Jon Bloor over at the Peninsula blog raises an interesting question about communicating your social media policy in contracts. We would all do well to think about this subject regularly because social media is in its early stages, meaning that the policies we may adopt today may not be the ones we would want to use a year from now. As an employer and trademark lawyer, I often think about what is an appropriate social media policy for us.
It is better to take a stance on this rather than leaving it in the air. Employees need guidance, and employers should avoid the temptation to bury their head in the sand.
The Zappos approach
Zappos is a model many point to as an example of an organization that fully embraces social media. The company has demonstrated that encouraging staff to be social can be very beneficial to a business, both in terms of the SEO and promotional possibilities for the brand as noted by Mashable, and for leading the way towards the future that social media may occupy in business life.
To quote Mashable: “With business changing radically, becoming increasingly personal, transparent, and social, we each have to find what works for us”.
Profiles of employees on social media
So I began my research into this topic by checking some of the profiles of the 499 Zappos employees who tweet. The page is headed ‘Are you a Zappos employee that uses Twitter? Send Tony an email with your Twitter user name to be seen here!’
If you look at these employees profiles it is clear that Zappos adopts an informal, ‘hands off’ approach towards its staff’s social media engagement. Some of the employees protect their tweets, some link to their Myspace or Linked in profiles, while others to their own websites/blogs/ or even ecommerce sites, and some to the Zappos website.
From a branding point of view where every aspect of your business speaks about your brand, what this laissez faire approach towards staff’s social engagement says to me is that this is an ultra tolerant company which gives its staff scope to express themselves with minimal corporate controls around the way in which they do so etc. But surely, behind the scenes staff receive guidance as to how to behave online?
I’ve asked to have a look at Zappos’ staff policy on social media, and if it’s forthcoming I’ll be discussing it in more detail.
However, I am not clear that employees tweeting in this manner is the optimum approach in terms of brand promotion and would welcome comments on this.
The only way you know that some of them represent Zappos is if they discuss their work as employees of Zappos.
However, it may well be useful from a brand protection point of view, to identify your employees’ social media engagement by bringing them all together in the way Zappos does. Using the Zappos Twitter aggregator it is then able to keep an eye on whether any brand damaging comments are made.
In industries like the law, I would say if you want to encourage staff to be social then why not ask them to do so for the benefit of the firm brand, for example, by linking to the firm’s website. I’ll be discussing this topic more in a post tomorrow.
In the meantime, this informal approach fits an informal culture. I imagine Zappos staff may turn up to work dressed in any way they like. So following that through to their social engagement, by letting them write their profiles in whatever way they like makes sense. Certainly, Zappos has had a lot of buzz by embracing social media.
If your culture is a more formal one on a day to day level, as law firms’ cultures tend to be, then you would probably want to place restrictions around the way in which staff identify themselves and engage on social media. That is, if they are identifiable as your employees, which they would be if their names appear on your website, or you gather their social media profiles onto one page as Zappos does. If they wanted to tweet under a pseudonymn then different considerations apply.
What is the best social media policy for you?
In determining what is right for your business, and whether like Zappos you want to take the risk of being different bear in mind the arguments against the Zappos approach. For example, it is argued that while it is relatively safe to blog and tweet about shoes, in many companies, the risk of an ‘all-employee social media free love policy’ will far outweigh the benefits. According to this view there must be appropriate training, role clarity, effective policy and boundaries for social media to work for many companies. You have to fit the tactics to the strategy — and the culture — just like any initiative.
Tomorrow I will explore social media and the legal profession – looking in particular at the issues law firms should bear in mind in devising their social media policies. I will also consider the related question which invariably crops up as to ownership of contacts and what the right solution would be if an employee moves to work for a competitor.