windyLinda Skrocki is the Senior Engineering Program Manager/Owner for Sun’s primary, external-facing community sites (blogs, forums, wikis, etc.). In addition to being a corporate social networking evangelist, she has managed many of Sun Microsystems highest profile web programs over the last 9 years.

What is your risk & transparency tolerance?

That’s a question every company must ask before embarking on their officially branded new media journey, but let’s be honest, tightly controlled content is nothing more than traditional website content and/or press releases. If that’s the most risk your culture/policy allows when it comes to marketplace conversations via social media platforms, don’t waste time and money implementing an external-facing officially branded collaboration site — it simply won’t be an environment conducive to meaningful, authentic marketplace conversations and certainly won’t foster healthy business relationship building that ultimately affects your bottom line.

If a tightly controlled or no approach is the chosen path, it’s important to note that conversations about your company, good and bad, won’t cease to exist. They’ll just have to happen elsewhere — most likely in places far less findable by you; thereby, giving you less opportunity to:

  • amplify positive company & product feedback from the marketplace
  • strengthen your company & products by listening and acting upon negative feedback
  • rally interest and extend awareness by being able to easily participate in the conversations

(Re)evaluation of our fears

Still reading? Thinking your company’s social media policy might need a laxative? Not sure how to get started? Try this: Each overly rigid policy term is based on fear of a specific situation. Examine each term & it’s fear-based situation & ask:

  1. Aren’t these legal bases already covered in our company’s employment terms and/or site Terms of Use?
  2. Why are we trying to control conversations employees & the marketplace may have on social sites any differently than conversations they have at a bus stop, dinner party, etc.? Don’t we want them to drive awareness of our company and products?
  3. Why are we scaring our employees to a degree that they don’t want to engage in cool and interesting marketplace conversations about the company and our products?
  4. In the statistically* unlikely event that an employee goes hostile and says bad things about us,
    a) do we really think policy will stop them?
    b) wouldn’t we want the likely inaccurate rant to happen in our own backyard where it’s more easy to find and respond to?
  5. Is it really worth sacrificing hundreds of thousands of fruitful conversations because we’re afraid of a possible nasty conversation?
  6. What if the nasty conversation happens? Why can’t we just counter by publicly correcting the inaccurate points with facts and own-up to the accurate points by making our product stronger and gaining bonus points for driving this awareness?

Relax, Trust & See Goodness Unfold

I’m not saying let go entirely. Employees appreciate guidelines. They want to remain gainfully employed and don’t want to get themselves or the company in trouble. They may not clearly be aware of the company’s stance on topics to avoid if they are buried in pages of legalese. To augment existing employment terms, a set of brief, comprehensive social media guidelines will not only stand a better chance of actually being read by your employees, but will set everyone’s minds at ease by knowing how to effectively engage in the social media space.

If you need a solid example of an effective set of guidelines, Sun’s Guidelines on Public Discourse has stood the test of time and has proven to be amazingly effective not only for Sun but for other companies who have used it as a model.

* Example:, along with the Guidelines on Public Discourse, deployed in 2004. No approval is required prior to employees blogging. The original tag line “This space is accessible to any Sun employee to write about anything” remains in place. As of this post, there are more than 140,000 blog posts and only a handful of possible policy violations have been raised.

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