EDF's New Social Media Guidelines: Why and How?

Posted on March 17, 2010 Under Social Media
By flickr user Wysz

By flickr user Wysz

A few weeks ago, we released a new set of social media guidelines for Environmental Defense Fund employees. Since not many workplaces have policies, I wanted to share not only the actual guidelines, but also how they came to be.

Why develop guidelines? Within minutes of the final applause at our all-staff social media extravaganza, we started getting questions about what was okay and what wasn’t in using social media for work. Lack of clarity about what behavior was expected was going to be a hurdle to participation.

Who wrote them? We assembled a working group of six people. Lauren Guite and I represented the web team, and we asked colleagues from HR and the media team to join us.

How did we decide what they should say?

First, we agreed to a goal — guidelines that would help employees exercise good judgment as they use social media. We didn’t want to prescribe in too much detail or scare people off completely.

Next, we reviewed all the social media guidelines we could find. We looked at a huge range of examples — formal, casual, restrictive, open, indecipherable, friendly. Intel’s guidelines stood out as striking a tone that felt right for EDF. If you look at our guidelines, you’ll see their influence. We also asked our lawyers what they recommended, and were pleasantly surprised when their advice wasn’t too legalistic to follow.

Then we circulated and refined several drafts. This ended up being much less painful than I imagined it might be. The team had reached good consensus already, so declaring the guidelines “final” was almost anti-climactic!

How did we introduce the guidelines to staff?

Since posting them on our Intranet, we’ve been scheduling discussion time with various groups of EDF employees. We thought people might be uncomfortable with them, but the guidelines have mostly been greeted with nods.

However, we’ve heard some striking examples of uncomfortable situations staff have encountered because of the way worlds collide in social media. Two of the ones that most stick with me:

  • One staffer posted a link about EDF’s work on Facebook. A family member who doesn’t believe in global warming attacked EDF’s position. It was very embarrassing to the staffer that her professional contacts could witness this family scuffle. It underlined the point that on these networks, your friends’ and family’s behavior can embarrass you.
  • Another staffer posted on Facebook how happy she was to be going to a work retreat. A former employee who was very conscious of last year’s layoffs at EDF criticized spending money on a retreat. The current employee was horrified that her casual excitement might have hurt former colleagues. It was a great reminder how tough it can be to consider all the perspectives people might bring to your posts.

And finally, since we are grateful to all the people whose guidelines we looked at, we’ve published ours, too. Take a look at them, and please share any thoughts or questions they spark.