Twitter, Employees And The Controversial Social Media Policy

Further evidence of Twitter’s growing power and influence emerged this week with a flurry of announcements from well known organizations.

Twitter, Employees And The Controversial Social Media Policy

The U.S. military, the NFL, the U.S. Open, the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal have all issued statements that attempt to control the way their employees use social media sites, including Twitter.

Loss Of Control

There’s a growing sense among these organizations that they’re losing control of the information flow that surrounds their activities. These statements are an attempt to regain some of the control that has been lost thanks to the democratization of the web. Further evidence of this trend is provided by the 20% increase in the number of firms blocking social media sites in the workplace.

The growing number of companies that have issued social media policies that explicitly proscribe certain behavior has generated a heated debate on the use of social media by employees. For example, a recent post on the Mashable website regarding the social media policy used by Associated Press has led to a range of diverse opinions.

Blurring Of The Divide

Due to the blurring of the divide between private and professional caused by social media, this is an extremely difficult issue to address.

From the viewpoint of the company, if nothing is done, there is the potential for damage to the organization’s reputation and trade secrets. On the other hand, if their social media policy is regarded as being overly intrusive, it has the potential to create a PR disaster.

Social Media Policy

As the social media policy produced by Associated Press has been described as moderate, let’s examine what it covers.

The memo begins by stating that they don’t want to prevent the use of social media “as a personal and professional tool, but expects employees to bear in mind how their actions might reflect on the AP.”

This gives a strong indication that the underlying aim of this policy is to protect the reputation of the AP brand.

The general AP social media policy requires that “Employees must identify themselves as being from the AP if they are using the networks for work in any way.”

It continues by stating that “Posting material about the AP’s internal operations is prohibited on employees’ personal pages”. This part of the policy is perfectly understandable and most people would agree with it.

However, the first part could be seen as objectionable. Don’t AP employees have the right to network online in their own time for the sake of their professional development and future employment prospects? Isn’t that a right of all employees in all industries?

But this AP policy requires employees to identify themselves as such when they use social media for the purposes of work. And once they state that they work for AP, the policy requirements become even more onerous.

Another area that the AP policy seeks to control is the information that employees allow to be posted on their social media page. The policy reads “It’s a good idea to monitor your profile page to make sure material posted by others doesn’t violate AP standards; any such material should be deleted.”

It’s one thing for AP to believe that they have the right to tell their employees what they can post on their social networking pages, but telling employees that they’re responsible for the things that other people post is a step too far.

Take Twitter for example, what does an AP employee do if someone sends them an @ reply containing content that violates AP standards?

It’s not possible to delete tweets posted by other Twitter users, so this part of the policy directly conflicts with the general aim of not preventing the use of social media.

Is AP suggesting that their employees don’t use Twitter?

By extending their policy into the realms of holding employees liable for the actions of other people, AP has shown the world that it doesn’t understand social media. And it could be argued that this does more damage to their reputation than any unsolicited comment by a faceless user of a social network.

Taking the point further, let’s assume that an AP employee has a Facebook page. On that page they mention that they work for AP. Someone else posts a message that violates AP standards.

The AP rules require that such content is removed by the employee, presumably because it could tarnish the reputation of either the employee or the company.

But compare this situation with a live networking event that an AP employee attends. A scene develops and it ends with the other person making a comment that violates the AP standards. It is overheard by most of the room (who may then subsequently spread the experience across their online social accounts).

Is AP suggesting that employees avoid live social networking events in case someone says something to them that the company doesn’t like?

In the real world, most right-thinking people will assess the comment and promptly dismiss it as having been made by a crank. Why should it be any different when the comments appear online?

The difference? Too many people still appear to hold an “it’s on the internet so it must be true” attitude. But removal suggests censorship, which suggests that they have something to hide, which lowers the reputation and integrity of both employee and company.

If AP wants to maintain the integrity of both their company and their employees, shouldn’t it also require positive, supportive posts to be removed, because equally that may not be true?

And surely it’s impossible to maintain your integrity as a journalist while being so biased when selecting which comments to allow.

One suspects that AP has conveniently overlooked this issue due to their desire to gain the enormous advantages of fast, direct communication with millions of people and all the associated promotional benefits.

Perhaps it would be better to leave all comments (which will probably be cached and available from Google before the employee has a chance to delete them), post an appropriate response and trust the rest of the internet community to apply some real-world perspective to the comments. Crank comments will be seen for what they are; lacking in any real credibility. For anything worse than a negative opinion, the existing laws of libel, slander and defamation are still available to AP.

Do you agree with the Associated Press policy on the use of social media by employees? How far do you think these policies should extend? Should employers have the right to control the way that their employees use social media? Let us know what you think below.

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3 comments ↓

#1 Adam on 10.03.09 at 8:20 PM

As a news agency I guess they are paranoid that their reporters would slip out a piece of breaking news over Twitter or FB before it went out officially. As an employee I would hate having anyone controlling my use of Social media. However on the other hand, if I was the business owner or top management, I would definitely put some guidelines in - though not as extreme as AP’s.
Adam´s last blog ..Top Entrecard droppers for October 2009 My ComLuv Profile

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