Building an ethical, social media-friendly, culture

by Lee Hopkins on December 1, 2010 · 1 comment

in ethics,strategy

Let's talkSocial media is a culture change agent within an organisation, as it demands that Truth, Trust, Transparency and Accountability be a fundamental part of organisational communication and relationships (see yesterday’s post on the Three Ts and an A). In some organisations this is not how ‘things are around here’.

Organisations that have a rigid, ‘management knows best’ culture, or a culture where innovation and risk-taking are welcomed only on the ‘Values Statement’ but not in real life, will find it harder than some other organisations to embrace social media. Those organisations who do not trust their employees to ‘do the right thing’ will similarly find ‘letting go’ of the corporate message hard to do.

Even companies that are more fluid in their management styles and more open to innovative ways of doing things will find resistance to the changes that social media brings to hierarchical structures.

As Levine, Locke, Searls and Weinberger noted in their seminal work, The Cluetrain Manifesto, hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. There will always be pockets of (usually middle-) management that feel threatened by letting employees at the ‘sharp end’ engage directly with those outside of the company gates, even if those employees are trained to do so (think sales or customer service staff). Imagine how they might feel if employees in roles not normally customer-focused (accounts receivable, perhaps, or central administration, or in-house project teams) are empowered to engage with a wider sphere of influencers.

Luckily for the organisation – and those managers – there are ways to reduce the risk of employees saying something out of sync with the organisation’s objectives, and one of the key ways is to build a culture within the company that revolves around the ‘3Ts and an A’ principle. Another is to use Telstra’s 3Rs policy.

Telstra’s 3Rs

Telstra, the Australian telco giant, has an organisation-wide policy for how it engages with its audiences. This policy, the 3Rs, has been enthusiastically commented upon across the globe.

The three ‘R’s stand for Representation, Responsibility and Respect:

“Telstra’s 3 Rs of Social Media Engagement are … ‘guardrails’ designed to protect the interests of employees and the company. In brief, the 3 Rs ask that when engaging in social media you be clear about who you are representing [Telstra], you take responsibility for ensuring that any references to Telstra are factually correct and accurate and do not breach confidentiality requirements, and that you show respect for the individuals and communities with which you interact.” [from (pdf)]

Telstra’s very clever in-house training package has been made available for viewing at


For example, a training package could be created that takes all employees who are being given the right to engage through social media channels through a step-by-step outlining of their responsibilities. This could be for current employees and also given as part of any new-hire induction programme.

Equally, the entire workforce could be put through a ‘3Ts and an A’ or ‘3Rs’ awareness programme, with rights to engage via social media channels only given to employees who had successfully passed a knowledge test which reinforced the desired behaviours and ethical positions.

Certainly, at the very least, all employees in an organisation should be given a copy of the organisation’s social media policy.

Social media policy

In days of olde, employees could spout off about their employer or their manager over drinks at the local pub or at a friend’s barbecue. Today they can talk about your company online, and that conversation can be heard around the globe.

So it makes sense to let all employees know that they have a responsibility to the organisation to ensure that what they say about the company reflects a fair and balanced viewpoint. Some organisations, in their social media policies, allow employees to say what they think as long as they preface their postings with disclaimers that their views are not those of their employers. This is a wise strategy.

Many companies now have a social media policy in place. A lot of these policies are logical extensions of already existing policies around employee behaviour both out of work and during work, as well as extensions of emailing policies and protocols.

Some social media policies are long and cover a lot of topics; some are short and let the employee decide for themselves what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

What all social media policies do, however, is give insight into the culture inside the organisation – a long, complex, tightly-managed social media policy may well be reflective of a tightly-managed company that is highly concerned about safeguards and its own security, for example. Not that such concerns should be belittled, but obsessive focus on them can lead to a lack of risk-taking within the organisation and a rapid decline in the company’s competitive advantage.

Social Media at Ford Motor Company

Scott Monty and his team at Ford Motor Company have created a useful set of digital participation guidelines for all Ford employees who may engage in social networking or social media at any time (whether at work or at home).

Amongst the good advice found in the guidelines are nuggets such as:

“Use your common sense – It’s good business practice for companies (and individuals) to keep certain topics confdential. Respect confdentiality. Refrain from speculation on the future of the Company and its products. Keep topics focused to matters of public record when speaking about the Company or the automotive industry. Do not disclose non-public Company information or the
personal information of others.”

Similarly, when it comes to ‘what should I do if?’ questions that employees might have, Scott and his team suggest, “If you have any questions about what is appropriate, play it smart and check with
a member of the Communications team or the Legal office before posting.”



IBM Social Computing Guidelines

IBM’s guidelines were created by the employees themselves in a global discussion and vote within the company, using a forum-like tool they developed for themselves. The outcome of the discussion shows the depth and creativity of the thinking across the organisation.

Many social media consultants and pundits consider these Guidelines to be the ‘gold standard’ of social media policy.

1. Know and follow IBM’s Business Conduct Guidelines.

2. IBMers are personally responsible for the content they publish on-line, whether in a blog, social computing site or any other form of user-generated media. Be mindful that what you publish will be public for a long time—protect your privacy and take care to understand a site’s terms of service.

3. Identify yourself—name and, when relevant, role at IBM—when you discuss IBM or IBM-related matters, such as IBM products or services. You must make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of IBM.

4. If you publish content online relevant to IBM in your personal capacity use a disclaimer such as this: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

5. Respect copyright, fair use and financial disclosure laws.

6. Don’t provide IBM’s or another’s confidential or other proprietary information and never discuss IBM business performance or other sensitive matters publicly.

7. Don’t cite or reference clients, partners or suppliers without their approval. When you do make a reference, link back to the source. Don’t publish anything that might allow inferences to be drawn which could embarrass or damage a client.

8. Respect your audience. Don’t use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in IBM’s workplace. You should also show proper consideration for others’ privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory—such as politics and religion.

9. Be aware of your association with IBM in online social networks. If you identify yourself as an IBMer, ensure your profile and related content is consistent with how you wish to present yourself with colleagues and clients.

10. Don’t pick fights, be the first to correct your own mistakes.

11. Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective. IBM’s brand is best represented by its people and what you publish may reflect on IBM’s brand.

12. Don’t use IBM logos or trademarks unless approved to do so.

A more detailed discussion of each of these 12 points is available for viewing at


British Telecom’s social media guidelines

BT has an extensive set of guidelines and explanations about social media. Here’s an excerpt from their documents:

If you decide that you need to take part in on-line collaboration on the internet to support your role in BT, you must ensure that you:

  • have read and understood all the relevant policies relating to this activity
  • have sought and gained approval to do so from your line manager.

Contributing to collaborative activity managed on a social media site on the internet can seem daunting, particularly if you are doing so in an official capacity as a BT employee. However, by following these simple guidelines you should be able to take an active part in this kind of activity safely.

  • BT’s business principles: understand and follow our business principles as described in The Way We Work [a BT document for internal viewing only].
  • Compliance: never disclose commercially sensitive or privacy marked company information in your contributions, or publish information that might contravene BT’s undertakings with Ofcom. You should ensure information you publish conforms to our Code of Practice [a BT document].
  • Copyright: ensure you are not infringing copyright rules.
  • Identification: when discussing BT or its business, always identify clearly who you are, what your role in BT is and publish in the first person. Use a disclaimer when appropriate (see next bullet)
  • Disclaimer: If you are publishing information about BT or your role in BT you should use a disclaimer along the following lines: “The views expressed on this site are my own and don’t reflect the views of my employer”
  • Personal responsibility: you are personally responsible for content you publish into social media tools – be mindful that what you publish will be public for many years.
  • Authenticity: always be honest and open, but be mindful of the impact your contribution might make to people’s perceptions of BT as a company. If you make a mistake in a contribution, be the first to come clean and admit it – honesty of this type quickly builds respect among other users.
  • Keep calm: don’t pick fights by escalating heated discussions but be conciliatory, respectful and quote facts to lower the temperature and correct misrepresentations. Never contribute to a discussion if you are angry … leave it, calm down, and return to it at a later date when you can contribute in a calm and rational manner.
  • Personal judgement: if you feel even slightly uneasy about something you are about to publish, then the chances are you shouldn’t do it. Remember, the information you publish will be visible to other web users for a long time. If in doubt, discuss it with your line manager first.
  • Discretion: don’t discuss competitors, customers, partners or suppliers without their prior approval.
  • Respect: don’t use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would be unacceptable in a BT workplace. Always consider others’ privacy and avoid discussing topics that may be inflammatory e.g. politics and religion.
  • Personal privacy: avoid publishing your personal contact details where they can be accessed and used widely by people you did not intend to see them. It is better to contact an individual outside the collaborative space if you want to take something off-line.
  • Etiquette: before your first contribution on any social media site, it is a good idea to observe the activity on the site for a while before launching in yourself to get a feel for the style of contributions, the nature of the content and any ‘unwritten’ rules that other contributors might follow.
  • Day job: activity on social media tools during office hours should complement and/or support your role in BT

You can read more of BT’s social media guidelines at

Coca-Cola’s social media policy

Coca-Cola’s policy is extensive, yet comes with an interesting introduction that reflects the desired outcomes of the policy:

“Every day, people discuss, debate and embrace The Coca‐Cola Company and their brands in thousands of online conversations. Coca-Cola recognizes the vital importance of participating in these online conversations and are committed to ensuring that they participate in online social media the right way. These Online Social Media Principles have been developed to help empower the Coca-Cola associates to participate in this new frontier of marketing and communications, represent our Company, and share the optimistic and positive spirits of our brands.”

You can download the whole policy (pdf) from


LiveWorld Social Media Content Guidelines

LiveWorld has a very short and sweet social media policy.

Be transparent

  • If you’re writing or commenting about Company business, always identify yourself and LiveWorld by name.
  • If you contribute to or maintain a personal blog or website that covers the Company’s business space, make clear that your opinions are your own and not LiveWorld’s.

Be respectful

  • We encourage you express your opinions, but we ask that you don’t resort to personal attacks, harassment, cultural insensitivity, or discrimination in the process.

Be yourself

  • We value your personality and individual interests, including those that fall outside of your primary work responsibilities. Let that personality shine in your online content!

Be smart

  • Some company projects, lessons learned, and success stories are fine to share; others aren’t. Don’t reveal company secrets or proprietary information, and make sure you have permission from our clients and partners before mentioning them by name.
  • Your words and statements online are a reflection of LiveWorld. Use your best judgment when deciding whether content is appropriate to publish. If you have any doubts, ask your company executive.

Social media policies online

Naturally, there is an easy way of finding out if a particular company has a social media policy – Google them.

Alternatively, there are a number of social media policies that you can choose from at – although be aware that sometimes the organisation referenced moves its policies to elsewhere on its site, or removes them from public view and so the links on may not be up to date.

I have a collection of social media policies bookmarked on Delicious – – which you are welcome to view.

With so many resources online (as I write this, “social media policy” has 432,000 results) there is bound to be a policy that you can adapt to suit your own organisation’s needs. Remember, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel – a successful policy can simply be an extension of already existing employee behaviour and email etiquette policies and standards.

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