Too much vs. not enough - creating social collaboration usage guidelines

By Angela Ashenden posted 07-18-2014 12:45


There has been much talk around the web about the importance of creating social media guidelines to clarify how organisations expect their employees to behave when posting on public social networks or communities (either in their personal or professional capacity). However, this issue is becoming increasingly important inside the organisation as well, as internal social collaboration platforms grow in popularity and businesses try to get their heads around things like adoption, management buy-in and delivering value. Social collaboration usage guidelines are a great way to address two key issues - a) setting the tone and expectation for how employees should behave on the platform, and b) reassuring twitchy senior (and less senior) managers with concerns about people "wasting time" that this is a serious business platform.


While these internal usage guidelines have much in common with external social media guidelines, they need to take a slightly different approach to make sure they help - rather than hinder - adoption of your new technology. Social collaboration adoption requires a change in people's behaviour, and it doesn’t take much to put people off, at which point they will simply go back to what they did before, and reject the new platform altogether. So while it's important that your usage guidelines set out what is expected of employees' behaviour on the platform, their overriding tone needs to be encouragement, rather than discouragement. The key is to focus on simple common sense and raising awareness - most employees can generally be trusted to behave in an appropriate way, but perhaps may need reminding that everything they post will be directly attributed to them, and that because it is an open, potentially global platform, their post could be read by anyone from right across the organisation (not just their immediate peer group or department), and they need to be sensitive to other points of view or cultural perspectives, for example.


Many early adopters take a peer-based approach to moderation, allowing employees to report posts that they consider inappropriate, rather than actively moderating the platform centrally. This is also a good way to give the community space to find its feet and gain confidence, rather than giving the impression that you might be pounced on if you step out of line. When issues are reported, our research indicates that these are usually minor issues that can be handled with a simple, offline conversation with the individual, asking them to edit or remove the post concerned. In practice, there are few major incidents - as I say, most people know how to behave appropriately, and aren't going to suddenly change their behaviour just because you introduce a new social collaboration platform. On the rare occasions that that a serious issue does arise, remember that your usage guidelines should not stand alone - they should simply be an extension of your existing HR policies around business behaviour, and issues can be escalated via normal line management or HR channels and processes.


There's no standard way to approach usage guidelines - your organisation's culture will determine your best approach, and you may find it's best to adapt your approach over time anyway. Some organisations draw up a formal policy document, some require users to accept a terms of use agreement upon logging in for the first time, and others simply post their guidelines on the platform. To help you focus your own needs and approach, here are a few links to usage guidelines specifically designed for internal collaboration platforms; please feel free to share any you've come across (or indeed your own!) via the comments below.


UBM's usage guidelines for its Jive-based internal community "The Hub"  -!input.jspa?displayOnly=true


IBM (guidelines that cover both internal and external social platforms) -


The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) takes a more formal approach -

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