Five Reasons Why Your Company Doesn’t Need a Social Media Policy

When I started blogging, Thomas Nelson was a public company. Our stock was traded on the New York Stock Exchange (Symbol: TNM). When I announced to the lawyers what I was going to do, they got very nervous. They were afraid I might say something that would get us in trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission. When I told them that I also wanted to encourage our employees to blog, they about had a heart attack.

Man Tied Up in Red Tape - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/track5, Image #5867991

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/

As a compromise, I agreed to let them write a set of “Corporate Blogging Guidelines.” When I got the first draft back, it read like a legal brief. It was full of legal mumbo-jumbo, including words and phrases you never use in real life, like “heretofore” and “aforementioned.” Worse, it was full of overt threats if the bloggers violated the guidelines.

I sat down with them and said, “Guys, I think you have missed the point. I want to encourage employees to blog not discourage them. This is going to scare them to death! Now give me something written in English and strip out all the threats.”

A few days later they came back with another draft. It was better, but still had too much legalese. I finally gave up on them and wrote it myself. I then got them to bless it—albeit grudgingly.

Amazingly, in the six years since that time, we have never had a single problem with one of our employees blogging about something inappropriate. I don’t think this had anything to do with the guidelines. I believe we would have had the exact same result without the guidelines.

However, we now find the experts (i.e., social media consultants and lawyers) saying, “Businesses Need to Formalize Their Social Media Policies.” According to one study,

Only 1 in 7 companies have formalized a process for adopting and deploying these tools, however. Only 1 in 5 of the interviewed companies have created internal policies that govern the use of these tools by their employees. As the researchers noted, quite a few companies struggle with finding the right balance between ‘the social and personal nature of these tools while maintaining some amount of corporate oversight.’”

So what? I say, “hogwash.” This is a solution in search of a problem.

Your company doesn’t need a social media policy and here are five reasons why:

  1. Your people can be trusted. In my experience as a leader, people pretty much do what you expect. If you expect them to be honest and trustworthy, they will be honest and trustworthy. No, I am not hopelessly naive: I know some people misbehave. But why punish the many because of the few? Deal with the exceptions as they occur. Most people will do the right thing if given the chance.
  2. Social media are just one more way to communicate. I honestly don’t understand all the fuss about social media. It’s just one more way to communicate. Do you have a “phone policy”? an “email policy”? a “fax policy”? Technology is neither good nor bad. It’s what people do with it that is the issue. And honestly, I don’t care if people are updating their Facebook status “on company time.” (Is there really such a thing any more?) Instead, I prefer to focus on the results the employee delivers and let them manage their time.
  3. More rules only make your company more bureaucratic. Before the election, someone asked me what my political affiliation was. I laughed and said, “I’m a Libertarian, but only because I don’t have the guts to be an anarchist.” I don’t think you can legislate morality. (That’s not to say that legislation can’t be immoral, but I digress.) You can’t come up with enough rules to guarantee that people will do the right thing. Too many rules only make your organization slower and less likely to embrace the change it needs to survive.
  4. Formal policies only discourage people from participating. In my opinion, you want to encourage your people to engage in social media. Doing so puts a human face on your brand. It meets customers where they are congregating. It makes everyone an ambassador for your organization. But formal policies discourage this. They make people hesitant. No employee wants to get in trouble, so they just avoid the very thing you want (or should want) to encourage.
  5. You probably already have policies that govern inappropriate behavior. This is the real kicker. You likely already have an employee handbook in place that speaks to what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. At Thomas Nelson, for example, our handbook provides various examples of “Personal Conduct Violations.” We specifically forbid:
    • Insensitivity to customers
    • Spreading false statements about other employees or the company
    • Profanity
    • Abusive language about a supervisor or co-worker
    • Unauthorized release of confidential information
    • Disruptive or inappropriate behavior
    • Discriminating or harassing behavior towards a co-worker
    • Indecent or immoral behavior

    You can commit any of these violations in whatever media you choose: in person, over the phone, via email, and yes, via social media. Why do we need one more policy to regulate this particular technology? The short answer is, “we don’t.”

If you really must have a policy, then I suggest this one:

Use whatever social media you want. Feel free to use it on company time. Just use common sense and remember that if you publicly identify yourself with the company’s brand then act in a manner consistent with that brand. It’s in all of our best interests to do so.

Question: Do you agree or disagree?
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  • http://rickstilwell.wordpress.com Rick

    YES – agree and disagree. As someone working in the corporate structure to ease us into the social media stream, I find that you’re exactly right: we do already have guidelines/rules in place for employee behavior. But having those guidelines worded in the right way will do what you wanted to do in the beginning: encourage employees to be engaged in an arena and for a professional/personal purpose that they have always considered out of bounds. Coca-Cola published some really good general guidelines over the past week or so – that’s the kind of thing that’s needed from management to employees, opening the eyes on both sides to possibilities while also promoting the thing itself.

  • lauri love

    this is absolutely brilliant! more so the big concept rather than just the small social media part. this translates beautifully to the other company demon ‘speaking to coworkers on company time about non company matters’. this piece puts simple and professional words to the way i’ve always led and when he day comes when i get to set policy myself your words will be my first reference! my favorite part was the inclusion of your code of conduct. i wish all companies had your code and enforced it. thank you so much for your words! you have no idea how much they’ve brightened my day.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Awesome. It really is a philosophy about leadership and governance in general. We are quickly regulating our country to death (the U.S.) and, as far as I can tell, it hasn’t brought an end to corruption. It just penalizes the innocent.

  • Dion Govender

    I have to hand it to you Mike. You’re the bravest CEO I’ve come across regarding social media. Most upper/middle management people I know see social media as a complete waste of time and counter productive.
    Do you encourage staff to blog specifically relating to Thomas Nelson? The reason I’m asking is, let say someone on staff has a rant regarding something that’s not related to TN at all. Is it fine if that staff member goes on a “rant-age” Regarding your question… I’m on the fence.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      No, we don't require them to blog specifically about Thomas Nelson. In fact, you can see what they are blogging about here, where we aggregate all the feeds. We want them to blog about what they care about, because we want the public to know that we are an organization of real people with real passions. Again, the more we humanize the brand, the more we create trust with our customers and key constituents. This is the most valuable asset we have as a company.

      • http://www.bradfarris.com Brad Farris

        Michael:

        This comment is exactly why I follow this blog. Real people make up every organization and the more we can get their passions and personality out into the marketplace, the more our customers, partners and suppliers experience our organization as PEOPLE first and a corporation second, the better off we are.

        Coincidentally, that helps with the social media policy as well. If one of our PEOPLE makes a mistake, partners and customers are more likely to say, "Oh, that Maria, she's always shooting her mouth of." Instead of thinking that the CORPORATION has gone nuts and we should sue them.

        My recent post 2010 Goals: Personal

  • http://www.shessothere.com Sweetie Berry

    YES. I believe fully in the concept of your reasoning. The professional who is emotionally mature and conceptually versed in the outcomes of that rare occasion of a venting desire, new product sharing, or frustration will blog very differently than an employee who doesn't have an awareness of the boundaries of social media where others are involved. The thought is too often "at this level position they wouldn't be here if they weren't" but the truth is the responsibllity and awareness hasn't occured to many who indeed are professionals in other areas. I think immediately of a great teacher in a large district, who in innocently failing to set the stage of her blog post topic, left the impression that a sttuation in a classroom was dangerous to those who read it, when the furthest thing from the truth was she was a dangerous educator or that the district wasn't protecting their students. We must all remember readers are only aware of the "snapshot" we write for them of any situation or post.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lindsey_Nobles Lindsey_Nobles

      @sweetie We all need to understand the power of our words taken in — and out of — context. This is key not only via social media but via all manners of communication.

  • http://twitter.com/vinzrothenburg @vinzrothenburg

    I completely agree. Companies don't need special policies for social media; — I think proper training/education on the subject would be a much better option. The way I see it, many social media snafus — corporate or otherwise — can be traced back to an indiviual that didn't know what they were doing. ("What do you mean, Twitter feeds are public by default?!") I think companies should make an effort to enable their employees, not limit them.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I should have included that in the post. If leaders feel the need for a policy, let them invest in training instead. Now THAT’s a concept!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PaulSteinbrueck PaulSteinbrueck

    Good post, Michael. Ultimately I think you're right that it comes down to a matter of trust.

    In this era where it seems like every employee is a free agent, one gray area in social media that I think that presents a particular challenge is when employees use their position within the company to build their own platform. Take for example employees of Thomas Nelson… I'm sure it's perfectly fine to blog about the publishing industry in general while it's completely inappropriate (and perhaps illegal) to blog about company secrets. But in between those extremes are questions like:

    - Is it ok for a TN employee to tweet a quote from a yet to be released book?
    - Is it ok for a TM employee ask an author to do an interview for their blog?
    - You give away a lot of books through your blog. Do other TN employees who blog ask for complimentary books to give away? Do they get the same consideration as you?
    - If TN pays for a publication, research, or a conference, is it OK for a TN employee to blog about the information gained from those things (assuming copyrights are respected)

    It seems to me like you would need some sort of policy to address specifics like this, so how do you address these things without a social media policy?

    My recent post 6 Life Lessons from the Golden Dragon Acrobats

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lindsey_Nobles Lindsey_Nobles

      @paulstreinbrueck It seems to me that these things (maybe with the exception of the author interview) can all happen "off-line" as well. And ultimately it is good for Thomas Nelson if our people are so excited about our products, authors, conferences that they want to help spread the word.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/PaulSteinbrueck PaulSteinbrueck

        Sure, but there's a fine line between spreading the word about what one's company is doing and using what the company is doing to portray oneself as a well-connected, knowledgeable expert so that one can earn some extra cash through blog ads, speaking gigs, or even put oneself in a position to be pursued by other company in the industry.

        Actually, "fine line" is probably not the best phrase. Often there's a lot of overlap. For example, the rise in popularity of your blog and Michael's blog has been good for you guys individually and helped Thomas Nelson sell more books. But I think the temptation is there for some people to use their position, connections, inside information, etc do some things out of selfish ambition. Wouldn't you agree?

        I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing either (as long as it doesn't hurt the company). That's why it seems like a gray area to me.
        My recent post 6 Life Lessons from the Golden Dragon Acrobats

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/PaulSteinbrueck PaulSteinbrueck

        Sure, but there's a fine line between spreading the word about what one's company is doing and using what the company is doing to portray oneself as a well-connected, knowledgeable expert so that one can earn some extra cash through blog ads, speaking gigs, or even put oneself in a position to be pursued by other company in the industry.

        Actually, "fine line" is probably not the best phrase. Often there's a lot of overlap. For example, the rise in popularity of your blog and Michael's blog has been good for you guys individually and helped Thomas Nelson sell more books. But I think the temptation is there for some people to use their position, connections, inside information, etc do some things out of selfish ambition. Wouldn't you agree?

        I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing either (as long as it doesn't hurt the company). That's why it seems like a gray area to me.
        My recent post 6 Life Lessons from the Golden Dragon Acrobats

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lindsey_Nobles Lindsey_Nobles

          @paulstreinbrueck You make several good points and have got me thinking…

          I will note that I have never given away a company product on my blog or done an interview or even really shared that much about my role (although in my survey that was something my audience said they'd like to know more about) to build my audience. Personally I don't think it is wrong but I do feel that I should wait until I am approached by our marketing team to do these sort of things – instead of using my position to create these opportunities. And I can vouch for Mike that he turns down these offers, more often than he accepts them.

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/PaulSteinbrueck PaulSteinbrueck

            Lindsey, I apologize for causing you to feel like you needed to clarify. I did not mean in any way to infer that either of you would ever do anything out of selfish ambition or that that would be an issue at Thomas Nelson. I have the utmost respect for your character and integrity.

            I just meant to throw it out as a general issue that might need to be considered when it comes to an organization's social media policy, or non-policy. ;)
            My recent post 6 Life Lessons from the Golden Dragon Acrobats

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lindsey_Nobles Lindsey_Nobles

            Paul, I didn't take it that way. I just never had really thought about it and so was processing through it in the explanation. The respect is mutual.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          I don't see this as a bad thing. I'm certain it could be abused, but so far I don't think it has. The bottom line is that I want to attract the kind of entrepreneurial people who are trying to build their platform.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Paul, these are great questions. Let me try to answer.

      First, I am happy for employees to build their own platforms. Maybe there is a downside, but I don’t see it. I think this all accrues to the company’s benefit. I used to have a reference in my blog header to the fact that I am the company CEO. I removed that to avoid the appearance of a conflict. Having said that, I think Thomas Nelson benefits from my social media platform as much as I benefit from my position as the company’s CEO. It’s a good and fair exchange.

      Yes, it is okay to tweet a post from a yet-to-be released book, provided they have the permission of the author and the editor. They need to make sure it is “fully baked” and not something that will be edited out. I do this quite a bit, because I think it builds natural curiosity about the project.

      I love the idea of employees doing author interviews. But here's the key component: they have to have an audience or it is not a good investment of the author’s time. Our marketing directors would, I think, evaluate this like any other request. What creates the maximum amount of exposure for the least amount of investment—in this case the author’s time.

      Actually, I have never had an employee ask for books to give away. Of course, those requests would likely come to the marketing director rather than me. Again, I think the marketing director would evaluate it against the same criteria I used for intreviews above. What is the benefit vs. the investment. In my case, I turn down way more books, both internally and externally, then I blog about. If you have an audience, people want access to it. This creates more opportunity than you have time or space.

      I am not sure about research, because much of that is proprietary, and we prefer that our competitors pay for their own. ;-) However, we have never had a problem with this. With regard to conferences, we encourage our people to blog from those. I do it myself regularly.

      Again, I don't think we need some kind of policy. We could spend hours—probably days—trying to cover every possible scenario. I would rather just deal with it on a case-by-case basis and exercise good business judgment and common sense.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/PaulSteinbrueck PaulSteinbrueck

        Hey Michael, I appreciate the response. It makes a lot of sense to have someone in marketing evaluate book requests or interview requests from TN employees in the say way they would any outside request.

        That raises a bunch of other potential problems in my mind… I could see the opportunity for some hard feelings if one TN employee with a bigger audience gets something while another with a smaller audience is denied… And then there's the potential conflict of interest if someone in the marketing dept who makes those decisions also blogs… Or someone who works closely with an author could circumvent the marketing dept and ask the author directly as a personal favor…

        But like you said the possible scenarios are endless. So, I can definitely see the value in just dealing with individual situations on a case-by-case basis.
        My recent post 6 Life Lessons from the Golden Dragon Acrobats

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          The issues you raise are legitimate. We will just deal with these as they arise. Thanks for your good comments!

  • http://mikalatos.blogspot.com matt mikalatos

    #6 Most of your employees will abandon blogging after uploading three or four pictures of their kids wearing Halloween costumes, followed six months later by a post which says, "I'll be trying to post more regularly." XD

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, in that sense our employees are no different than the general population. Except for the fact that we encourage it. The ones who are regular bloggers—and we have several—are aggregated on our social media hub.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Cindy_Graves Cindy_Graves

    Agree!

    I like your opinion of bureaucracy. Life is too short to be burdened by unnecessary rules and regulations. Things like that drive me up the wall.

    These are wise words.
    My recent post The Sweet By and By, Sara Evans with Rachel Hauck

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Cindy_Graves Cindy_Graves

    Agree!

    I like your opinion of bureaucracy. Life is too short to be burdened by unnecessary rules and regulations. Things like that drive me up the wall.

    These are wise words.
    My recent post The Sweet By and By, Sara Evans with Rachel Hauck

  • http://www.richarddedor.com/blog Richard

    Mike – I absolutely agree! Our board recently passed a policy and in the discussion said the following: "We need to pass this. It's not perfect and we'll adjust it later, but this is better than nothing." Dead serious.

    I'm actually having my lawyer friend look at it because I think it's overstepping the company bounds. Who is to say next that a company can tell you what magazines you can subscribe to? What movies you can go see? To me, and I agree with you, so long as you don't identify yourself with the company brand, social media is just personal.

    Thanks for the great post.
    My recent post FOCUS: Reasons!

  • http://davidhorne.me David Horne

    reduce rules and instill standards. people often rebel against things they are told to do or not do. people are pulled to live up to standards. thanks for the post Michael
    My recent post Bring the Pain

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I think in addition, people do the right thing when they know the outcome you are after and you communicate your expectations.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/dannyjbixby dannyjbixby

    I agree entirely. I especially love the 4 sentence "policy" at the end. Brilliant.

    Question though: Do you see the same attitude as acceptable from a church's perspective? Putting a local church into the position of a company?

    I don't particularly see a difference, and think the same attitude is appropriate…but I'm curious on your take. Thanks!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I do see the same thing for churches. In fact, I almost changed the word “company” to “organization.” It was just a little more cumbersome.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lindsey_Nobles Lindsey_Nobles

    Lindsey here. I am the Corporate Communications Director at Thomas Nelson. And I wholeheartedly support our lack of social media policy.

    I think if we can't trust our people to tweet, blog, Facebook appropriately then we don't have a social media problem, we have a people problem.

    And I know that what I like, scratch that, love, about social media is getting to see many facets of a person. I want to hear about their work and their life outside work. I want to get to know them, not some polished version of themselves that has been vetted by bureaucracy.

    And I am proud to work for a company that has embraced social media. Literally a quarter of our workforce is tweeting and we have a growing number of bloggers…you can go get to know them, the real them, here: http://blogs.thomasnelson.com.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I love your quote, “I think if we can't trust our people to tweet, blog, Facebook appropriately then we don't have a social media problem, we have a people problem.” I meant to include a version of that in my post and forgot. I think it is a key point.

    • http://traceysolomon.wordpress.com traceysolomon

      Agree.

      Social media turns an organization into a movement- of individuals.

  • Jason Hoeppner

    MIchael,
    I especially identify with #5. I always tell clients to approach social media as they approach their interactions in life in general. Their (or employees) behavior should not matter "where" they are. If they are out in a public place – restaurant, bar, shopping mall, or in a virtual environment (any of the social media platforms), they should always act in a manner consistent with who they are and with the image they want portrayed.
    In a business sense the character and image of the company should be approached much in the same way. You wouldn't berate a customer on the phone, and you should not do so either on Facebook or Twitter (or if you are out with them in a public place)!
    Once folks realize that social media is just an extension (and a fabulous one) of the way we communicate, they see that the old rules should still apply.
    Regards, Jason

  • http://twitter.com/TheKeithYoung @TheKeithYoung

    Leading rather than managing (which is what a policy attempts to do) is ultimately always more effective. However, as an IT security guy I have to point out that there are risks to an organization from social media other than legal/regulatory ones. For example, read "Using Facebook to Social-Engineer a Business" at http://www.darkreading.com/blog/archives/2009/12/

    In helping organizations achieve genuine security, I find employee training and awareness to be far more useful than policies alone.

  • http://www.felicitywhite.com Felicity

    I'm not in charge of a company, but this is the kind of company culture I would love to work for! I like the idea of giving freedom but expecting responsibility – kind of sounds like good parenting. : )
    My recent post Internet, I Have Bought Your Soul For God!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      It is amazing how often parenting and plain old leading overlap.

  • http://how-to-blog.tv Derick Schaefer

    Michael,

    Great read. I'm actually speaking to the ABA on this topic this next month. I am starting to see in our client base cases where poor judgment on the Internet is starting to cost money. A recent one was an out of court settlement to avoid a class action settlement based on a single employee who sent out a single email blast that violated the CAN-SPAM act.

    What I like about your article is that it shifts the watchful eye from the vehicle of blogs and social media to where it ought to be which is communications. If it is problematic on a napkin or at the lunch table, then it isn't the fault of a social media vehicle.

    Education is key. . .not policy making!

    My recent post Google Threatens To Leave China?

  • http://twitter.com/mattdevries @mattdevries

    Great post Michael. Try explaining that to an organization entirely comprised of lawyers, though. The good news, as you highlight, is that the organization already has a policy on communications and use of organization name. Thanks again.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Come to think of it, I don’t know of any blogging lawyers. ;-)

  • Jim Thomason

    I am the Vice President of Human Resources for Thomas Nelson. When someone runs afoul of company policy I'm usually the first person who gets called. I can speak first-hand that the very few problems we've experienced with social media posts (all Twitter-related and non the result of blog entries) have been easily and peacefully addressed under existing policies. I wholeheartedly support Mike's view that companies don't need more rules and regulations, specifically regarding social media. How backward does a company look, and how much negative publicity does it receive, when it tries to regulate social media expression? It brands you as a place that young bright people don't want to work. Unfortunately there are a lot of people selling seminars on the dangers of social media and how you need a policy to control it, and that's driving freightened HR people and by-the-hour attorneys to recommend unnecessary solutions. We say keep you eye on the ball (your business) and don't get distracted trying to control blogs.

  • Scott Williams

    Back, Back, Back… It's Going, Going, Gone! Home Run! Excellent! I love the freedom in the simple policy, that you shared at the end and address other issues as they arise.

    Do you have a “phone policy”? an “email policy”? a “fax policy”? Technology is neither good nor bad.

    My recent post This Is Why Leaders Fail!

  • http://www.davidteems.com David Teems

    Your post speaks as loud to me in the subtext as it does elsewhere. It reveals an openness, an accessibility, an attainability, not to mention a contagious enthusiasm. You're not an ivory tower kind of guy, and that is both refreshing and attractive. I suspect it says something about you spiritually as well, that the God you serve is accessible, attainable, reachable, touchable. That makes him incredibly interesting.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/BrettBarner Brett Barner

    Before I started blogging and using Twitter, I would've been opposed, but now I can't agree more! Especially with #4. It's like when my sister-in-law wanted to add all these rules to a board game that we were playing.

    There should be an infograph done of the relationship of fun and rules have with each other. My guess is that the more rules added, the less fun it gets and the less the people want to be involved.
    My recent post What I Learned While On the Farm

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I’ll bet you are right about the relationship between fun and rules.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/klreed189 Kyle Reed

    Definitely agree, but to a point.
    Because of a blog post I did I was pretty much fired.
    So maybe it would have been good to have some guidelines, but to be honest what I talked about was in the guidelines it just didn't fall in line with being a white middle class republican.

    So I completely agree with you, but I also see why the guidelines are there. They have to have some stuff in writing so to be able to have rules laid out if someone crosses the line.

    Question for you: Does having a policy communicate the idea of trying to control your employees?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      No, I think you have to have some rules. (This is ultimately why I am not an anarchist—though I am tempted!) However, I think the primary purpose of the rules are to communicate expectations. I don't think they are very effective at changing behavior. If they were, crime would have gone away long ago.

      It sounds like the problem you had is that there were some rules that weren’t clearly communicated. I see this in organizations, too. It's really not fair to employees.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rmarkmoore R. Mark Moore

    I agree in principle. I love the suggested 4 line policy. However, some industries are highly regulated and in such cases it may be necessary to have a more comprehensive policy regarding the use of social media.

    I would personally rather see existing policies altered to encompass social business practices (note: did not say MEDIA), because that is where the evolution of business is headed. As you pointed out, there are numerous policies already governing the use of such practices.
    My recent post Relief for Haiti

    • http://davidbmclaughlin.com davidbmc

      My thoughts exactly. Highly regulated industries have stringent requirements that make them very open to lawsuits. I personally prefer the open concept Michael conveys here but I understand the position of the lawyers in regulated industries (insurance, etc.)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/halhunter halhunter

    I read this and was immediately reminded of the first few words of the North Point Ministries Constitution- "An imperfect system filled with men and women of integrity will function far better than a perfect system filled with men and women who lack integrity. The people we choose are as important as the system we use." This puts you in pretty good company.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I love all things North Point. That statement from their constitution is awesome.

  • Mark Burnard

    Fully agree Michael, this is really refreshing to read. Many of your points speak to the endemic and legalistic over-regulation that stifles people's enjoyment of their working environment and relationships; they can (should) be applied across other business activities in many organisations. Part of my background is YWAM, which is probably the nearest thing to your 'anarchy' that you'll find anywhere in Christian ministry… maybe they're onto something!

  • http://www.verticalmeasures.com @cliquekaila

    I'm in firm agreement with this post. It's amazing how complicated higher ups and legal departments can make their employees lives. You're right, many existing policies fall under the umbrella of social media actions, and trusting your employees to do whats right for your brand organically instead of saying so outright is better. Not only for morale but for your bottom line. Why waste the time trying to discuss in a meeting, write up several drafts of a policy, implementation of policy, and subsequently QC/monitoring that policies are in place?
    My recent post Jeramie McPeek Makes Social Predictions for 2010

  • http://twitter.com/Area224 @Area224

    Agree 800,000% – unless it's a company that monitors all of its employees' phone calls, interactions with customers on the sales floor, and bathroom breaks.

    Of course, that kind of company — the one that doesn't hire smart people and turn them loose — won't last much longer.
    My recent post The Art & Science of Twitter Success

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  • http://freesourceagency.com Nathan Egan

    Michael – While it may be unpopular or different from the majority of the comments here – I generally disagree with your assessments. They may hold true for some companies but certainly not all. For instance, many of our clients are heavily regulated and need social media policies to protect their assets, clients, etc (and YES they do have policies for answering the phone — as part of their technology adoption, one of our clients even has a mandatory 30 minute e-learning tutorial on how to use IM at work!). Another of our clients is one of the largest non-profit organizations in the world and the most important thing to them is their brand – the risk in NOT having a policy and training their people on it is simply too great!

    While I appreciate what you are trying to say, your blanket statement simply does not work for all businesses.

    Cheers,
    Nathan

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Nathan, no problem. There may be a few exceptions. I noticed, however, from you web page that one of your firm’s service offerings is “social media monitoring.” In my experience, the people primarily advocating social media policies are social media consultants.

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  • http://jouzz.com Eduardo

    Michael,_
    You are 100% right. I think the question is not anymore whether companies should embrace social media or not. It is how they can take advantage of it._
    I have worked for a few Fortune 500 companies and have seen how their employees connect among themselves in LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc., all without their employers being able to take advantage of the data they generate.
    Social media can help outbounds, as an innovative way to connect with customers and as a way of finding external talent. But it can also help inbounds, for the back office, as a way of discovering internal experts and working relationships, allowing companies to get the most out of their organization. There are already tools, like jouzz.com that allow companies to create and exploit these internal networks. I think their presence will grow in 2010 and in a few years they will be as essential as email.

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  • http://twitter.com/DarrinSearancke @DarrinSearancke

    Wow. No nonsense writing that makes perfect sense.

  • http://www.simonhay.com/ Simon Hay

    This is brilliant and refreshing. Respect and common sense. I feel that children are no longer raised with these ideals, and business and social practices are only a reflection of how we're raised. We've created a world of bureaucracy and liability, and we're paying the price. Social policy alienates expression of self, and I believe undermines self worth and productivity. Trust and honesty makes for a happy work place. Thanks for the great post, Simon.

  • Sarah

    I don't agree. Your post addresses policies from the perspective of an employer laying out what its employees can and can’t do. There’s another side to social media policies which isn’t discussed at all, and that’s a policy that outlines how the organization itself is going to conduct itself in social media. Here are some of the reasons why I disagree with you:

    - From an employee communications perspective, I believe it's helpful to have some parameters for employees so that they know what's acceptable and what's not – especially if there is the possibility that they will be punished (fired) for their behavior online. They deserve fair warning. You say that "your people can be trusted." Okay, let's say that's true. But can they trust you, their employer? One would hope so, but hoping doesn't help – and won't stand up in court – when you've lost your job because of something you wrote on Twitter, Facebook, or on a blog.

    See next comment for more….

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      First, thanks for your comments. I do appreciate them. I learn the most from people who disagree with me. So thanks.

      I try to lead by example. I find this to be far more powerful and compelling than writing up a policy that few people will read any way. With regard to trust, as a leader, I believe I have to go first. I can’t expect my people to trust me if I don’t trust them. I think if you have a culture like you have described, you don’t have a social media problem, you have a culture problem.

      We have never fired someone for what they have said on Twitter, Facebook, or a blog, nor would we. Now someone might get fired for revealing confidential information, but that has nothing to do with social media or any specific technology they used. To me, it all comes back to the behavior verses the medium they chose to misbehave in.

      I guess it goes without saying, but my experience is not theoretical. We are making this work in a company with a workforce of some 500 people. We have been doing this for six years with regard to blogging and two years with regard to Twitter and Facebook. Maybe we are the exception, but I don’t think so. I have never met an employee yet who said, “you know what we really need around here is more bureaucracy” or “another section in our employee handbook.”

      Thanks again.

  • Sarah

    Continued, why I disagree:
    - While it may be true that some companies/organizations have other policies that cover the same things that an SM policy does, it's not true across the board. Our policies support and enhance one another. We could review them all and just have one that encompasses everything, as you say your company does. (And, yes, we do have policies about use of e-mail as well as the phones – personal calls, e.g. – while on company time). But, honestly, it was less time-consuming to write a new one that was specific to SM and that references our other policies.

    - Ours was an inclusive process. We involved all of our employees (granted, we're a small, privately-owned PR firm, so it was a relatively simple process for us) in the development of our policy. Our policy is stronger and more helpful to our company (and in the work we do for our clients) because of the input of our employees.

    See next comment for more….

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      If a company doesn’t have policies that cover these behaviors, I would respectfully submit that they need to work on that first. The technology can—and will—change. For example, have you developed a Google Wave policy? These technologies are only going to cycle more quickly as we move into the future. Just when you get one nailed down, another will spring up. I just think the behavioral policies transcend the media and make them easier to administer.

      I believe in fewer rules, less bureaucracy, and more freedom in the workplace. I believe my colleagues are happier for it.

  • Sarah Rasmussen

    Continued, why I disagree:
    - For those companies that are just venturing into social media, the process of discussing internally how they will conduct themselves in SM – whether it be on an individual, employee-level basis or as the company itself – can be extremely valuable. Going through the motions of answering questions – such as when and how are we going to respond to negative comments on our Facebook page, how are we going to manage our accounts, who is responsible for responding to comments, what will we disclose re. our client relationships, etc. – can be extremely beneficial.

    My view of a social media policy is that it shouldn't only dictate what employees can or can't do. It should outline how you, the company, are going to conduct yourself within the social media space. For me, and in my experience, it goes hand in hand with entering the space on a strategic level rather than jumping in without thinking, and should be part of the initial planning process.

    I’ll be talking about these topics in Denver later this month at the Mile High Social Media Club: http://bit.ly/6XNODP

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      This part I agree with. I think it is very helpful to discuss how you are going to use these media in the marketplace. However, this is not a policy decision that you check off your list and move on. It's a conversation. By it’s nature, it has to be, because it is constantly evolving.

      Thanks again for your comments. You made me think!

  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    I agree with you 100%. Also think that the landscape has changed. I can understand the apprehension years ago when blogging was first taking off but the digital world has evolved. Even though Blogger A may be employed by Company X and known by his/her position at that company, I think most people understand the separation of MY thoughts versus SPEAKING ON BEHALF OF THE COMPANY. Sure, if Blogger A says something way out of line there could be ramifications but that's very unlikely to be of great impact unless it's someone on the leadership team saying something totally stupid. :)
    My recent post DanielDecker: Going to hang out with Amish people in Sarasota FLA this weekend. :)

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  • http://twitter.com/irishgirl @irishgirl

    Great post. Our company's social media policy is stated simply as, "Don't be stupid."

    You are absolutely right on (and this is something I see so many companies forget) that there are policies that govern the sort of behavior they worry so much about. I hear people ask all the time, "What if employees spend all day on Facebook?" Uh, well…that would be stupid. Also, they wouldn't be doing their job, in which case you have a process in place for dealing with people who don't do their jobs. You write them up. You fire them.

    Okay, so yeah. We agree on that!

    Where I disagree is in that there are small, but existent, cases where regular policies don't cover social media. In our case, we've added two social media-specific guidelines for employees:
    1. We don't allow employees to reach out and connect with clients via social networks. We don't want to put our clients in a position they may feel awkward about. If clients reach out to connect to an employee, the employee can choose whether or not to accept the connection.
    2. We don't allow employees to check in to our office building on Foursquare. We'd like a client, vendor or friend of the company to hold the Mayorship. ;)

    So far, that's it as far as the specific stuff we've felt the need to define.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

    Very thoughtful post , Michael. Working for a K-12 school district, we have an acceptable use policy that every student/parent must sign before they can access the internet. This policy, along with web filtering software, works pretty well. As a rule, social media sites are blocked to students, but some teachers have blogs and the district has a page on Twitter for emergencies and district updates.
    I wonder what your viewpoint would be concerning social media access/policy in schools and universities?

    P.S. Still problems commenting from work on Intense Debate
    My recent post Take It Up A Notch

  • http://twitter.com/allenkenya @allenkenya

    Great post! (Now, let's see, how do I write a policy about trust and freedom? LOL.) It makes sense for an organization or a company to outline expectations for behaviour, information sharing, confidentiality, customer service, etc. and let those apply to all the ways that the employee represents the organization or company. Then, deal with the cases where those expectations are not followed.
    My recent post Look, Ma — No Wires!

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  • http://www.stefanhaensch.de Stefan Hänsch

    Thank's a lot for the great article. We have the same dsicussion in church right now. It's really true, when you say: "No, I am not hopelessly naive: I know some people misbehave. But why punish the many because of the few?" So I'm encouraged to go forward and challenge our leaders to do the same!
    My recent post wirkungsvoll TEAMS leiten

  • http://www.srhinkingthecamel.com Bradley J. Moore

    Most companies that are not in media/communications ( like the one I work for) don't even allow employees access to blogs on the internet to begin with – so not much blogging is going on here. Therefore we don't have to worry about a policy! This is probably another conversation altogether, but we don't want employees to be distracted from work with personal internet/social media, so it gets the kabosh. My question is, should companies restrict employees' use of internet? Is it a detrtactor from productivity?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      It can hurt productivity, but it is also a wonderful research tool. I think this is a case where training is a much better alternative to deny access. That seems draconian to me—even paranoid.

  • http://workingonstep2.blogspot.com/ Doug Brockway

    This is, for all practical purposes correct. A Social Media policy really needn't do more than remind people that what they communicate, orally or electronically, falls under certain rules or propriety. The technology, per se, should not be an issue. The question is not whether you want a Social Media policy. Its whether you want to tightly control the company's message, its every utterance, or you want your employees to feel and act as if they are part of an adult, market-engaged and publicly-engaged enterprise.

    There is some aspect of an insistence on Social Media policies that is echoed by the demands for an ROI from Social Media. Nay-sayers and/or those still getting comfortable with the idea use the request for the policy or the ROI as a way to "kick the ball down the road."

    I would ask either group to answer David Meerman Scott's Four Questions (see my blog on that) and then, paraphrasing Braveheart, ask the question, "What are you going to do without your [Social Media]!"

    Doug Brockway
    My recent post Social Media Marketing Stands at the Chasm

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I agree: this is often a way to kick the can down the road, so you don’t have to deal with it.

  • http://workingonstep2.blogspot.com/ Doug Brockway

    This is, for all practical purposes correct. A Social Media policy really needn't do more than remind people that what they communicate, orally or electronically, falls under certain rules or propriety. The technology, per se, should not be an issue. The question is not whether you want a Social Media policy. Its whether you want to tightly control the company's message, its every utterance, or you want your employees to feel and act as if they are part of an adult, market-engaged and publicly-engaged enterprise.

    There is some aspect of an insistence on Social Media policies that is echoed by the demands for an ROI from Social Media. Nay-sayers and/or those still getting comfortable with the idea use the request for the policy or the ROI as a way to "kick the ball down the road."

    I would ask either group to answer David Meerman Scott's Four Questions (see my blog on that) and then, paraphrasing Braveheart, ask the question, "What are you going to do without your [Social Media]!"

    Doug Brockway
    My recent post Social Media Marketing Stands at the Chasm

  • insidetimshead

    Very much agree! We started a student blogging project a few years ago, and it took longer than it should because people were afraid of what they'd say. My response: You trust students to give tours? Answer phones? Appear in public? It's a shame that institutions of higher learning sometimes let distrust shade what they want to do: We should be the industry leading the nation in creating trustworthy people.

  • Sean Fitz

    Linked to this on one of my blogs. Excellent

  • http://blogs.forrester.com/marketing/ Augie Ray

    Interesting approach, Michael. I disagree with it, but I find it interesting!

    My feeling is that Social Media is new, and while you and I may understand it deeply–the power, the risks, the nuances–most people do not. Right now, people are losing their jobs for posting and tweeting things, and companies are stumbling into problems because they haven't defined what is and isn't expected.

    If we agree that Social Media changes communication and employees' roles in important ways, then I think it stands to reason that existing company policies must change to reflect this. Perhaps in five years there will be no need for special Social Media employee policies and education, but at this particular inflection point, I think it's wise for companies to help employees understand the expectations, guidelines and rules for Social Media.

    Thanks for the thoughts!

    My recent post Social Media's Impact on B2B Marketing Budgets?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Augie. I appreciate your insight. I also have tremendous respect for your company (Forrester).

      I would like to see documentation for anyone losing their job because of a blog post or social media snafu. Perhaps some exist, but I still believe that the underlying reason had nothing to do with the technology and everything to do with what was communicated. It would have likely gotten them fired in any context.

      Thanks again.

      • http://ExperienceTheBlog.com Augie Ray

        The employer would've benefited by being forced to consider the new environment. Drinking photos–bad if shared with students in the classroom but what about on Twitter and Facebook? Expletives? Comments about school security? What's in and out? Do they really want to evaluate every parent complaint one by one?

        Secondly, employees would've benefit by understanding new rules for the social media road. Should teachers follow students? In the "old days," there were rules about contact between students & teachers, but do these apply in Facebook & Twitter? Should teachers all find out for themselves what is right or wrong in Social Nets?

        I just don't think we can say "Social Media changes everything" (and it does and will) and at the same time say "But all your existing policies and procedures are fine as they are."
        My recent post Social Media is the New Super Bowl: Pepsi Refresh and What It Means to Marketers

  • http://blogs.forrester.com/marketing/ Augie Ray

    Michael,

    I'm a fan of your blog (but first time posting).

    Here's an example: http://www.myfoxphoenix.com/dpp/news/national/tea

    A teacher was fired because a "a parent complained about a (vacation) picture of her holding a drink in her hand." (Other reports indicate she posted an expletive.)

    This case demonstrates the benefits of Social Media policies both to employers and employees: (See next comment–your blog wouldn't let me post this because it's too long.)
    My recent post Social Media's Impact on B2B Marketing Budgets?

    • Jim Thomason

      Chances are the school did not have a social media policy. It found its existing policies sufficient to deal with the behavior it found unacceptable. Whether or not that action was fair or legal is something I can't tell as we don't have nearly all the facts we need to know what happened. Does her teaching contract say no public consumption of alcohol? Does it say that she must be a positive role model even in her off-hours? The combination of (a) she drank and (b) that drinking was made public enough to be found by a parent is not dependent upon any technology. She could have had the same outcome had she had a beer at a baseball game and been seen by this same parent. This is the point of our lack of social media restrictions: it is the behavior and not the technology that is actionable, and the employer's work rules handle the matter without the downside of social media policy restrictions. That's our philosophy and we haven't experienced issues with it to date.

  • http://panamericanbank.blogspot.com Jesse Torres

    I agree that companies need to empower their employees and companies by opening themselves up to blogging and other social media tools.

    I am the CEO of a community bank in Los Angeles. Blogging has given me the opportunity to express the “personal” side of the business.

    Unfortunately, as a regulated enterprise, we are required to maintain formal written advertising policies as well as appropriate use policies. What I have done is expanded the appropriate use policy to include common sense language that is more of a training/primer on social media than anything else. I actually took this primer info and packaged it last December in the Community Banker’s Guide to Social Network Marketing (http://www.tinyurl.com/cbgsnm). It’s a free download. Bankers can use it to train employees and then let them loose.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Jesse Torres
    President and CEO
    Pan American Bank
    Los Angeles, CA

  • Jim Kenney

    Michael,

    great common-sense post. this is information we can use in my company.

  • Brent Blackburn

    Great post – as I'm wrangling with a policy and guidelines I can't agree more about trying to retain the 'fun' that has made social media so successful outside the workplace!

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/miller_schloss Becky Miller

    This is fantastic. I wish more companies would develop this kind of trust in their employees. I have never worked for a company that expected the best of its employees like TN does.

    I like this kind of post, and I think it is very good for TN, because reading this makes me think, "I want to work for TN!" (Even though I am not looking for a job nor do I live in Nashville…it's that appealing!)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/miller_schloss Becky Miller

    This is fantastic. I wish more companies would develop this kind of trust in their employees. I have never worked for a company that expected the best of its employees like TN does.

    I like this kind of post, and I think it is very good for TN, because reading this makes me think, "I want to work for TN!" (Even though I am not looking for a job nor do I live in Nashville…it's that appealing!)

  • http://twitter.com/LMilesW @LMilesW

    Can I come and work for you? It is extremely refreshing to hear a CEO talk like this. It reminds me of an article I read a long time ago about a company that got rid of time cards and let the managers keep tabs on whether the employees were there or not and deal with the few that were problems. Productivity went up and paperwork went down. The same goes here. Trust your employees and I believe they will respond positively. You certainly won't convince everyone especially those whose jobs rely on writing policies but maybe a few more will be won over to "the other side". Thanks again.

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  • http://blog.agencypja.com Robert Davis

    Michael – great post, and I'd say #5 is the "money" point. Social media isn't so special – as I see it, it's just an exceptionally transparent form of brand behavior, and as such, well-covered by broader behavioral guidelines such as those you have at Thomas Nelson for personal conduct. (Just as, in the future, we'll be less likely to have "social media experts" and "social media agencies" – and more likely to have integrated these public behaviors into our daily lives without such distinctions.
    My recent post This Week in Social Media

  • http://www.InsuranceGo2Guy.com Dan Weedin

    Good article Michael. Ironically, I am finishing a book proposal on this very topic. I'm a risk management consultant and I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to not only social media, but the Internet. A recent project with a major insurance company has inspired me to help corporations and small businesses to manage their risk simply and effectively, while maximizing their communications. We agree in principle on much. I do believe that the issues to need to be raised, communicated with employees, and written down. It doesn't need to be fancy, but it does need to exist.

  • http://www.beachmarketing.co.uk Steve Bishop

    Absolutely spot on with your comments! The days of draconian control of employees is long gone. It is about results delivered and not time served! Encourage and enthuse staff and they will respond. Try to control and it demotivates beyond belief. I know so many people in corporate jobs who hate the boundaries that are put up around them. Social media is cool and the technology allows tracking anyway so trust the people in your business to do the right thing and funnily enough that's usually what they end up doing!

    Your thoughts are welcomed!

    http://www.beachmarketing.co.uk

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  • http://www.pokethebeehive.com Dan Hutson

    Great post, Michael. If you replace "social media policy" with "communication policy," I think you begin to see what's wrong with the premise. I see this largely as a trust issue. You may trust your employees to do the right thing, but do you really TRUST them? And have you made the right hiring decisions that have led to an organization where trust is less of a concern? If you have a culture that truly values people for the skills, talents and personal traits they bring to the organization, and you have the right employees on board, then everyone knows what's appropriate in both communication and other behavior. Violations of the culture stick out and are easily addressed.

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  • http://www.andrewpmoore.com Andrew P Moore

    When I first was approached with a client wanting to do social media- I told them.. "Be Careful!" I told them that they needed to create a unified approach to the brand they were displaying online. Now that I consider your position- I believe a loose set of guidelines may be the best way to help clients proceed. I am curious about thoughts on a unified message? How does a company keep its brand intact?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      In a word: education. If you can’t get the message across to your own employees, what chance do you have in the marketplace? Thanks.

  • Jeff Johnson

    Agree. L O V E the Libertarian/anarchist quote.

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  • http://www.elsbethvaino.com Elsbeth Vaino

    Great points. For me the two key elements are trusting your employees but also making sure they understand the corporate guidelines and messaging in which they work. In fact I would go so far as to suggest that companies/managers/executives who feel a need for a strong social marketing policy are insecure in their leadership and in their operations. If they run their organization well and hire and continue to nurture good people, then social media presents nothing but opportunity.
    My recent post Dynamic warmup for skiing

  • http://www.drinknectar.com @nectarwine

    Totally disagree. Company I work for has and needs a phone, email, etc policy for security, marketing consistency, etc. A company without a consistent social media policy will find themselves with divergent messages that only confuse the customer.

  • Dave Giberson

    Thank you so much Mr. Hyatt! It is rare to find such a refreshing blast of sanity in my Twitter stream first thing in the morning. I am fondly reminded of a treasured mentor who advised me to "make as few rules as possible; you will have to enforce the ones you make or be held in contempt". I hope your employees realize how fortunate they are to be subject to such an enlightened view of management. Do you consult on this topic? I can think of several organiztions that would benefit! :-)

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  • http://www.chriszaugg.com Chris Zaugg

    A phenomenal post. I am the director of a small organization….100 or so. I only have 10 fingers and 10 toes, thereby disqualifying me from being the "Little Dutch Boy" plugging every conceivable gap in my organization. Instead, we have some basic HR guidelines that serve the "big" stuff, and we trust our people. And you know what…it works pretty well! Thanks for the post, Michael!
    My recent post Balloons or golf balls: An analogy for leaders

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  • http://traceysolomon.wordpress.com traceysolomon

    agree. also a huge issue is creating a restrictive social media policy after a social media catastrophe.

    I've watched it happen- it throws the baby out with the bath water.

    Accountability? Absolutely. Every employee needs to know that their "social media footprints" could be CSI investigated at any moment. If you shouldn't say it- post it do it don't.

    But, for pete's sake if someone DOES- don't steal the potential connection/ revenue/ brand awareness/ ministry our from under those who don't.

    (it's possible this is a touchy issue for me at the moment. )

  • http://twitter.com/techcommdood Bill Swallow

    Very well-said. As a leader, I too have noticed that people generally aren’t miscreants and will do the right thing. I also have found that if they know you hold that expectation (through seeing your actions), they are also more inclined to ask (usually excellent) questions about appropriateness and offer solutions to tricky situations.

    I fortunately escaped Big Corporate America before the social policies started becoming hip. Through others, I’ve seen a former employer implement one and then replace it with soft guidelines, for the very reason you offer: it crippled anyone’s ability or interest to blog.

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