Social Media Policy – Part 1 – Organizational Culture

One of the key items to consider when developing a social media policy is the value that the organization’s leadership places on the use of social media. This value system regarding social media will largely determine how the organization resolves issues with its employees’ use of social media. Broadly speaking, organizations can be divided based on three types of views of social media: those that widely support usage, those that restrict usage, and those that fall somewhere in the middle. The following chart illustrates the view of social media by such organization types.


In the Middle


  • The organization supports employee use of social media for both personal and work-related issues.
  • The organization places very few, if any, restrictions on the use of social media.
  • These organizations vary from organizations that are supportive of employee use of social media, with mild restrictions and well defined guidelines.
  • The majority of organizations fall somewhere in this category.
  • The organization restricts use of social media tools for both personal and work-related issues.
  • The organization blocks access to social media websites on the organization’s system.

An example of a supportive organization is Zappos because the organization adopted an official Twitter policy that requires employees to “just be real and use your best judgment.” An example of a restrictive organization is the U.S. Marine Corp, which has banned all access to social media websites on the organization’s computer system. The Mayo Clinic, IBM, and Intel are examples of “in the middle” organizations because these organizations allow employees to use social media websites to discuss work-related issues, but the organizations have set clear guidelines as to what actions are, or are not, appropriate when discussing organizational business.

So what is your organizations culture? Is this a good starting point? What would you add to this topic?

Cross post from my blog at http://sleepisoptional.wordpress.com/2009/10/28/social-media-policy-part-1-organizational-culture/

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Kerry Amanda Peachey

Interesting post. Speaking from an Australian perspective, my organisation does allow you to access some social media tools but the official guidelines for using it are a bit unclear. There are some stand alone computers but these are not really the place for ‘personal’ use of tools such as Facebook etc. There have been some guidelines issued for personal use of SM tools at home i.e. what you should/should not put on etc but I am not sure how this will be enforced. Perhaps some internal monitoring is taking place!? Considering where your organisation fits is always a good place to start when considering the issue of social media.

Shawn Humphrey

It’s very strange to have my leadership and organization fully supportive of social media, but to have that access restricted at the same time. We’ve been gradually working to receive exemptions to a Facebook block through IT- the approvals are slow-going. Meanwhile, leadership are fully behind the effort and discuss social media at nearly every function, at every level. So we’re getting there, but very gradually.


In an interesting trend I’m seeing in government is that vast differences within agencies. So for example an agency like Coast Guard may have a really robust social media presence but internally actually block social media sites. I think over the next 12-18 months these differences will converge as more agencies move to the middle.

Patrick Quinn

The State of Kansas is a little bit schizophrenic about social media access. Facebook and MySpace are blocked across the state system, but Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Flickr are all accessible. (GovLoop, interestingly, falls somewhere in-between. The site is accessible from computers on the agency network, and the pages served are half-functional, but they appear in scrambled formats stripped of most images and lack interactivity.)

Like Steve, I think this problem–and it is a problem–is self-correcting over time. The root of most agency objections to SM sites is the fear that access to such sites will permit employees to fritter away their day responding to “What Kind of Fish Are You?” polls on Fb. And that’s a legitimate concern–but employees likely to do so are probably already frittering away their day somewhere else. The management challenge is real but overstated.

It’s also important to recognize that this is a two-way street. When task-oriented agency leadership asks, “What are the benefits of allowing access to these sites?”, it’s not sufficient to respond with,”Facebook will change the world!” So far, the burden of making the SM case to agency leadership falls entirely on forward-thinking staff–the people on GovLoop, basically–but at some point the SM providers themselves need to put together a coherent case for integrating their services into government operations. “You can hook up with old friends from high school!” isn’t getting it done.

Beverly Thames

My county blocks access to all social media. I am in the process of writing a policy for departments who want a social media presence. I have dared to suggest amending the current e-mail policy to allow access to social media sites with the same prescription — 15 min 2x a day on breaks.

Meanwhile, our HR department is plunging ahead with a Facebook page to recruit Gen Y even though we have a hiring freeze and they rarely update their Web site. This is the same department that blocked an internal employee forum because it was too risky. Go figure.

Rusty Lacy

The state government where I work is slowly getting into social networking. Our department of transportation sends out tweets about road construction. My department is getting ready to use Twitter to tell constituents about reports that are being released. There is still some uneasiness about people using any social networking sites while at work.

Craig Thomler

My experience from Australia is that there is still a great deal of organisational confusion over social media access.

Despite a central policy that supports online participation by public servants and agencies, a number are still in the process of determining the specific guidelines applicable to their needs – many seeing themselves as unique. Some agencies block access to social networking and other sites technically, however do not maintain similar technical controls over other channels, such as telephones. Some allow access but have policies in place that block usage, in at least one case involving directives specifically issued by the Secretary (CEO equivalent). YouTube and similar video sites are often blocked on bandwidth grounds, although the amount of testing conducted to verify whether there is an access risk varies.

Some sites are, or will shortly, become inaccessible because of a mandated IE6 policy despite the technology being 8-years old. This also, in some cases, challenges the ability for agencies to develop presences on social media in ways that are usable for the majority of their audiences – who use more modern web browsers.

At the same time there is massive interest in using social media to engage the community. The Internet is now the most used medium in Australia amongst the 80-90% of the population who use the Internet on a regular basis.

This is leading to greater expenditure on external agencies rather than building inhouse expertise and various workarounds for staff using personal or specially purchased equipment and Internet accounts to work around tehnical and policy-based staff access issues.

The trend towards access but with management controls is fairly clear, however there are strong rear-guard actions being fought by pockets of senior and middle management who do not share a view that access will provide benefits – and in many cases; in respect to their current KPIs; they are correct.

So while the different classifications for organisations suggested are correct in the broader sense, factors such as culture, management goals and familiarity with technology lead to a much more complex and schizophrenic situation across and within agencies.

I see this as being part of the broader transitions occurring – the shift from Baby Boomer to Gen X senior management, the changing economic, political and geographic structures and the evolution of technology.

Growing pains so to speak. Soon over, but painful at the time.

Robert Giggey

Hi Brian, was wondering what the results would look like if you added another axis to your illustration and plotted organizational knowledge/understanding about social media. You think you would get an correlation where the higher the knowledge the more open and would those end up more in the middle.

Patrick: we had the same issue with GovLoop here. I was successful in getting the website unblocked for everybody in the organization, but b/c the style sheets come from a ning.com domain they were blocked and so the site looked horrible, and of course lost some functionality. We haven’t been able to figure out how to solve it without unblocking all “social networking and personal” (websense category) websites for the entire organization (that’s the plan but much harder politically to get done). If anyone else has a suggestion on how to fix that would be great!

Here we have had lots of experiments with external social media use and very limited internal use. Social Networking sites are blocked by standard, but staff can request access (with a senior managers approval). Many don’t bother trying.

Dean Turner

The opinion on entry into the Social Media environment continues to generate debate. We now have a blog which is being used to interact with the community on how we progress developments on the corporate website. We also have a Twitter account which is being used currently to promote activities in the electronic enviroment where feedback and ideas from citizens are gratefully received.

I would classify our involvement as softly-softly, but with a strong underlying group of staff pushing hard to move towards stronger ties to the community through these media channels.

Kevin Lanahan

Missouri Department of Conservation is in-between. We have blocks in place for Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and others (including GovLoop), but they can be overriden. What’s most interesting is that, since social networks share a lot of resources (Flickr gets in everywhere), I find a lot of sites display only partial information.

For instance, if I go to GovLoop and the CSS from Ning is blocked, I can go to Ning, click through the filter, and the pages get styled. If I don’t have any icons in Twitter, I can go to Flickr, click through the web filter warning, and I can see the user icons.

We are currently redesigning our website and are incorporating Flickr and Twitter into our pages. We will hear howls from internal staff who will not see the feeds because they are blocked. Eventually our web filters will change to allow these sites to go through unblocked.

We have also set up a “social media group” that can pretty much go anywhere on the web (although we have to click through some warnings from WebSense). This has helped us keep up with what others are doing in Facebook and other platforms.