It’s Complicated

I have two jobs and two internships, none of which have provided me with a policy outlining how I can use my personal social media networks. Perhaps this is because, as Robert Howard discusses, social networks are ‘new participatory forms’ that are not yet fully understood. He outlines how the Internet has welcomed the notion of ‘self-produced media’, and how such participatory media has transformed the once simple structure of public discourse, into something quite unconventional, and into ‘complex new communication processes’.

However, social networks have been around since the 1970’s. While Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are currently the most popular; they did not birth the idea of social behaviour between computer users.

The seventies welcomed CompuServe, a business-oriented communication solution. BBS then became popular as an online meeting place where users could download files and games and post messages to each other. Then in the late 80s America Online, the ‘true precursor to today’s social networking sites’, was born. Known as AOL, the site became a hub for social interactions, allowing users to make ‘Member Profiles’, to chat anonymously via instant messaging.

Given they have existed for over 30 years, why aren’t social media policies a standard contract within the workplace? Possibly for the same reasons that there are no policies regarding use of your phone, or your email account: people believe they should have complete freedom of expression, and companies think their employees will behave with common sense online.

Cisco, a leading IT company, has released their social media policy that excels where most companies fall short. It respects their employees’ freedom of expression, and rather than outline strict prohibitions, it offers specific disclaimers for individuals who do want to express their opinion on a matter relevant to the company.

The policy also protects Cisco when employees, inevitably, lack common sense in their online discourse. CEO of Mashery explains that ‘people tend to interpret having the ‘right’ to express themselves online as implying a lack of consequences when they say stupid things’. Of course this isn’t the case, so giving employees such disclaimers ensures people don’t automatically assume the stupidity of one employee reflects the entire company.

So while many companies argue that social media are too complicate to regulate, Cisco proves there is no excuse to not implementing an effective social media policy.

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