Social media policy isn't just to set limits

Recently, there has been a lot of negative news about Twitter's use within organizations.

Recently, there has been a lot of negative news about Twitter's use within organizations.

Wired's Noah Shachtman reported on the Marines banning the use of Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks for users on their computer networks. Several NFL teams have outlawed Twitter's use during practices, games, team meetings, and other activities. In addition, the league plans to put a policy in place for Twitter use. And ESPN has been criticized for its social media policy, which will prohibit the network's on-air talent and writers from sharing tidbits of news on Twitter.

Aside from being condemned as "draconian" and limiting transparency, are such policies as bad as they're made out to be? I vote no – with some caveats.

One of the smarter things you can do as a PR pro is to create a social media usage policy for your employees. But it shouldn't be viewed as a process to determine what an organization can do to limit what employees can say, do, or participate in. Instead, it should be perceived in these terms: "Let's protect ourselves, prevent our employees from getting themselves into hot water, and safeguard our brand, while finding opportunities for our employees to be representatives and ambassadors for the organization.”

So, is it unreasonable for the NFL to ask players not to Tweet from the sidelines during games? Sure, it's fun for the fans, but it's not necessarily helpful for keeping the team focused on the game.

Is it out of line for ESPN to ask on-air talent and writers not to share information that the network itself hasn't yet reported on? Or to prohibit personal blog discussions about details related to ESPN without supervisor permission? Probably not, but it sounds like ESPN is trying to figure out a way to publish comments posted on social networks on its own sites.

There are positive ways to create a staff social media policy. For instance, look at what Best Buy has started with Twelpforce, which has literally opened the floodgates for team members to respond to various tech-related questions that might have previously only been asked in-store. It does have some flaws (scale is always hard), but it's an excellent idea and empowers the Best Buy staff – within the company's policy on responses.

Additionally, policies that aren't positioned as restrictions create an environment where staff will want to participate on social networking sites in ways that are helpful to the company. The Wall Street Journal's Sarah Needleman has reported that Ford and Coca-Cola are a few of the brands looking to assign employees specifically for online monitoring – something that could become commonplace for brands big and small.

Tom Biro is senior director of communications at MTV. His column will focus on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at

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