Commonsense on social media

In a way, it isn't surprising that the The Ford social media guidelines have been getting a lot of play this week on blogs, Twitter and Facebook. After all, they are concise, clear and do a good job of stating principles that seem like no-brainers.

And there's the surprise. Apparently, they aren't no-brainers. Honesty, clarity, respect, judgment and awareness.

Employee interactions in social media have been a major conundrum as businesses have tried to figure out and to articulate where the employee stops and the individual begins. Even in Ford's well- articulated policy the individual and the employee are centaur-like.

But the clarity of it's guidelines is something other businesses could benefit from in all communications with employees. Too often businesses wait until there's a problem and then try to create policies on the fly based on how they handled a single incident.

Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but in dealing with employees it is essential nonetheless.

Policies are generally meant to address the vast majority - probably 80-95 percent of employees. There are always some exceptions,special circumstances and unique situations that require special handling. Manageers often overcomplicate issues; trying to create a bullet proof policy that will apply to every single situation. The result may be that it takes too long to get information out to employees, or that the policies become so long, detailed and obfuscated by legalese that they employee neither reads nor understands.

Policies also have to be adaptable to change, especially those that deal with technology, the Internet, and social media. Just a few years ago companies primarily concerned themlves with how much their employees were using their work computers for personal business like email, shopping and - of course - viewing adult sites. Those policies must now adapt to what an employee posts online on their own time,to what they view or read on their company smartphone and how their public statements impact the business.

So what can a small business learn from Ford's policy?

1. Clarity in dealing with employees is always best. Make the policies clear to all from the receptionist to the board room.

2. Create policies as changes in company business, social mores or technology warrant. Don't create policies to deal with one-off situations. And have the wisdom to know the difference.

3. Embrace new opportunities, don't run from them. Yes, occasionally you may have an employee who says or does something online that causes an issue or embarrassment for the company. If it's intentional, you have a management issue. If it's accidental, you have a testing moment. Either way, it's an issue between the company and one employee. Don't let that dictate your entire policy or approach. You will get far more from an army of positive ambassadors and representatives than you will lose with one problem.

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