Companies creating social media policies for employees

Posting messages and photos on Facebook or Twitter may seem less like a business practice and more like a way to kill time. But if you have customers — and what business doesn’t? — that’s not the case.

Most businesses should probably be engaged in Facebook, Twitter and other social media just as they are with e-mail, cell phones and any other communication technology, says Ellyn Angelotti, interactivity editor for

“It wasn’t too long ago that it was rare for work computers to have Internet because organizations were afraid that employees would waste too much time online. However, just as the Internet and cell phones have contributed to work environments, so can social media,” she says.

“By using Facebook, or any of the other social networks, you’re connecting with people in an environment where they’re accustomed to engaging.”

Linda Odell says that’s exactly why her company — the 100-year-old Hallmark Cards Inc. in Kansas City, Mo. — implemented an official social-media policy last year.

“Since Hallmark is a creative company that’s all about helping people make emotional connections with one another, it’s crucial that we stay on top of all the different ways people connect and understand what people are talking and caring about,” Odell says. “Social media tools just amplify word-of-mouth that goes on every day, everywhere.

“That said, of course there’s an expectation that when you’re using these sites on company time you’re doing company work, not unlike the telephone on the desk,” she says.

To get Hallmark’s 8,400-person company going in the right direction with social media, Odell met with many departments within the company — human resources, legal, communications, creative, marketing and their digital group — to establish goals for a social media policy. They looked at other companies’ policies and adapted the documents for their specific needs.

Then they introduced the social-media policy to their employees and established hands-on training for individual departments. Odell says that in implementing the policy, it quickly became apparent that much of the policy was already in place in the existing standards of business conduct.

“Things like speaking and behaving respectfully, being transparent in your affiliation with Hallmark, keeping confidential information confidential, respecting Hallmark’s and others’ copyrights — these are expectations anyway,” Odell says. “Or, as we state in the introduction to our guidelines in a way we hoped would be clear and easy to remember: If it’s not appropriate in the real world, it’s not appropriate in the cyber world either.”

Where things can get tricky with social media, though, is that gray area between professional and personal social media use, Angelotti says.

“Social media, by nature, is personal,” she says. “The already gray line between professional and personal is blurred even more when your accounts have a dual nature. While many people understand and accept this, in some instances posting personal information to an account that may have a professional audience could be inappropriate. And posting work or promotional information to a personal account (could be) inappropriate.”

She says that creating professionally branded accounts — such as a fan page on Facebook or a Twitter account named after the business is one way to make the line more clear.

But doing so can rob the account of what’s so compelling about social media — the human element, says social media consultant Chris Brogan.

Brogan, like Angelotti, will be in Lawrence today and Friday for the Free State Social, where he will coach attendees in how to make the most out of social media in their companies.

Among his suggestions is to consider making hybrid accounts that both represent the company and put a human name on the account.

“I think there’s a lot of value in how Dell did their accounts — LionelAtDell, RichardAtDell, etc. To me the benefit of having named accounts is that we get to know the person,” Brogan says. “The downfall is that the person might change from time to time.”

He’ll also try to put a finer point on how to get the most out of employees using social media while minimizing its potential distraction from the company’s core business.

“It’s not as simple as saying all tweets have to be about work, and it’s not as open-ended as saying ‘just tweet whatever,’ ” Brogan says.

“It’s not free rein to just tweet and type away. Instead, there should be a strategy, some goals, a few approaches and a sense of what to put out there.”