Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wagging the PhoneDog: Why your business needs a Social Media policy now.

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.
“We weren’t equipped to have a policy on this stuff.  It was all brand new. The lines were blurred.”

This is not a phrase any corporate HR department wants to hear. In a world where new technology is constantly redrawing the boundaries between employer and employee, blurred lines and an absence of policy spell trouble for everyone.

The words belong to Noah Kravitz, the employee at the center of the now infamous PhoneDog situation. 

You can read the Mashable article for background, but the Cliff notes read as follows: While employed by PhoneDog, Kravitz built a 17,000 strong Twitter following under the name ‘PhoneDog_Noah’. When he left PhoneDog he took the account with him. He maintains that the account belongs to him; PhoneDog disagree and are suing him for $2.50 per follower. 

To say that opinion is divided on the subject would be putting it mildly. Debates have erupted across online and offline media and there are certainly convincing arguments on both sides.

What is still occurring to most people is that we need to jump out in front of this issue and work out what we can do today to limit our exposure to similar cases involving our own businesses.

Here are some questions to ask yourself about your company and social media, along with some lessons already available from PhoneDog’s predicament. 

Who is using Social Media within your business? And what happens if they leave?
It may not be enough to know the ‘who’. PhoneDog knew they were paying the guy to do it, they just hadn’t thought it through. There was no exit strategy.

What are they using it for?
Is it personal use that references the corporate brand, or is it corporate use that has a personal touch? This will be the essence of the PhoneDog case.

Why are they using it?
If you don’t see a business value in an instance where your brand is referenced by an employee in social media, you should ask for it to be removed immediately.

Is there any success you could take advantage of?
17,000 followers is a major asset. You can bet that if PhoneDog weren’t concerned enough to cover the downside, then they surely hadn’t fully appreciated the positive possibilities.

What steps can you take to iron out any ambiguity?
Anything you can do to create clarity will protect you. Formal agreements signed at the point of hire will make things clear for everyone. You have far more leverage early on than you do further down the line when an employee realizes the value of what they have created.

Naming conventions for your company on Social Media will also be advantageous. ‘JohnSmith’ will unequivocally point to John Smith’s ownership. ‘ABC_Inc’ will be equally clear. ‘ABC_John’ will be problematic.

Regardless of which view ultimately wins through in the legal battle – the message for employers is clear enough already: Roll out a clear policy that leaves as little room for ambiguity as possible; you will be in a much stronger position when it’s your turn. And your turn is coming.