a company may be blocking access to social media sites that they are in some way  going to take a longer to educate and bring up to speed over the course of a social media policy development initiative.

09:27 — Organizational complexity, rather than an organization's size, has a bigger impact on how long it takes to develop a social media policy for organization.

The more business units there are, the variety of subcultures that exists, have the potential to exacerbate the development of a social media policy.

10:45 — The concept of having more than one social media policy, the first being a broad policy that covers all employees in the latter being a more specific policy for employees focused on social media communications.

13:22 — Just as no one department within the organization owns and polices all corporate policies, all managers responsible for a group within the organization that is using social media for unique purposes should also be responsible for providing guidance and oversight of how a corporate social media policy applies to those efforts.

17:44 — It is leadership's responsibility to think ahead of its employees and to try and anticipate what kind of trouble they could get into so they can establish policy to protect them.

Those protections are even more important if the employee is using social media as part of their primary job function. So leadership needs to establish clear-cut boundaries for employees and then make sure everyone knows about them.

It's irresponsible for leadership to steer clear of providing guidelines because they don't know what they should be yet.

At the same time, Chris Boudreaux does not advocate that all organizations should empower their employees to use social media, particularly financial services organizations and other regulated entities, because social media tools may not allow them to comply with the current regulations.

20:49 — The biggest challenge that organizations face with respect to social media engagement is that many of the technologies simply do not comply with current regulatory requirements.

So either the regulations need to be changed, the various social media channels need to be improved to support audit trails or regulated companies in particular need to be careful when they use social media.

22:50 — Like American linguist William Lutz, featured on an earlier episode of this podcast about the dangers of doublespeak, Chris Boudreaux agrees there's not much sense in a policy if the people it's designed to guide can't understand it. 

Policies should be written to be understood without legal counsel.   Since many companies make their social media policies public it may also be a good idea for those charged with writing the policy to collaborate with the marketing or public relations departments to ensure its accurately reflects the characteristics of the brand.  

25:03 —  Regardless of the nature or legalities of any social networking group or service in which a company employee they participate, such as racially insensitive or hate speech sites, employers do not necessarily have the right to dismiss employees for participating in these types of distasteful conversations, unless they are occurring in full public view.

However, if the site in question was password-protected, invite only and employer obtained access through coercion and then discovered its employees were involved and fired them as a result, they could be guilty of wiretapping charges.

So the method by which an employer discovers private information on the Internet plays a big role in to the legalities of the situation.

28:55 — There's a big difference between laws that are permissible in a state and terms and conditions an individual migrate or bye-bye to do business with the company.

Nondisclosure agreements provide a functional means for individuals to forfeit certain rights in exchange for the right to gain employment with the company and subject to the terms and conditions of what is and is not permissible in any of the 50 United States, is not necessarily unlawful for an organization to ask an employee to forgo certain rights to free speech exchange for a job.

33:31 — Social media policy needs to support the leadership style of the organization. For example, if the organization is inclusive and collaborative in its management style, that will lead to one type of social media policy.

On the other hand, if you're in station is commanding control, like say Apple Computer, that will lead to a different type of social media policy. It may be naive to think you can change an organization's leadership or management style through social media policy.

It is the responsibility of those charged with developing a social media policy to create one that supports the company's objectives in a way that is compatible with their existing business.  

“You or I may not like a lot of the answers to a lot of leaders arrive at. But we have a choice to not work for those people,” says Chris Boudreaux.  

35:35 — It is always helpful when social media policy initiatives are sponsored by upper management and here's why.  

“The best policies are born out of a desire to utilize social media in a way that advances the corporate objectives, and to both protect the employees as well as the company.

And that takes an understanding of the business which is is usually strongest among the folks who are running the business,” says Chris Boudreaux.

37:14 — End

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

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