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How to Ride—Not Fight—the Social Media Wave

Joe McKendrick
Insurance Experts' Forum, May 13, 2010

What happens if an employee is posting negative comments about his or her boss on Facebook? 

What if an executive makes some ill-timed remarks about impending layoffs on Twitter?

How about if an employee bad-mouths your product pricing on a blog somewhere?

These are all comments made to independent, third-party sites, on employees' own time. Do you know how to handle this? Does your HR department know what to do?

Social media holds both a lot of promise and peril for organizations. I've written quite a bit about the promise of social networking here at this blogsite, but the perils need to be addressed as well.

An issue that social networking is bringing to the fore—and has enormous legal implications for organizations—is where the social networking for an employer stops, and personal social networking begins. This boundary keeps getting fuzzier and fuzzier all the time.

A colleague of mine, Bill Ives, has been studying and writing about the impact of social media and technology on organizations for some time. He is an advocate of laying out best practices to guide corporate adoption, and avoid a wild-west scenario. Bill recently came across a Forrester research study by Nigel Fenwick, which provides insights into establishing a social media policy that will stick.

Forrester reports that 43% of respondents in a recent survey report that their organization did not have a social media policy, while 11% were not sure if a policy existed. Only 26% reported their organizations did not sanction social media access while at work.

But banning social media at work doesn't get to the heart of the matter—what employees do and say on their own time. This is a potential minefield.

Fenwick urges organizations not to fight the social media tide, but to go with the flow, and take advantage of opportunities that it may present. But there's a fine balance that needs to be struck between too much openness and too much control. As Fenwick puts it: “lack of policy, or a highly restrictive policy, can result in reduced employee advocacy in social media communities, and can impair the organization’s ability to compete effectively against organizations with a more open policy and empowered workforce.” 

So what’s the goal of an effective social media policy? As Fenwick describes it: A “well-communicated social media policy should provide a set of guidelines to help your organization leverage the power of social media both internally and externally while protecting the organization’s IP and managing risk associated with employees engaging in online social communities.”

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Joe using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at joe@mckendrickresearch.com.

This blog was exclusively written for Insurance Networking News. It may not be reposted or reused without permission from Insurance Networking News.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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