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Is It Time to 86′ Corporate Social Media Policies?

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Samuel Crisp? If you didn’t raise your hand, here’s the short version. Samuel was fired from Chapel-field Apple store for some negative comments he made about an iPhone app and comments he made about Apple releasing The Beatles on iTunes on Facebook. Specifically he said this:

F***ed up my time zone for the third time in a week and woke me up at 3am? JOY!!

and this

Tomorrow’s just another day that hopefully I will forget.

Fired over that. Read Apple’s Retail Blogging and Online Social Media Guidelines and decide for yourself. Now, Apple may be an extreme case, but there are a lot of big corporations leveraging a heavy hand over employees with their “social media“ policies or guidelines. The larger issue at stake, in my mind, is corporations crippling their social media messaging strategies.

While these policies and guidelines make the company feel better about brand protectionism, using more or less unveiled threats to employees, it also makes all their employees behave in a very vanilla manner. And vanilla doesn’t echo or influence in streams. Vanilla is ignored, vanilla is glossed over, and vanilla is forgotten.

Social Media lockdown


It’s Not Just Global Corps. It’s Everyone.

It’s not just companies like Apple laying down the social media law. It’s governments, it’s hospitals, it’s universities, and it’s radio stations. That’s just a small sampling. Here’s a much bigger list of institutions regulating how social can and should be used: The Online Database of Social Media Policies. In fact, one company went so far as to put together a social media policy template for others to copy as their own.

What it boils down to is that more and more employees are being held to these guidelines and policies. If you read a few of those guidelines in the template, they pretty much handcuff an employee from ever speaking on social media in human way, and in some cases speaking at all without explicit permission from Those Who Make the Rules. Many of those guidelines are set up to make employees cardboard cut-outs: smiling faces, glossy eyes, and a hands frozen in a permanent wave of happiness.


The Rules of the Social Media Game

You’ve heard it and read it more times than you care to remember: be a human. The next: be genuine and real. Yeah, that’s fuzzy and vague, but I can tell you that it also means you criticize things, you comment sarcastically, and you have conversations about life-things that bounce off a number of not-so-safe-topics. And, if you don’t really want to engage, then enter social as an expert in your field or be a celebrity. Then you get all the influence and traction without all the hassle. I didn’t make the rules, but there they are.

Social media policy

You can’t play the game with guidelines and rules of engagement hanging over your head. They make you a faux-brand proselytizer. You know them when you see them: the folks who drop product links, brand forum links, and other brand-heavy suggestions in their messages, and never contribute another thing until the next brand-dropping opportunity arrives. Moreover, you can’t leverage your employees to spread your messages when you need them to. That’s not to say you can’t make them send a message on social platforms, because you can. It’s to say, no one will care about that message, and no one will be invested in that message.

I’m all for transparency and telling people that you work for so-and-so. It’s certainly a requisite if you’re going to pimp for your brand or your company. However, without having made real connections out there, and getting someone who will care about what you have to say, you might as well send your messages into a black hole. Because that’s exactly where it goes in everyone else’s streams.

Loosening the Grip

It’s not fair to lump all the criticism on businesses either. Social is so big, so fast, and so permanent that businesses would be foolish not to try and protect themselves in some fashion. Having a consumer criticize you is one thing, but your own employee putting you on blast is another. That’s a deeper, more knowledgeable, more personal scar. But, overkill is a tendency. And, and businesses have stacked up the rules to a degree that it doesn’t even make sense to have employees on social.

They are only allowed to talk in a cardboard, vanilla way so as not to jeopardize any brand image or aura. What businesses don’t realize is that their newer employees are savvy with social. These fresh-out-of-school employees live in the social playground. It’s how they connect. It’s how they talk. And, they made enough mistakes in social (with their own personal postings) before coming to you that they have an innate sense of what flies and what doesn’t. It’s time for businesses to loosen up a bit on their guidelines and trust their employees.


One for Me, One for You

But, in all honesty, the guidelines/policies are here to stay. And, in all likelihood, will become more constrictive over time. The best solution is to create two profiles. One you use for your personal conversations, and one you use for your public-facing duties. And, never shall the two meet. It’s no fun managing two profiles, and it’s certainly an extra effort. In the long run though, you’ll thank yourself for giving yourself a space to talk candidly without repercussion.



  1. Glenn Ferrell December 7, 2011

    Great line: “vanilla doesn’t echo or influence in streams” 🙂 And great advice. It is really tough for companies to walk that fine line between having some “alignment” in their voice to the world and at the same time fully benefit from the sheer ‘humanness’ of their employees.

    The overwhelming importance of social media is going to force companies to take a bit of a “leap of faith” here.

  2. Glenn Ferrell December 7, 2011

    Great line: “vanilla doesn’t echo or influence in streams” 🙂 And great advice. It is really tough for companies to walk that fine line between having some “alignment” in their voice to the world and at the same time fully benefit from the sheer ‘humanness’ of their employees.

    The overwhelming importance of social media is going to force companies to take a bit of a “leap of faith” here.

  3. Michael Martinez December 7, 2011

    I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but I suspect that publicly traded companies like Apple may be compelled by their attorneys to take a hard line on “public” comments by employees that might have an impact on stock values, as such comments might be construed as attempts to influence trading values.

    If you are speaking in a venue where your relationship with your employer is easily identified, you may have encumbered more liability than you realize or want.

  4. Anthony December 7, 2011


    It is incredibly tough for companies to walk a line between protection and engaging people at a human level. I wouldn’t be so certain that companies WILL HAVE TO do anything. It’s been my experience that when pushed on something, corporate world pushes back even harder in the opposite direction.

    We’re all going to learn together how to create the balance between alignment and engaging social personas. Thanks for the great comment!

  5. Anthony December 7, 2011


    I hear you. I think that’s central to the issue (and truthfully felt too big to address in this post).

    The line between “buying your time” as an employee and outright “owning you” as an person-employee get very blurry for me when it comes to social media. Where does the first end and the second begin?

    Can “Jim Doe”, employee of Corporation X, truly effect stock valuation from a honest and critical comment about Corporation X’s product? Perhaps.

    And, I see the argument from Corporation X’s stance as well. “Disgruntled employees who are looking to torch the place isn’t going to happen to us. We’re putting our thumb down on it.”

    Would be very interested to hear your thoughts on that, particularly on the “buying time” vs. “owning” issue.

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