Let’s be positive on social media: issue guidelines not bans

According to a November Information Age story (linked in a recent e-newsletter), over half of UK organisations are restricting employee access to social media websites such as Facebook and YouTube due to the threat of litigation. Research among lawyers in the 2009 Litigation Trends survey conducted by US law firm Fulbright & Jaworski asked how companies are restricting use, revealing:

“that 46% of U.S.respondents restrict some mix of Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Twitter and YouTube, while 52% of U.K. respondents reported restrictions. In the U.S. and the U.K., Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and YouTube are the most commonly blocked sites.”

Technology companies were the least likely to block social networking sites; 56% of tech companies participating in the survey said they had no restrictions on such sites.

Why restrict? Well, as part of discovery (US) or disclosure (UK), 8% of companies surveyed had been required to produce electronically stored information (ESI) from one of the above sites: “18% of U.K. respondents reported having had to produce ESI from a social media site in the past 12 months versus only 4% of U.S. companies.”

Set some guidelines

As the article suggested, the restrictions probably arise due to the lack of guidelines governing use of social networking tools in the workplace. It quotes research by eDiscovery search firm Recommind suggesting 89% of UK workplaces lack such guidelines. Lawyer Craig Carpenter says:

“It is no longer enough just to block employee access to certain sites. These tools are pervasive and staff will always find a way around any restrictions.”

I am a little concerned at this somewhat negative talk of “blocks” and “restrictions” (is it just me, or do Craig’s comments make employees sound subversive?).

In my view, it is better to encourage desirable habits. Lots of the best corporate social media guidelines published by well-known organisations (see these 16 social media guidelines used by real companies, for instance, or these Sample social media policies identified by public sector PR professional Simon Wakeman) tend to stress the Do’s rather than the Don’ts. They are enablers, often prescribing good social media habits and stressing how to use the various channels responsibly and ethically, trusting employees to use their judgement and common sense, while also identifying what would be seen as unacceptable behaviours.

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  1. Very sensible thoughts Paul…Our company (media/publishing) does exactly this. OK, we shouldn’t be on facebook all day for personal reasons but twitter/linkedin are encouraged for business purposes and guideline emails have been sent round.

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