GroundFloor Media & CenterTable Blog

Yesterday I was having a breakfast meeting with a friend who owns several popular restaurants in Colorado. Even in this down economy, his company continues to grow and his staff continues to multiply. After several cups of coffee, a glance at the Yelp sticker on the front door, and some banter about the importance of social media conversations, I asked if they had social media guidelines in place for their employees. He said that they didn’t but was shocked that they had never even thought of it. I assured him that he really shouldn’t feel like he was behind. Yes, large organizations such as Intel, IBM, The New York Times, SAP and the US Coast Guard all have them in place. But should small businesses jump on the proverbial bandwagon and do a little social media preventative damage control? I can’t say ‘yes’ fast enough.

A recent proofpoint study shows that almost 20% of companies disciplined a staff member for violating blog or message boards and nearly 10% terminated employees for these actions.

But how can you discipline employees if they don’t understand what you expect from them in this wild world of Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and SMS? According to the Deloitte LLP 2009 Ethics & Workplace Survey, only 17% of companies have programs in place to monitor and mitigate the potential reputational risks related to the use of social networks.

As a business owner and entrepreneur, I join the ranks of those who understand the importance of providing all employees a handbook. Hey, we even update it several times a year with memos that our team members sign. With social media playing such a prevalent role in our day-to-day activity at GroundFloor Media, we would be remiss to assume that our employees didn’t have access to the same type of guidelines and resources that we provide them in an offline environment. You then have to step out of the way and trust that they will do the right thing.

I spoke at an HR-related event in Boulder County a few weeks ago and we discussed the importance of creating a set of social media guidelines for business of all sizes. One participant disagreed with the idea of providing these guidelines, as her company didn’t allow access to social media sites. I asked her if their employees identified themselves as employees of that company on their personal social networking sites that they worked on “after hours.” She agreed that most identified their company as their place of work. Enough said.

Consider the legal implications you could face for NOT putting social media guidelines in place. I promise it is a lot easier to have the discussions knowing their is something to actually look at on paper while talking about an inappropriate blog post or Tweet with your employees.

Here are a few helpful social media policies that can at least get you thinking about the types of guidelines that will be important to your company.

Dell Online Communication Policy
Intel Social Media Guidelines
IBM Social Computing Guidelines
Cisco Internet Postings Policy
Wells Fargo Community Guidelines
BBC Guidance Personal Use of Social Networking and Other Third Party Websites DePaul University Social Media Guidelines

Mashable has a great article on whether or not your company should even have a social media policy. It is worth the quick read.

GroundFloor Media put our social media guidelines into place this year, and we have helped many other companies do the same. It is not an overwhelming endeavor and it is one that I strongly encourage you to consider sinking your teeth into yet in 2009. And grab a cup of coffee while you are at it. It makes it all go by a bit faster.

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