Survey: Businesses Lack Social Media Policies

More than one in three businesses have no policies concerning the use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter in the workplace, according to a new survey from advertising firm Russell Herder and law firm Ethos Business Law.

The survey, “Social Media: Embracing the Opportunities, Averting the Risks,” was compiled from interviews of 438 executives across the United States who were interviewed during July 2009. It is available here.

Executives are aware of social media and are clearly concerned about the risks it poses, but many have chosen not to create written policies to govern the use of social media in the workplace, according to the report.

“Rather than bypass the social media opportunity, organizations should embrace it while taking steps to educate their team about internal guidelines and best practices,” said Carol Russell, CEO and co-founder of Russell Herder, in a statement.

Eighty-one percent of those interviewed said social media is a corporate security risk, 51 percent added that it could reduce productivity and 49 percent feared it could harm a company’s reputation.

However, 81 percent also said that social media can be positive for business by enhancing relationships with customers and clients and by building a company’s brand reputation.

Seventy-three percent of those surveyed said they plan to increase their use of social media. Most are already using it; 80 percent use Facebook, 66 percent use Twitter, 55 percent use YouTube, 49 percent use LinkedIn, and 43 percent use blogs.

Among the less popular social media sites were MySpace (eight percent), Delicious (seven percent), Digg (three percent), and Second Life (one percent).

So why do so few companies have company policies in place? Twenty-five percent of those who have no such policies said they weren’t sure what to put in them, 13 percent said that issue has not yet been addressed, and nine percent said it’s not important.

“Ignoring the need for responsible guidelines can impede an organization’s ability to protect itself, while at the same time hampering efforts to effectively compete in the marketplace,” the report said.

Best practices in social media

The report said that every IT organization should have social media policies and that existing IT policies are unlikely to cover the issues that social media raises.

Fundamentally, companies need to decide whether their policy is open to embracing the technology or closed to it, the report said. The policy should apply to everyone in the company, the report said, not just to employees of the marketing department, for example. Other policies on conduct, such as those governing ethics and harassment, must apply in social media as well, the report said.

The policy should address managers’ fears concerning productivity and security. The social media policy should be very explicit about reinforcing existing policies concerning confidential information, the report said.

In addition, companies will need to decide whether or not employees are allowed to use social media during the work day, and whether they can use such Web services during their personal time, such as during a lunch break.

The reports recommendations are a good place to start, but are not a complete list of what to do. They are “a starting point to develop a strategy and policy around social media that can serve to protect corporate interests, yet allow employees to further an organization’s overall social media goals,” the report said.

The report added that companies need to implement ongoing training regarding the benefits and challenges that social media brings to the enterprise.

“A well-defined strategy, coupled with clear policies and effective training will place your company in the best position possible to take full advantage of social media’s potential,” the report concluded.

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