Employee social media polices are not a tool that enables any type of empowerment. Policies are not positive in nature, let’s just agree on that. If they were positive in nature, they wouldn’t have the pervasive “violations of this policy could lead to discipline up to and including termination.” Look at the policies in your handbook, and your handbook in general, and tell me that is not the underlying message in every one of them. No employee is going to read that statement and go “woo-hoo, I feel so empowered to spread the good message about my employer.”
That is why I do not believe in social media policies. Social media is all about empowerment. Remember that social wasn’t created by businesses to engage with consumers. It was created as a platform by which users could connect with each other. Any engagement with brands is a byproduct. So why would you use negative documents to support empowerment.
Employees are your biggest advocates
Your employees are your biggest fans. They want the company to succeed. They want people to see what good things you do. They want to tell people about it. When they feel their company is attacked, they want to come to the defense.
Empower your employees with your mission and your values
Every employee is a social employee. The days of walling off your social efforts from the rest of your company and staffing it with the pinterest adopters are long gone. You should still have those people, but today every employee can engage your customers. Even the employees that you have never trained.
The problem you face is spending too much time on the how of their engagement. Teaching them about the platforms is important, but not everything. Teaching them about proper disclosures is also important, but again, not everything. Showing them examples and principles is also important, but not everything.
Your company has a mission. It has values. How much of that is passed to your employees. A recent article on Business 2 Community titled “Does Your Social Employee Know the ‘Why’ of your Brand?” really highlights this well. Cheryl Burgess correctly concludes, in my opinion, that we can conquer the medium and get back to the genuine human interaction that we all crave. Whether that platform is LinkedIn or an internal employee social network, people are genuinely interacting with each other.
What have you done to inform that interaction when your employees are involved? This is sometimes called culture training, but I think it permeates more than just that one day seminar you send your employee to. It includes on-going messaging around important topics to your company and your industry. Coming out with a new product? Have you told your employees why the product is important, or what need it is serving?
This is another example of why social doesn’t change anything. It merely speeds things up and exposes blind spots. Your employee culture and engagement has always been important. However, in the days of company towns, it was really hard for it to impact your business. With social, the company town now has cameras at every corner broadcasting what your employees are doing and saying. If your employees were not engaged in your business before, you need to play catch up.
The companies that are succeeding in social are the ones that have clearly defined values. They also communicate values to their employees. Interestingly enough, these companies are also the ones that are succeeding in general. Being a big fan of Dan Pink’s work, I really do believe in his thoughts on employee motivation. If you have never read anything of his, here is a link to his TED talk. Watch it and then go buy his book, Drive.
Nothing changes, but everything does
Change is a constant in our lives. New technologies, new ways to experience the world around us. That things change is something we all need to accept. The basic things do not change. Our desire to connect with others. Our desire to spread good news. Even our desire to share bad things. As the friction between us and the people that listen to us decreases to zero, any problems you have had before are highlighted.
Cheryl concludes the article by saying traditional command and control models may not be the best fit now. I propose that they never were a good fit to start with. They worked because your employees weren’t exposed to the outside world. Your lack of culture and your employee’s lack of a stake in the outcome of your business never saw the light of day. Interestingly enough, and without any support to back this up, I bet that those companies didn’t succeed as much as they could have. And that any success was short lived. Happy workers are more productive. I think we all accept that. The problem now is not productivity but your presence in social. You could have withstood productive shortfalls, but now you get to see how unhappy your employees are.
Policies are not the answer
This is going to be a hard one to swallow. Enacting policies will work in the short term. In the long term they will cause you more problems. Especially in this new social culture. Information will flow out in ways you didn’t expect. The key is not policies. The key is your employee culture. Truly teach them, and let them learn, about what your company stands for, why it does the things it does and why it matters. The great thing about all these messages is they should already be out there. If you can’t tell your employees, you have one of two problems. You are scared of your employees for possibly the right reasons (they really are unhappy, for instance). Or, you don’t already have those messages. If it is the latter, you have a bigger problem than whether your employees are engaged and motivated. Fix that first, please.