Corporate Acceptable Use Policies for Social Media – A practical example

I’ve been working closely with a group of people at work struggling with question of Social Media in a corporate environment. Working in government doesn’t make it an easier question, as pubic servants are open to all sorts of scrutiny and employee productivity is easily questioned. However, it was fascinating experience, an opportunity to meet with people passionate about New Media all over government, all with their own objectives and challenges. One thing that became exceedingly clear however, was that an Acceptable Use Policy is critical to the success of any large institution embarking on a Social Media journey.

I came across an excellent article today called Social Media Safety: Acceptable Use Policies Critical. It outlines five different questions that need to be considered when putting together an Acceptable Use Policy. Here’s what needs to be considered:

  1. Access Levels: Do all employees need the same level of access? We came up with a 3-tier system we’re currently working on implementing.
    • Restricted: Some employees do not really need access to Social Media. Internet use is not core to their function, so any change to what they have can be disruptive. Not everyone has a desktop assigned to them, particularly staff not working in an office environment.
    • Limited Access: Most employees require some sort of Social Media access, but aren’t really authorised to engage with the public in a professional capacity. The fundamental shift is in this group, as corporate policy previously blocked Social Media for this group, while I believe that access should be provided, whether it’s for learning, monitoring or any other reason; but we still have a way to go.
    • Full Access: PR and Marketing functions within Departments need access to Social Media platforms. This is their bread and butter and they should be listening, engaging and interacting with the public on these channels as well as traditional ones. This is where we’re doing most of our work at the moment.
  2. Downloads: Do employees need to download specialise software? The desktop team have enough trouble packaging up all the applications different users need. Specialised applications need to be avoided as much as possible. Luckily most services are becoming more and more cloud-based, which means standard Web controls can cover most of the requirements. It does mean we’re more likely to go down the HootSuite route as opposed to the TweetDeck on.
  3. When, Where and How Much? Regardless of policy, employees will use Social Media platforms during work hours (and I’m confident also use them for work reasons doing personal time). How does an Acceptable Use Policy square this up. How much automation and how much policy is used to control and manage these behaviours is up to Human Resources, but I believe that employee training and trust is fundamental to coming up with the right balance
  4. Defining the engagement: This one is a doozy for a civil servant. Microblogging is rife with people giving away snippets of information that can be misinterpreted or construed as official positions. So far, the people with access are PR professionals so we fully expect them to be aware of what they are signing up for. However, if we are to extend the reach of social media, what and how things can be said needs to be looked at. This is indeed a challenge, but I think getting this right is the key to success. Personally, I don’t think it’s that hard, people speak about their job and career down at the pub to friends and family. The same rules apply online. You wouldn’t post things you don’t want your mum, your wife or your boss to know online, in the same way you wouldn’t talk about them in the pub.
  5. Dealing with policy violations: An acceptable use policy would also need to define how policy violations are dealt with. We’re working with existing policies at the moment, so any Social Media policy needs to work together with these to make coherent sense. There’s nothing worse that two policies that conflict with each other.

It’s an interesting journey and I’m proud to be a part of it. I know we have a long way to go, but a number of initiatives have already started taking shape, which I’ll be blogging about in due course. In the meantime, we have loads to learn together, and formulating a cohesive policy that works hand-in-hand with the current Acceptable Use Policy is just one of the fun things we need to do.


  1. Social media access is something that can lead to waste. Advocates that ignore this are not being realistic. The best way to address this risk is with a overall management culture that supports sensible behavior (rather than trying to make special rules to enforce sensible behavior on social media work). And what standards make sense depend on the organization. Some organizations that are heavily involved in social interaction with customers it makes sense for a high level of access for many more people than at another company.

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