I supported the idea of strategies and policies for Twitter or social media when it was evident that people in managerial positions needed a solid, reassuring case for allowing their communications staff to use those tools. But I hope things have moved on now.
I keep hearing people talking about how they’ve written a ‘set of Twitter protocols’ or ‘a social media policy’. They cover things like what to tweet and what not to tweet, how often to tweet it and the ‘right way’ to use Twitter. (If you think you know the answer to that last one please keep it to yourself.)
Do we really need policies and protocols for every aspect of our job? If so, why are people employing us? Surely we use social media tools only if appropriate, if doing so helps deliver our communications goals and in compliance with our organisation’s existing codes of practice? Just like any other tools for communicating. When was the last time you saw a six-page document detailing how to use a telephone, what not to say on it and how often you should ring people? (Ok, in some lines of work (such as call centres) there will be protocols for using the phone, but you get my drift.)
I tried writing a social media policy myself recently. I started with the intention of providing broad concepts to help people communicate confidently online (such as ‘think about your audience’ rather than ‘don’t tweet more than fourteen times a minute’), and abandoned it when I realised I was simply reiterating what was already in our contracts and organisational policies; and what was, on the whole, common sense borne of experience.
Instead I wrote a guide to blogging and social media that aims to give colleagues some advice but tries to avoid a ‘right way’ of doing it (it is a document of good practice, not a policy). If communicating is part of someone’s job then we should trust them to do it appropriately; if they don’t then there are management protocols already at our disposal for dealing with them.