Fix the problem, not the symptoms. The death of the ‘Social Media Policy’

Female nurse Cecile Dumas bathes and dresses workman Tom Heard's eye at the Arvida Aluminum Company of Canada
Patching the problem

I know, it’s a tried and true statement, but I was reading this piece on BoingBoing about a Policeman in the States who was demoted for making one of those crappy videos from Xtranormal, the full story is Cops in trouble for xtranormal caroon, police dep. claims their YouTube video amounts to ‘cyberstalking’ . Essentially, he was making a video (with a colleague) about how difficult/arduous/painful it is dealing with SCORE (South Correctional Entity). It’s not the cyberstalking angle which caught my attention, but the fact the guy was demoted for voicing an opinion in a public forum

I’m a bit fan of the use of social networks (no shit!), even at work. I believe that companies should be relaxed about their employees using social networks and the only contraints around them should be around company IP and, basically, not giving away company secrets. The rest of the rules should be thrown away. Employees should police themselves (and I don’t mean each other, I mean themselves). It’s a social network and if you post smack talk about your company or colleagues, it’s going to swing round and bite you in the arse, so beware.

This isn’t rocket science, in fact, it’s not science, it’s common sense. This bit is easy. The harder bit, and that which I think they failed to do in the States on the BoingBoing article, is what to do when an employee does step over the line. As above, one method is to slap the naughty child on the back of the legs while forcing a smile and pretending everything is alright. This is the usual way of dealing with things, right? It probably sounds familiar. In fact, it’s probably what, for the most part, stops people from posting their true feelings on a social network; fear of reprimand.

This is wrong. If someone is posting things to a social network (or, to be honest, anywhere) which is likely to get them in trouble if they’re caught, then that is a symptom. What caused them to post that thing? Who was it about? Why are they so angry/embaressed/upset that they have overridden their fear of reprimand and posted this thing, to hell with the consequences!

If you’re a clever boss, you’ll not react straight away. You’ll need follow the course of action generated by a knee-jerk response to the perceived effrontery. Let it stew for a day or two, then approach the employee in a one-to-one, or just informally, with a print out in hand and ask why they posted this thing to Tweetbook or Facester. What was it that made you so angry, or get’s you so frustrated that you had to air our dirty laundry in public? Stay calm, be sensible and don’t react. Listen, absorb and you’ll find out the real reason and, instead of fixing the symptom (ie, the angry/repressed employee), you can address the root cause (whatever it was that made them angry). Also, and this is an added bonus, by reacting in this fashion, you’ll find that next time something stresses out this employee, they might come to you first instead of flapping their mouth off on Twitter.

Use your social network policy as a relaxed feedback filter. If your employees are posting negative things about your company, or their colleagues, on twitter, it says something about your company. Why can’t this employee come to you, or talk to their colleague first? Fix this and you’ll never need a social media policy.