A clear social business policy is an essential guide for employees using social and collaboration tools for customer engagement and for internal or partner collaboration.

While it takes a cross-organizational team to establish a social business policy, CIO’s play an increasingly important role in the development of an effective policy:

 - Steering the policy creation process
 - Embedding the policy in tools and training
 - Working with other to educate and certify employees for social engagement

A Tool For Managing Risk and Increasing Opportunity
The concerns that drive the need for a social business policy are not new. Maintaining security, privacy, compliance, and intellectual capital have been legal and organizational imperatives for a very long time.

But with new tools designed to share information very broadly and quickly, having an ineffective or missing social business policy presents enormous risks and can result in missed opportunities.

If data governance is a huge concern to your company, so may be the threat of legal exposure, lawsuits and fines.

If that’s the case, social policy should take steps to make sure employees know what they can and cannot disclose to each other, or to customers or partners, and what they can and cannot post on social media.

Inadvertent or malicious damage to the brand is also a major risk. A social policy provides clear guidance to employees on what can and cannot be shared on social platforms like a team site, company blog, Twitter or Facebook.

And beyond policy, creating a world-class social communication training program to engage with customers and teach employees how to speak over Twitter, Facebook, and blogs is an effective way to mitigate these risks.

The last thing a company should want is to shut down its prime source of value: its people. With the proper guardrails in place, employees will know what the boundaries are on using technology to solve customer problems.

It is worth noting that the absence of policy makes it easier for employees to act inappropriately in social forums and also discourages many employee advocates from speaking up in a positive way. By contrast, an effective policy empowers employees to act as company advocates.

Internal and External Communications
Employees use blogs, wikis, or community software to work with other employees and customers. A single policy should cover both situations.

Guidance on external communication is about staying on message: The social business policy should make it clear that when you speak, you speak on behalf of your employer, even on personal accounts in the public domain like Twitter.

Guidance on internal communication is about being professional: If you wouldn’t say it over a megaphone in the lunchroom at work, then don’t say it via an internal blog post or comment. That’s professionalism, and the social business policy needs to hold people accountable to that standard.

Accountability: IT’s Role
For any of this to work, employees must be held accountable for violations of the policy.

While it is not the CIO’s responsibility to change the culture of accountability inside a company, he or she can work with human resources and business managers to provide technology to monitor and expose repeated violations or misuse of social channels, if the company wishes to enforce its policy or is required to do so by regulation.

 - Implement a listening platform for employees’ voices on public social networks. Marketers already use tools like Radian6 and Visible Technologies to monitor customer sentiment.

Human resources and business managers can use the same technology to monitor how their employees represent the company online.

CIO’s can also assist by suggesting applications like Socialware to monitor employees’ use of Facebook and Twitter.

 - Hire community mangers as advocates to promote and shape the employee dialogue.

Assigning internal community managers to educate and lead the internal collaboration efforts pays off in higher adoption.

Social advocates help regulate the tone of dialogue in the community and can coach employees toward professional courtesy to one another.

Leadership In Social Business And Collaboration Policy
CIO’s don’t own personnel policies, but as a leader with oversight of the workforce technology toolkit, every CIO has a responsibility to work collaboratively with other senior executives to develop and communicate the social media policy.

With so much uncertainty around social media at this time, the CIO is an influential leader when it comes to the safe use of social media.

Where the company is using technology in support of the policy, the CIO needs to be an advocate for its use.

CIO’s must work closely with the enterprise social business strategy team to handle security, legal, and regulatory issues.

Security executives have a different perspective and set of responsibilities than CIO’s do when it comes to social business collaboration.

So does the corporate legal team.

Ultimately the executive team must balance the benefits of creating a social business against the increased risks.

Finally, as suggested in Forrester’s Social Business And Collaboration Playbook, CIO’s might consider hiring a social business architect to help design a social technology ecosystem.

Though it is not yet a common role in IT, Forrester predicts that social business architects will be in high demand in coming years.

Armed with practical expertise in deploying key social technologies such as Radian6 and collaboration platforms, these architects will help define the linkages between social components to build out the ecosystem of tomorrow’s social business.

Pic: Sean MacEntee cc2.0