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Approaches to Social Media Policies

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Lance Michalson

“What is social media?

Wikpedia defines social media as “media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable communication techniques. Social media is the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue.” See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_media.

It is therefore a method of communicating by anyone using web-based and mobile technologies and includes:

Social media v industrial media v new media

Social media is different to “industrial media” which refers to professionally produced radio program and TV.

Moreover, the words “social media” and “new media” are often used interchangeably.  They are different.  “New media” is a form of communicating in the digital world which includes publishing on CD-ROM, DVD and most significantly, the Internet.  It implies the use of desktop and laptop computers as well as wireless, handheld devices.

Social media policies

A social media policy is a document which sets out the company’s views on social media.

There are different approaches to social media policies:

  • guidelines of principles based approach (for example Coca-Cola whose approach is based on the core values of the company, their expectations of their associates’ personal behaviour in the social media arena (those who speak “about” the company) and their expectations of their people (who speak “on behalf of” the company).
  • “big stick” approach (for example the Commonwealth Bank in Australia)
  • educational, regulatory and framework based approach (advocated by Paul Jacobson) where these three elements are wrapped up into one social media policy.
  • A hybrid approach (our approach) which is a combination of the Coca-Cola and Jacobson approach with a twist (as explained below).

Does one actually need a standalone social media policy?

Before we explain our hybrid approach, a company must ask whether it needs a standalone Social Media Policy or whether it should form part of an existing policy?

The “standalone v existing policy” debate resurfaces every time the next major wave of technology hits the workplace.  A similar debate arose a few years ago when memory sticks and portable hard drives became more commonly available and used in the workplace: did one need a specific “Portable Media Storage Policy” or would the issues arising from the use of memory sticks and portable hard drives form part of a company’s existing Information Security Policy.

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