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Social Networking Policy Requires Regular Checkups

As social use evolves, revise your policy often--but not too often. Here's expert advice on periodic review of enterprise social networking policies.

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It is important for organizations to develop social networking policy, both for their protection and to provide guidelines to employees on the safe and savvy use of internal and external social platforms. Drafting such a policy requires collaboration among stakeholders across the company, and there are some basic elements that should be included.

However, the work is not done--even after the document has been drafted, revised, revised again (and again), and signed off on. Just as social networks themselves are constantly morphing, social networking policy must be periodically reviewed and adjusted to accommodate new networks, technologies, best practices and security concerns.

[Social media is transforming the enterprise IT sales cycle. Learn how to adapt your sales model in Social Wars: A New Hope.]

"The nature of social networking demands a strong, clear but also a flexible policy," said Ethan McCarty, IBM's director of digital and social strategy and co-author of the company's social computing guidelines. "The guidelines should be a living document and updated to address the ever-evolving changes to technologies and online social tools to ensure they remain current to the needs of employees and the company."

McCarty said revision of an organization's social networking policy is an important step in becoming an agile, social business. And, just as companies should involve their social networking early adopters and practitioners in the process of initially developing social networking policy, so, too, should these people be involved in evolving the document.

Organizations should base revisions on what's working and what's not in terms of their use of social networking, as well as on changes to social networks the organization has presence on (e.g., Facebook) or new social networks that the company will have presence on (e.g., Google+). Policy should also be revised as the organization's use of and goals for social networking evolve.

Of course, a policy that's changed too often is likely a policy that won't be adhered to, but companies should seek to review their social networking policy at least annually.

Once it has been determined that changes should be made, social networks can be used as a tool for getting out the message to employees. "I suggest using the social business tools at your disposal--wikis, blogs, communities--to let your employees and stakeholder community know about any changes that have been made," said McCarty. "This is even easier to do if you have involved your employees in authoring the updates anyway. Also, these guidelines--in whatever variation, new, updated--should be readily available online, so they are always at your employees' fingertips."

McCarty added that, at IBM, employees are required to review the organization's business conduct guidelines, which include its social computing policy, on an annual basis. The guidelines are also rolled out through IBM's internal Social Business @ IBM site, a resource for employees that provides training in social best practices. "Employees learn how to use social computing tools to foster collaboration, disseminate and consume news, develop networks, forge closer relationships, and build credibility," said McCarty. "One of the modules is specifically focused on our Social Computing Policy. We've made these guidelines a part of who we are and what we value at IBM; they've become ingrained into our social business culture."

Has your company revised its social networking policy? Begun to develop one? Weigh in below, or write me at debra.donstonmiller@gmail.com.

Attend Enterprise 2.0 Santa Clara, Nov. 14-17, 2011, and learn how to drive business value with collaboration, with an emphasis on how real customers are using social software to enable more productive workforces and to be more responsive and engaged with customers and business partners. Register today and save 30% off conference passes, or get a free expo pass with priority code CPHCES02. Find out more and register.

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