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CEO Blog: Employers Need Proactive Social Media Policy

Michael Fertik |Founder, Reputation.com
Friday, 9 Sep 2011 | 11:58 AM ET

Personnel Getting Personal Online?

Chances are you’re reading this article from your office.

Even more likely—one of the open tabs next to this is Facebook or Twitter.

Unless of course your company is one of the 70% of organizations that block social networks in the workplace. Whether we call it “the social scare,” a knee-jerk reaction or an attempt at a pragmatic solution, this trend of the workforce-no-social-zone is on the rise. The question is if there's a better way?

Employers are understandably concerned about social networking on the job. They’re losing sleep—I know because they tell me. In their eyes, the combination of work plus social media is a lose-lose. It’s a time suck for your sales guy to be social stalking a crush. Tagging photos is a big work distraction.

But are these the real reasons behind businesses’ ban of online chatter?

Businesses’ concern often stems from something else entirely. Even more critical to companies than lost hours and lost attention is the loss of control over their business’ online reputation. Whether it’s scooping an upcoming product launch on Twitter or making a funny-at-the-time office blooper reel go viral—the impact is no joke. Reputation risk is the greatest risk facing global companies, with 75% of a company's value based on reputation (Economist Intelligence Unit).

Think about it: Would you want to fire someone for their Facebook activity?

You might.

When an employee gripes all day about her workday, how appealing does that make your business sound? Even if the employee isn’t sharing internal confidential information, personal expression poses a threat to the company’s overall perception – “Get me out of this hell hole!” reads “You don’t ever want to work here or be associated with this business. It’s a bad place.”

As more companies and their workers tap into the world of Twitter, blogs and Facebook, employers are reacting with a command and control approach to social media; they often lose sight of the implicit rewards and benefits. They set up strict no-social-networking policies. While this approach is definitely one type of barrier against harm, such policy isn’t the best solution for most companies. My own company, Reputation.com, couldn’t operate this way as a Silicon Valley start-up with a wired, tech-centric workforce. Also, does hitting the shutdown button really inform your staff of the workplace pros and cons of social media? More to the point, does it give your team and your business the maximum benefit from the promise and opportunity social media represents for your company?

"More critical to companies than lost hours and lost attention is the loss of control over their business’ online reputation."" -Founder, Reputation.com, Michael Fertik

Give staff the power to be evangelists for your business.

Give them the tools, information and fair running rules about how to max out their shareholder value.

Give them clear Dos & Don’ts.

Maybe you even draft a Social Media Bill of Rights with them. Stage a humorous and anonymous intervention for the company’s worst cyber oversharers. Get them on the same page about external messaging. Set an example with your Tweets and posts.

Trust them.

Yes, personnel can get too personal online. And of course, there is potential and implicit reputation risk at stake with a tweeting staff. But you can channel their social media prowess into brand evangelism. You can convert their trigger-happy tweeting into thoughtful and powerful messages that elevate the prominence of your company. These are individuals with a large following and online impact—harness their potential, help cultivate best practices and get them excited to be social stakeholders.

Michael Fertik founded Reputation.comwith the belief that businesses and individuals have the right to control and protect their online reputation and privacy. Credited with pioneering the field of online reputation management (ORM), Fertik is lauded as the world's leading cyberthinker in digital privacy and reputation. He is a member of the World Economic Forum Agenda Council on Internet Security and recipient of the World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer 2011 Award. Fertik is an industry commentator with guest columns in Harvard Business Review (HBR), The Huffington Post, Reuters and Newsweek. He is also co-author of the bestselling book, "Wild West 2.0."Fertik founded his first Internet company while at Harvard College. He also received his J.D. from Harvard Law School.

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