Are organizations' recent employee social-media restrictions warranted?

ESPN's Mike Soltys and MS&L Digital's David Binkowski on whether recent employee social-media restrictions at various organizations are warranted

Yes

Mike Soltys
VP, US networks communications, ESPN
You can find Mike online at twitter.com/espnmikes, not breaking the company rules

The rise of social media has introduced exciting opportunities for individuals and companies alike. In a world where one tweet can unintentionally and instantly create widespread misinformation, common-sense
parameters to protect corporate reputations and proprietary information are a must. Used wisely, social media can also help maximize business goals.

ESPN has built strong relationships with the 120 million US sports fans we reach in peak weeks. Social media, particularly Twitter, allows us to deepen that bond. But our recent release of guidelines – one set for all employees, one for commentators/reporters – put us in a Twitter-fueled controversy where we were positioned inaccurately as anti-Twitter.

Our employee guidelines are consistent with scores of company policies issued this year designed as a friendly reminder to “think before you tweet.” And, while you're at it, respect coworkers and customers, and please don't tell followers about the business deal we haven't told the press about yet. Most employees don't find it limiting, just a standard way to protect a company's reputation.

ESPN's guidelines for public-facing employees echo those points and add two elements. Commentators and reporters, hired to inform and offer perspective, must work with editors as they represent the company in this space and also allow ESPN.com to simultaneously publish the same material.

ESPN's hundreds of commentators generate volumes of content that sports fans crave. Fans want to know where to find it, rather than see some on ESPN.com and some on Twitter. The same editorial standards should be followed. At the same time, we can't ignore the Twitterization of information. The happy medium is to serve fans through both avenues and embrace social media as the latest delivery vehicle.

Ironically, our guidelines, along with the creation of a soon-to-be-introduced module on ESPN.com, will add non-Twitter users to the discussion and lead to more Twitter traffic. As social media explodes even further, the guidelines will inevitably be tweaked.

No

David Binkowski
SVP, word-of-mouth marketing, MS&L Digital
He tweets freely at twitter.com/Dbinkowski

Understanding that there are proprietary, legal, and business-model implications for not having a “free for all,” the restrictions companies are placing on employees' use of social media is nothing short of censorship in an age of transparency.

Let's discuss reality for a minute: Social networking has invaded the everyday workplace in the same way that letters, the telephone, e-mail, and IM did. Deals are being made through Facebook. RFPs are being responded to via Twitter. And we all know how HR is using LinkedIn. Cutting off these sites is a step backward and will only force employees to find loopholes. (For example, these sites are accessible by smartphones at work, while Fake Steve Jobs-esque handles are not new).

Social media is also how and where happy employees congregate to talk about how they love working for you, spread the word about open positions, and “fan” you. Those employee groups and fan pages on Facebook? Gone. Live tweeting at company events? Not any more. In essence these rules kill your brand's true evangelists – those who show up every day, work late, pour their blood, sweat, and tears into your business, and want to talk about you.

Finally, “security” is listed as one reason why these sites can't be allowed. Really? So IT has that whole mass-data breach/hacker, e-mail phishing, and spam thing figured out? It's an invalid argument just because some people don't see the business value of the tools.

People connect with companies and brands they can relate to and have a relationship with. Are people going to stop watching ESPN because of its Twitter policy? No, but overall organizations, in particular the media, already struggle with innovation and are cutting off the one thing that might keep someone watching a few minutes longer – interaction.

Should there be measures that take the company's well-being and privacy into account? Absolutely. But social media works best when there are guidelines, not when policies of cutting of vital communications channels are implemented.

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