According to the nCircle 2011 Social Media Security Trends Survey, over half of U.S. employees (66%) admit to ignoring social media policies published by their employers while 44% (down from 48% in 2010) say that they always comply with the policies.
Of course, 32% of U.S. companies admit that they don’t have a social media policy, but of the 68% who do (up from 58% in 2010) who do, only 59% actually have technology that pro-actively monitors employee usage in the office.
Yesterday, several hundred guests joined in a panel discussion on social and digital media compliance and regulation. The attendees primarily worked in insurance, finance, banking, healthcare and other highly regulated industries, so most of them have social media policies in place — or else they’re among the 32% of American businesses that ban the use of social media entirely.
So what can a company do to better enforce existing social media policies without banning them outright? First, communicate frequently and often with employees about social media policies. Explaining it to a new hire, getting a signature on a document that will be forgotten by the first payday, and calling it done is a recipe for non-compliance.
Whenever something good — or bad — happens to your company or a competitor in social media, use the news to educate and enlighten your employees on the reasons behind your social media policy. Studies show that people need to hear the same message repeated four or five times before it “sinks in” — and that’s as true for employees being trained on company policies as it is for prospective customers you want to educate about your brand.
Second, know (and obey) the rules yourself. What regulations among the alphabet soup of federal and state rules on corporate and employee speech apply to your company? CAN-SPAM, FCC and FTC guidelines apply to all messages, from email to Twitter, Facebook to Google+. But depending on your industry, you may also be affected by HIPAA, MIPPA, FERPA, FINRA, SEC, NAIC and a long list of other rules. If you, as the head of marketing or a small business owner, don’t know what rules apply, it’s awfully hard to train your employees! And it’s even harder to convince someone else to obey a rule if you routinely flout it yourself.
(Long ago, at the Dallas Infomart — a non-smoking building — chairman Harlan Crow was often seen lighting up his cigar in the office or the atrium, an offense that could have gotten anyone else tossed out on their ear by the burly security guards. He once got tossed out for lighting up during a charity event attended by Prince Charles, but returned sans cigar after convincing both U.S. and British agents that he really did own the building.)
Last, but not least, stay up on the trends and changes that happen rapidly as compliance rules evolve to keep up with new technologies. This is where your trade or industry association is invaluable — and why you’ll often find me listening to webinars while I munch a salad at my desk, or replaying recorded webinars at 5:30 a.m. while my hair dries. It’s worth the time I put in to avoid a problem that could damage my company — or even put me in jail. (Yes, you CAN go to jail for violating state or federal guidelines on what you can and can’t say online — and you can almost certainly be required to pay damages or fines for something one of your employees does online, unless you can prove that employee willfully violated a written policy, and understood the consequences of violating the policy.)
Why do employees violate company policies on social media? For many of them, it’s a case of, “What I say on my time, on my PC, is my business.” And for others, it’s simply a case of not understanding what the rules are. Most Americans will assert that they have a constitutional right to say anything they please — and are shocked when they discover that the First Amendment actually doesn’t provide any such protection.
But the reasons for non-compliance don’t really matter if you work in a regulated industry and are responsible for other people’s online behavior. What matters is doing all that you can to educate, persuade, and enforce the guidelines that will keep you out of trouble.