When the Internet became accessible and people began browsing through the
Web, there seemed to be a default notion that somehow not all laws applied in
the online world. Or at least they didn't apply in the same way, or to the same
degree. Students used the Internet to copy work for school reports while others
set up gambling and music-sharing services that would normally be illegal in
many countries if conducted offline. Even today, some people still think nothing
of copying online photos and images to use in their own material without regard
to copyright laws. So it's not surprising that some are using social networking
tools with little to no regard of existing laws.
In the past, many
businesses avoided legal ramifications from misuse of online sites because they
could just block websites offering illegal services. But there are several
problems with blocking social networking. First, it's not the content that is
usually the problem (as in gambling). What gets an employer in trouble with
social networking is how their staff is using it. Second, it's difficult to
effectively block all social networking — and it will only get more challenging
because it's now integrated into many regular websites. Plus, employees are also
able to connect using their own mobile devices.
So how can an organization understand and manage the legal risks? Like most
issues we deal with, it's always best to have policy and procedures in place.
Then back that up with training. This is important to do whether you've been
using social media for years without a policy or are just getting started. The
basic steps for going through this process are as
Establish a communications committee
places put a lot of effort into discussing social networking in a vacuum. But
its use should really be part of your overall communication and branding
strategy. By setting up a communications committee, you can not only work
through issues surrounding social media, but also use the opportunity to
fine-tune guidance for email, press releases, newsletters, phone use, and other
related methods of talking to the public and other staff.
goals, mission, and audience
Once you get your committee in place,
it's important to define the goal and mission of your agency's use of
communication. Is it to provide customer service, information, education,
invoicing, or any of the other tasks related to your work? Goals that are well
understood will help the committee choose the best means of communication for
each. And knowing the target audience helps you choose the best method to reach
the right people.
Investigate methods of
Identify and research communication methods available
to your agency, how other agencies are using these methods, and for what
purpose. This is important because perhaps not all tools are accessible or
desirable. And sometimes it isn't just online communication that's restricted.
For example, some agencies are unable to invest in publishing hard copy of
newsletters due to cost.
Identify key staff
Figure out who in the agency is
communicating. Usually everyone can be regarded as a potential communicator,
even if some might only do so on an internal basis. You'll find that most people
are communicating on different levels and for different purposes. These should
be identified along with the individuals and groups
Create policies and procedures
many agencies have shared their policies online for use by others. A few can be
found at http://socialmediagovernance.com/policies.php. Using these as
a starting point or as a template can be useful and save time. And most
important, have your attorney review and approve your
Back it all up with training
This step is
often left out of many policy and procedure exercises. But if your staff doesn't
understand your policies and how to apply them to tasks, chances are they will
not comply. And because most problems occur because of poor communication,
training your staff in this skill set will also help improve internal operations
and delivery of external services.
Look for my next post (Part 2 ) to
learn more about what can happen when your staff is allowed to communicate with
little to no guidance.