IBM was among the first to compile employee social media guidelines

One of the biggest roadblocks on the path to social-media success is often legal concerns. Companies can run serious legal risks by wading into social media unprepared. But worrying too much about unspecified risks can keep a company from adopting the technology entirely — and risk being left behind.

In 2005, computer giant IBM became one of the first corporations to establish guidelines for employee behaviour in social-computing environments. IBM’s published social-computing guidelines on its website are revised biennially with input from employees.

According to Harriet Pearson IBM’s vice president, security counsel and chief privacy officer one of the biggest unnecessary risks that companies take is not having a social-media policy.

Pearson will be a speaker at the marcus evans Social Media Risks and Strategy Conference in Washington DC, January 12-14.

“While social-media tools present opportunities and potential for productive, collaborative relationships, they also can raise issues related to information security, disclosure of intellectual property or confidential information, privacy and governance. Organisations should acknowledge that social-media tools exist (and that employees are actively using them) and establish policies that clarify the boundaries and guidelines of appropriate use for their employees,” according to Pearson.

She adds that organisations should assess their individual exposures and risks in the social-media space based on the industry that they’re in, the regulations they are subject to and the scope of their employees’ use. It would be beneficial to explore what others have done and learn from and/or model their progress, but companies need to tailor their policies to suit their needs. A policy clearly stating what a company’s employees should or should not do will be based on an understanding of which employees are using the tools and how they’re using it.”

When it comes to how detailed a social-media policy needs to be, Pearson recommends organisations establish how their employees will use social-media tools.

“The guidelines shouldn’t be created in a vacuum. Know your organisation’s industry and what regulations you are under. It is imperative to establish social-media-conduct guidelines that set the ground rules for their participation. These guidelines would be, to a certain extent, common sense — don’t harass, don’t use obscene language, be respectful and so forth. But they would also cover corporate policy regarding such things as disclosure of confidential information and intellectual property, and they should open the communication channels between employees and management and legal in the event they have questions or concerns regarding whether something should or can be posted.”

The marcus evans Social Media Risks and Strategy Conference will take place in Washington DC, January 12-14.