Gartner VP Addresses Prerequisites for Developing Corporate Social Media Policies

Carol Rozwell might be my personal hero, well-respected and distinguished Gartner analyst. "Social media offers tempting opportunities to interact with employees, business partners, customers, prospects and a whole host of anonymous participants on the social Web," said the analyst and vice-president recently,  "However, those who participate in social media need guidance from their employer about the rules, responsibilities, ‘norms’ and behaviors expected of them, and these topics are commonly covered in the social media policy."

Gartner has identified seven critical questions that designers of social media policy must ask themselves:

What Is Our Organization’s Strategy for Social Media?
There are many possible purposes for social media. It can be used for five levels of increasingly involved interaction (ranging from monitoring to co-creation) and across four different constituencies (employees, business partners, customers and prospects, and the social Web). It is critical that social media leaders determine the purpose of their initiatives before they deploy them and that those responsible for social media initiatives articulate how the organization’s mission, strategy, values and desired outcomes inform and impact on these initiatives. A social media strategy plan is one means of conveying this information.

Who Will Write and Revise the Policy?
Some organizations assign policy writing to the CIO, others have decided it’s the general counsel’s job, while in other cases, a self-appointed committee decides to craft a policy. It’s useful to gain agreement about who is responsible, accountable, consulted and involved before beginning work on the policy and, where possible, a cross-section of the company’s population should be involved in the policy creation process. It’s important to remember that there is a difference between policy — which states do’s and don’ts at a high level — and operational processes, such as recruitment or customer support — which may use social media. These operational processes need to be flexible and changeable and adhere to the policy, but each department/activity will need to work out specific governance and process guidelines.

How Will We Vet the Policy?
Getting broad feedback on the policy serves two purposes. First, it ensures that multiple disparate interests such as legal, security, privacy and corporate branding, have been adequately addressed and that the policy is balanced. Second, it increases the amount of buy-in when a diverse group of people is asked to review and comment on the policy draft. This means that the process by which the policy will be reviewed and discussed, along with the feedback, will be incorporated into the final copy. A vetting process that includes social media makes it more likely that this will occur.

How Will We Inform Employees About Their Responsibilities?
Some organizations confuse policy creation with policy communication. A policy should be well-written and comprehensive, but it is unlikely that the policy alone will be all that is needed to instruct employees about their responsibilities for social media. A well-designed communication plan, backed up by a training program, helps to make the policy come to life so that employees understand not just what the policy says, but how it impacts on them. It also explains what the organization expects to gain from its participation in social media, which should influence employees in their social media interactions.

Who Will Be Responsible for Monitoring Social Media Employee Activities?
Once the strategy has been set, the rules have been established and the rationale for them explained, who will ensure that they are followed? Who will watch to make sure the organization is getting the desired benefit from social media? A well-designed training and awareness program will help with this, but managers and the organization’s leader for social media also need to pay attention. Managers need to understand policy and assumptions and how to spot inappropriate activity, but their role is to be more of a guide to support team self-moderation, rather than employ a top-down, monitor-and-control approach.

How Will We Train Managers to Coach Employees on Social Media Use?
Some managers will have no problem supporting their employees as they navigate a myriad of social media sites. Others may have more trouble helping employees figure out the best approach for blogs, microblogs and social networking. There needs to be a plan for how the organization will give managers the skills needed to confront and counsel employees on this sensitive subject.

How Will We Use Missteps to Refine Our Policy and Training?
As with any new communications medium, some initiatives go exceptionally well, while others run adrift or even sink. Organizations that approach social media using an organized and planned approach, consistent with the organization’s mission, strategy and values, will be able to review how well these initiatives meet their objectives and use that insight to improve existing efforts or plan future projects better.

More information is available in the report "Answer Seven Critical Questions Before You Write Your Social Media Policy," which can be found on the Gartner website at


In addition, I wanted to add the following points:

I am all about the process – And a process for establishing a social media strategy (internal or externally facing) have several process steps which flow sequentially for the varying audience members who will consume or provide this information.


First, It is important to understand your corporate strategic goals. And even if social media isn’t explicitly defined, it is certainly an input to several common objectives like acquire/retain new/existing customers (Marketing), World-Class operations (real-time fodder is a great tool for customer service complaints in real time), etc.

Second, you need to functionally understand the impact domains and what purpose a social strategy will provide: which groups will be impacted by a social media strategy, and what, if anything are they already doing to address? Characteristics of a good purpose according to Carol Rozwell:


1. Magnetic
2. Aligned
3. Properly-scoped
4. Promotes Evolution
5. Low risk
6. Measurable
7. Community-driven


Third, connecting the corporate goals from the strategic plans to the social media purpose / strategy is key – that is what is defined by Aligned and Properly Scoped. All strategic plans evolve over time so why wouldn’t your social purpose evolve as well?


Fourth, Measurement. This is near and dear to my heart : Measuring what matters; business intelligence tools are starting to realize the value of offering real-time capabilities to track the chatter across the social sphere; think about my Wynn Hotel examples from previous posts to validate the power this can provide towards improving customer experience, and ultimately affecting long-term retention of your customers.

Community-driven is self-explanatory. You cannot tell a customer what their voice should be, it is what it is.

You as an organization need to understand that word of mouth from your customers is worth its weight in gold; more than the millions spent on advertising budgets and huge marketing campaigns. Communities offer the soap box that so many customers want to stand upon to share their experiences.

You reap the benefits of understanding this voice, and consuming this information in a meaningful and metrics driven approach that can provide context to your strategic goals without augmenting them with cost laden initiatives or proposals.

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