ACAS’ social networking guidance

ACAS – the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, who you’ve probably heard of on news reports about negotiations between employers and unions – have published some guidance for employers on how to manage staff use of these sites at work.

Smart phones, internet, tweeting, blogging – we have accepted all of these innovations, and many more, as part of our working lives, helping us to work more flexibly, stay in touch for longer and respond to each other more quickly.

But is it all good news? Some estimates report that misuse of the internet and social media by workers costs Britain’s economy billions of pounds every year and add that many employers are already grappling with issues like time theft, defamation, cyber bullying, freedom of speech and the invasion of privacy.

So how should employers respond to the challenges posed by social networking tools at work?

New research from the Institute for Employment Studies, commissioned by Acas, advises employers to:

  • draw up a policy on social networking
  • treat ‘electronic behaviour’ in the same way you would treat ‘non-electronic behaviour’
  • react reasonably to issues around social networking by asking ‘what is the likely impact on the organisation?’

Worth checking out.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Just because you can say something…

…doesn’t mean that you should. Of course.

A bit of a Twitter flurry this morning about a case of a civil servant apparently being disciplined because of their use of the service.

The account in question, nakedCservant, is protected, so the updates aren’t public, and as I have never requested access, I can’t see what they are saying. However, according to this report, the civil servant behind the account was critical of ministers and government policy.

Various folk have called this out as being an example of a crack down on public servants being allowed to use services like Twitter in the workplace.

I’m not convinced it is.

The issue here is the message, not the medium, and it reminds me very much of the Civil Serf affair a few years ago. Whilst I don’t know the exact detail of this case, it’s clear that the civil servant is almost certainly in breach of the civil service code in terms of the content of their tweets.

In other words, the Twitter bit of this story is irrelevant. The result would be the same if this person were saying these things in emails, memos, letters to the newspaper, whatever.

I’ll go through my usual list of points when these stories emerge:

1. If you want to stay out of trouble, don’t slag people off in public.

2. Don’t rely on anonymity to protect you. Unless you’re very good, if somebody wants to find out who you are, they can do.

3. Having ‘these are my views, not those of my employer’ in your Twitter biography means absolutely nothing in reality. It’s no protection at all and I worry when I hear people being advised to do it as a way to feel safe about this stuff.

4. Never publish anything on the web you wouldn’t be happy to show your boss, your mother or a journalist. Assume everyone can see everything you write and that way you won’t be surprised when it turns out they can.

5. We’re in a strange situation at the moment where our personal and professional identities are in a state of flux and can’t be separated in a reasonable way. Most people, especially those that work in public services, can easily be traced to their employers online with a bit of Googling.

Maybe at some point in the future this will be sorted out, and we’ll have a common understanding of where work stops and home starts. But until then, be careful and if you have to think twice about posting something online, don’t post it!

Update: Steph adds on Twitter “don’t do politics” – and he’s right.

Update 2: Jimmy Leach blogs the view from the FCO.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Bookmarks for January 10th through January 24th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

A good social media policy is a good idea

Newcastle United, in an apparent break in their usual culture, appear to have done something sensible:

Newcastle United’s players will shortly be given guidelines about their tweeting habits. Alan Pardew was annoyed last Tuesday when José Enrique, his Spanish left-back, informed Twitter followers he would miss the team’s game at Tottenham through injury. As Enrique, happily restored to fitness for tomorrow’s trip to Wigan, is a key player, Pardew had intended keeping his absence quiet until the teamsheets appeared.

OK, so maybe a policy just for Twitter is over the top…

In an ideal world, no organisation should need a policy setting out the dos and don’ts of online interaction. After all, all the compliance stuff ought to be covered in existing policies on bringing the organisation into disrepute, communications, information security and that kind of thing.

But with new and emerging technology, sometimes you just need to spell things out a bit more clearly.

After all, it’s a potentially messy and complicated situation, especially when a member of staff is using a personal channel to communicate with friends and family.

The golden rule for me is that if someone can be in any way connected back to their employer, then they have to start thinking about how what they say might be traced back.

Even better, assume everyone knows and can see everything about you – friends and family but also your boss, and the media too.

But a good social media policy isn’t really about what staff shouldn’t do. It’s role should be to encourage and promote the right behaviour online. Don’t put something online that you wouldn’t say in a meeting, to a journalist or to your mum. If you do, then be aware that you’re taking a risk.

The civil service guidelines are a good starting point here – brief, and positive:

  • Be credible
    Be accurate, fair, thorough and transparent.
  • Be consistent
    Encourage constructive criticism and deliberation. Be cordial, honest and professional at all times.
  • Be responsive
    When you gain insight, share it where appropriate.
  • Be integrated
    Wherever possible, align online participation with other offline communications.
  • Be a civil servant
    Remember that you are an ambassador for your organisation. Wherever possible, disclose your position as a representative of your department or agency.

I would add Be aware to this list – make it a part of people’s duties to keep an eye on what is being said online and to take the web and online communities seriously.

Don’t clog your policy up with lists of rules about what to do and what not to do on the internet. Instead, encourage staff to be open and transparent, and confident that they are doing the right thing.

Bookmarks for August 5th through August 11th

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I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Bookmarks for March 16th through March 18th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Bookmarks for March 13th through March 15th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Strategy stuff – a three pronged approach

Drawing together a few discussions I have been involved in recently about the different types of documents an organisation – such as a council – might need to put together to define its approach to engaging online, I thought it might be useful to set out how I think it could be done.

My initial inclination is always to dispense with strategy, to be honest, as process has a habit of stifling Good Stuff, and over strategising leads to attempts at control and general alienation. My second thought is that even if strategy is required, there shouldn’t be any need for anything specific for digital, as really it’s all the same – technology shouldn’t matter.

Realistically, though, at this stage organisations need to feel comfortable with what they are doing, and if that means having bits of paper explaining it all, then so be it. The important thing is to get those bits of paper right. I see a need for three types of document, each of which I will explain below:

1. Corporate strategy

A high level document explaining what the organisation wants to do, and why it wants to do it. Don’t make it tool focused, else it will go out of date very quickly. Keep it broad and general, as the specifics will be covered in the other documents. This should be the paper brought out to win arguments where necessary. Make sure people at the top of the organisation read it, and endorse it: it will be an enabler to get stuff done.

Issues it should cover:

  • How important does the organisation see the digital space?
  • What are the opportunities and risks, and how are they managed?
  • How online interaction fits in with other channels and processes
  • An overview of the approach: something like the classic listen, acknowledge, create, share
  • How are staff supported in their delivery of the strategy?

2. Staff guidelines

This is the bit which explains in clear terms what staff are enabled to do at work using the internet. There are plenty of good examples available on the web, from the Civil Service guidance, to the BBC, IBM and others. It performs an important role, and should be less about saying what people can’t do and more about encouraging and empowering staff to engage in online conversations.

This should set out how staff are encouraged to engage online, what they can do on their own, and what they might need to seek advice on. My general advice on this is:

  1. If the information or content is already published in some form or other, then it should be repeatable on blogs, in forum or whatever without the need to gain permission
  2. If something new is being generated, whether a viewpoint or a response to a question, say, then it’s best to get it checked out first
  3. If the staff member is at all uncertain, even in the instance of 1. above, get some advice

3. Individual project engagement plans

These form the nitty-gritty of the online engagement work, and there should be one for every digital project undertaken. While the other two documents I have written about are pretty high level – to ensure they remain relevant – with the plans, you can be pretty detailed and focus on activities. These plans should describe:

  • What the project is about, and how digital can support that
  • What the objectives of the digital work are
  • How those objectives will be measured – ie evaluation
  • What the roles are and who is responsible for them
  • How reporting will work
  • Which tools will be used and how
  • Some kind of timeline showing when activity will happen, for how long and how it will be shut down.

I reckon this three-pronged approach more or less covers the necessary bases. It would be interesting to hear how people are approaching this area, and how it differs to what I have written here.