Apr 3, 2012

Trust Starts at the Top: What Social Media Policies Reveal

Your company’s social media policy, or lack of one, reveals a lot about its culture. Is yours open and collaborative, or closed and restrictive?

I find it shocking when companies lockdown their firewalls and implement policies to prevent their staff from using social media. It clearly demonstrates a lack of trust. I saw this in the late 90’s while in university.

During the summers I worked in IT support. One of my big projects was to lockdown the firewall to prevent ‘the guys in the back’ from accessing inappropriate content. We installed tools to prevent users from accessing porn and gambling sites, but we also configured it to prevent people from accessing personal email, IRC, discussion boards and a host of other sites.

All this time and resources went into creating proverbial horse blinders. The executive team did not want anyone wasting time ‘playing’ on the Internet. They felt locking it down would create a more productive and focused workforce.

I saw the opposite. The Internet prohibition created a division between staff and management. The staff clearly saw they weren’t trusted, and acted accordingly.

Punitive social media policies are misdirected

Trying to prevent employees from using social media on company time is futile. Even in 1997 and ’98, preventing people from using the Web was exceedingly difficult. Today, well it’s next to impossible. With smartphones everyone has the Internet in their pockets.

The real question is why does a company need to lockdown access to social media? The general perception is employees shouldn’t be playing on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter on company time. But locking down access to the Internet isn’t the solution.

Employees that waste their days on social media are a symptom of a greater problem, an HR issue. You need to fix the job, the employee or both. A one size fits all social media policy isn’t going to solve a structural HR problem. It’s going to exacerbate it.

The time wasters are going to find other distractions, solitaire anyone. Meanwhile everyone else is restricted, which can backfire and materialize in a host of other HR problems.

Create a culture of collaboration

Restrictive social media policies set management up to be parents. Instead of worrying about employees goofing off, embrace the tools.

Social media isn’t going anywhere. It’s a primary platform of communication like the phone and email. Lift the prohibition on social media, and use it to enhance engagement and collaboration.

Engage your staff, and ask questions. How can these tools improve communication, learning, collaboration and teamwork? How can they improve and develop the corporate culture? How can they better serve both employees and customers?

Often our greatest strengths are our weaknesses. They’re two sides of a coin. To break the misuse of social media, embrace it and focus on its strengths. Get everyone involved, and prove that these tools make for a stronger, more productive team.

Trust your employees. It’s that simple.

(Image credit: Marcus Miller)

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