Let’s establish that I’m a social media law geek. Exhibit A: I have a blog about the subject. I don’t really need any more exhibits, do I?
One of the social media law subjects I particularly enjoy discussing is social media policies. Okay, fine, that’s Exhibit B. But social media policies and the strategies behind them are fascinating. First, the company needs to be of a size where a policy makes sense. Next, the company needs to figure out what their social media strategy will be so the policy will align with the vision. Then the policy writers will need to figure out how to deliver that message–how much detail to put in, will the policy be more directive or conversational, what topics do you include and what do you leave out? All of these decisions have trade-offs but the end result is a document that says as much about the organization as it does the topic itself.
As the leader of the group who wrote the latest version of Dell’s Social Media Policy, I was in the middle of those discussions about a year ago as we tackled rewriting Dell’s policy. I even blogged about the new policy on Direct2Dell. Just this week I saw a blog post by Liz Siepmann (@lizsieps), a soon to be college graduate from Marquette University, commenting on Dell’s social media policy. I thought it had a great, fresh perspective and some interesting points.
Liz covered our conversational tone and five principles in the policy. She liked three of them but felt two of our five principles/points were lowlights. The first was Protect Information where we caution employees to always be mindful when on social media that they have a duty to protect confidential company and customer information. Her main complaint is that people should already know to protect this information so we don’t need to tell them in a policy. At this point, more seasoned in-house counsel or social media practitioners will shake our heads over that perspective.
I like Liz’ point. Not the sentiment, but the thought process behind it. This is a senior in college, the Generation C (for “Connected”) we keep hearing about. This is the group of people that shares everything, from the mundane to the highly embarrassing. They don’t care about privacy and they’ll friend request, photo tag, and check-in with everyone and everything. But here’s one of their own saying, “Of course you protect confidential information.” That’s great to see, that there’s still the notion of private information and it’s strong enough to warrant the reaction that protecting it should be a no-brainer. (Incidentally, as a response to Liz, we all wish it was the case that everyone knows this but sadly, they don’t and you need to do everything in your power to remind them of these obligations for both practical and legal defense reasons.)
The second lowlight Liz identified is our principle to Be Transparent and Disclose. In this case she thinks we’re treating our employees like children by telling them to disclose. I don’t agree with the children comment–I think it would be treating employees like children to not give them access to social media like you may not let a child on platforms or see certain movies. Dell’s policy doesn’t keep people off sites, it just reminds them of their legal obligation to disclose their relationship. Maybe that sounds condescending but people forget this obligation a lot and it’s an important obligation as the FTC Endorsement Guidelines make clear.
Overall, Liz also thinks the Dell policy is a bit too wordy but would like to see more platform specific information. You can’t have it both ways but I will say that there is no one right social media policy. But you can have one that’s right for your organization. It requires a lot of work figuring out what you want to say and who you need to say it to; the end result is how you deliver the message. Our policy was the right result for us for a variety of reasons, but specifically addressing Liz’ comments we cut the policy to as short as we felt comfortable (and in an age when companies have policies in the 20+ page range, our ~900 words isn’t bad at all) but reserved our more specific platform advice for our internal training rather than a public-facing policy.
I’m thrilled that a college student took the time to read and blog about Dell’s policy and I’d welcome the opportunity to talk more about how we formed the policy or the choices we made (I speak publicly about this subject at conferences and tours at Dell anyway). Of course I’d welcome the chance to talk about it–I’m a social media law geek.