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Social Media Policy - Part 7 - Commenting and Posting on Topics Related to Work

In addition to personal use of social media tools generally, employees may participate in and comment on discussions, news stories, blog posts, etc. that deal with topics related to the organization. The organization should consider how such interaction using social media tools might impact the organization. In addressing this issue, the organization should consider whether and under what circumstances employees’ use of social media tools to respond to topics, such as blog posts, related to the organization may be appropriately constrained; or should the organization leave its concerns in this area to the general common sense discretion of its employees?

What is the best policy for an organization in this case? Should organization say anything about indirectly work related issues? Or should the organizations rely on the best judgment of employees?

Cross post from my blog at - http://sleepisoptional.wordpress.com/2009/11/14/social-media-policy-part-7-commenting-and-posting-on-topics-related-to-work/

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Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

My sense is that organizations need to have something spelled out, even if it's a simple phrase or a question that guides their online interactions, such as "Does this comment advance our mission to [insert mission here]?" I was on TSA's Evolution of Security the other day and looked like some of their agents were responding to blog comments...would be curious to know if they were acting as officials representatives of TSA or simply invested in their job and wanting to contribute and bring value/insight/experience to the dialogue. If the latter, how does TSA handle it? May be a great case study...

Profile Photo Scott Horvath

If you're going to comment on a blog post, or other site/service, and you're doing so by saying that you work for "x" then you need to be very cognizant of you say. Even if you don't say you're with company "x" then you should still be aware of your relationship between your company and the topic you're discussing. There's definitely some gray area. I don't think you can write a policy that covers every possible scenario in which an employee would respond to something, so evaluating your responses on a case by case basis is the way to go. However, you can certainly give some guidelines on the general types of things you should and shouldn't say (i.e. - sensitive information).

But, what's also important is training your employees on the sorts of things that you should and shouldn't say or do. For example, I just saw an article from HowStuffWorks about 10 things you shouldn't say on social networks (with regards to person information for most). Training your employees to think about things such as those items listed is a good start. Training them about certain topics within your organization that are sensitive making sure they don't misrepresent the views of the organization is also good advice to give.

We're all still new to social media an although we can try and plan possible scenarios on how things might work out years from now with regards to our comments today...reality is we won't know till we get there and something happens.

Profile Photo Barb Chamberlain

In addition to the question about posting at all, there's also the question of when/whether to identify oneself directly as an employee of an agency when you do comment.

In general, if I'm commenting about communication practices--my profession--I don't specify my title unless it's directly relevant (for example, if I'm commenting on something about how higher ed handles a topic).

If I'm commenting specifically about my institution or a policy that affects us, I use my full title and provide a link to the institutional web site. I'm a public employee and need to be very transparent about who I am--I'm not just any old citizen, I'm someone in a position to know additional information or provide extra insight. My title provides not only transparency in this instance, but also credibility.

If we all think "What will the reaction be if they find out later I work for this agency?" that probably works pretty well as a rule of thumb for when to include title/agency. If there would be an outcry that you were somehow misleading people by "hiding" where you work--for example, if you appear to be steering a conversation on a topic germane to your agency--you'd better state it up front.

@BarbChamberlain

Profile Photo Brian Gryth

Thanks for the great comments.

Identifying ones-self as an employee is a big issue and I think the jury is out on how to handle that issue. I cover it in Part 4 of this series. I know that the Mayo clinic, Sun, Intel, IBM, and others cover the identification issue in their social media policies/guidelines.

What drove this post was the idea of responding to a blog post related to your organization, but not related directly to your duties. For instance, I work in the Business Division of the Colorado Dept of State. So comments and posts related to corporate filings and such are work related, but what if I want to respond to a comment or post about an elections issue? A topic clearly related to the Elections Division of the Co Dept of State, but not related to my duties. This topic raises many practical and legal issues, like the 1st amendment.

As Scott and many others have suggested, in previous comments, training and good guidelines are critical. And in some ways more important that a social media policy.

Thanks for the info on the TSA blog Andrew.