Many organizations have either drafted or are considering drafting social media policies for their organizations, helping to specify the parameters of social media use for employees.
It’s an interesting legal arena, as illustrated by a recent case involving the National Labor Relations board and a company accused of firing an employee over her Facebook postings. How much control does an employer have in what its employees say online about organizations and the people they work for? There will certainly be a number of interesting legal cases in the future as we seek to answer that question. Stay tuned.
Social media governance presents an easy-to-identify set of concerns. Because of the collaborative and public nature of social software use, it’s easy to understand the potential risk to the organization. But social media policy is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Web policy. Underneath the surface of the organizational Web presence is a deep layer of unaddressed policy concerns.
Sound Web policy protects an organization from the risk inherent with operating online and guides an organization in the direction of online business opportunity. It does this by acting as a bridge between the business mission and the actual Web development standards.
Without Web policy, Web teams frequently develop their organizational Web presence based on a set of non-strategic assumptions. This can lead, not only to an ineffective Web presence, but also to loss of organizational credibility and, on the more tangible side, poor online content, inadequate data management practices, and loss of revenues.
There are several considerations when assessing whether an organization has its Web policy bases covered: The first is whether any new policy might have to be written. This includes things such as social media policy, but there are also other policy considerations. For instance, an organization should have a sort of internal equivalent of ICANN , which manages the organization’s domain name ownership, usage, redirects, etc. And there should be an understood policy that supports standards for domain naming.
Then there are issues that require the modification of an existing policy. Some of these fall in the IT domain, such as security and privacy. Another less obvious policy that needs to be revisited is the organizational records retention policy. Organizations need to define what a Web record is and outline a full lifecycle retention policy. Most large firms have a records retention schedule, but they need to be sure that Web records are included on the schedule along with traditional documents.
The most difficult area of Web policy relates to concerns that require the re-interpretation of an existing policy. In my experience, these policy concerns often go unaddressed. Much organizational policy was written in a pre-Web environment. There was a tacit assumption that certain types of information would be distributed on paper or, if digitally, in document format.
The advent of new information dissemination paradigms, the decomposition of information into content blocks for dynamic delivery, the transfer of much “employee manual” information onto corporate intranets -- all raise questions about the fundamental nature of information and publications.
These questions pertain to areas like human resources and access rights policy, to name just two. Organizations need to congregate a team of organizational experts -- records managers, human resources, and legal personnel -- and review corporate policy for areas that might need to be revised for the Web.
A mature approach to corporate Web governance is useful for the practical reasons mentioned above, but assembling the resources required to address policy concerns serves a broader purpose as well. As the Web continues to grow, issues that affect an organization’s ability to operate online will continue to arise. It will be useful to have mechanisms in place through which to assess the ongoing impact of the Internet while ensuring the organization remains viable.
— Lisa Welchman is the founding partner of WelchmanPierpoint and an expert in corporate Web strategy and governance.