Reaction to @baskers: A Clear Call To Action For Social Media Policy


This weekend has seen a furore develop in the mainstream press over the blog and Twitter account run by Department of Transport civil servant Sarah Baskerville, or @baskers, as we now know her.

The likelihood is that the extensive and in many cases inflammatory media coverage will make many businesses uncomfortable about social media in general, and once again raise the question of where the line is to be drawn when it comes to employee tweeting.

I have my own opinions about the whole saga but what I’m more interested in here is what businesses can take away from this – because I think this represents an important call to action to get social media policy right.

Optix Solutions’ 2010 Social Media Survey found that less than 30% of respondent companies had a company social media policy in place. Yet one of the key barriers for business (especially in more conservative, and especially regulated, B2B environments) when it comes to embracing social media is a sense of fear-driven paralysis.  Not least because we realise that you cannot control what an employee has to say.

So, in light of this story in particular, my, message to business is this:

First of all, this is not new. Facebook has provided a similar platform for years now – Twitter simply allows greater amplification – but does not guarantee it. Before that it was IM, email and the good old water cooler where people chatted about work and vented their frustrations.  They still do.  Calm down. Technology is not the problem.

Second, you can’t control what an employee has to say online or offline, but you can hypothesise, mitigate and set parameters and guidelines in line with what you genuinely need to protect or manage. You can draw the line, but you need to be realistic about where.

I’m not going to go into the how and why of social media policy here  (post forthcoming) but I’d like to outline a few thought processes to which businesses should devote some time in the first instance:

Know the terrain

Do you even know how many of your employees are using social media? Which platforms? When? Are they using them for purely personal networking, or is there a professional bent to what they are doing online (for example, are they tweeting relevant content, talking to others in similar or related industries, taking part in forum debates)?

You need to understand this first and foremost. But tread carefully – an open and honest dialogue with a pre-stated objective will be more fruitful than sudden or defensive questioning.

Know the dangers

What are the dangers of your employees tweeting about work? Do you trust your workforce to maintain professionalism on an open and fairly personal platform? Are they incentivised or encouraged to do that? What might happen? Can you hypothesise about any potential flashpoints and consider what the ultimate effects may be? It’s worth considering those scenarios on a scale of 1 to 10, so that you know where to focus your efforts when it comes to encouraging responsible use of social media.

Know your bottom line

In any business, certain topics will be off limits for the outside world – whether it’s clients, methodologies, projects, internal news. You need to know what your bottom line is when it comes to acceptable and unacceptable – and be able to demonstrate and articulate a solid business reason for that.  Some content might be sub-optimal – no-one can mitigate for every single scenario – but know what to sweat and what not to sweat. You have to cede control to some degree.

Know the best-case scenario

Again, here’s where hypothesis comes into play very userfully. If it’s a given – as it probably is – that some of your workforce are using social media platforms outside of official corporate accounts, think about what the best-case scenario here could be. If your employees where actively encouraged and empowered to use Twitter, for example, to engage with the outside world in their professional capacity, what might the upside be? A broader view of your industry, new contacts, a heightened online profile for your organisation and increased awareness are just a few of the benefits, and are easily realised.  Not only that, but empowerment through demonstrating trust is powerful when it comes to team motivation and engagement.

This is worth some thought. After all, if knowledge is power, applied knowledge is power with added understanding, foresight and direction. Once you’ve considered these questions, you’re already a good way towards being able to develop a solid social media policy which does away with some of the ambiguity the Department for Transport have been faced with – and I’d urge you to give that some serious consideration, if you haven’t already.

Kate Spiers is director of Wisdom London, providing brilliant integrated communications to businesses.  If you’d like to talk to us about how to go about developing your social media policy, get in touch here.

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7 Responses to “Reaction to @baskers: A Clear Call To Action For Social Media Policy”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by AnneMarie Cunningham, elinagrigoriou and Kate Spiers, Kate Spiers. Kate Spiers said: Reaction to @baskers: A Clear Call To Action For Social Media Policy: http://wp.me/pN3pZ-lo […]

  2. Loved this post Kate.

    In my previous role in the Civil Service, developing this policy became my responsibility. Scary huh? This cannot be the sole responsibility of a junior officer. There is SO much to consider. It needs to be developed across the HR and Comms functions (amongst other departments).

    Hopefully this case will highlight the real need for these policies, to safeguard individual staff members, and organisational reputation. I’m really looking forward to seeing what else you’ve got to say on this topic, and seeing where this takes you.

    • Thanks Lucy! It’s not a sexy way for businesses to invest money and time, but it’s so necessary. I’m working on a guide to developing social media policy next so will definitely call on you for an additional expert view!

      • Agreed! Everyone must be clear on this. There are some serious examples of how this has gone wrong in the nursing profession with people discussing their patients on their Facebook walls and facebook public groups. Scary stuff….

        Would love to talk about this more.

  3. Mike McGrail Says:

    Top post Kate! Perfect case study of why a social media policy is so important. I recently wrote the official policy for the company I work for, one page, 10 rules – nice and simple!

    You do have to question the intelligence of anyone who would publicly declare their hungover state during working hours!

    By the way, fancy a guest post on the Penguin?

  4. Justin Kerr-Stevens (@jkerrstevens) kindly directed me to the Central Government online participation guidelines, as they sit within the Civil Service Code: http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/about/resources/participation-online.aspx (not remotely comprehensive enough) and a practical template guide developed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) which serves as a useful working document, but provides guidance solely for official accounts: http://blogs.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/digitalengagement/post/2009/07/21/Template-Twitter-strategy-for-Government-Departments.aspx

    I think it’s interesting to note the lack of mitigation for personal use and also the fact that both documents are between 18 and 22 months old – time for an update?

  5. […] Kate Spiers:  Reaction to @baskers: A Clear Call To Action For Social Media Policy […]

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