Can a social media policy be too restrictive?

A law firm administrator contacted me asking for feedback on the social media policy their firm had drafted. The administrator had pulled ideas from the Web, and was considering the addition of an “approved blog/site” component to the policy. The approved sites were very restrictive and limited to legal cases, legal discussions, legal developments and legal-business related topics.Lock and secure

10 Suggestions for a Balanced Approach to Social Media Policy.

1. Before you write a policy, get educated in the medium. Traditional approaches to social computing policy are not the most effective. Why? The medium has a mind of it’s own –the user’s, and it continues to evolve and gets more complicated each day.

2. You know your culture better than anyone, so use that as a filter for decision-making. Every firm is different. It certainly is the administrator’s job to look for the loopholes and the worst-case scenario, BUT if you make something a bigger deal than it is, it will become exactly that. Permission based policy works better than restrictive policy.

3. Like a parent that says “don’t touch the stove burner it’s hot” and the little kid does it anyway, such will be the result you’re going to get by restricting your policy to specifics. The key is to educate users in doing the right thing. Have a strong set of guidelines. Train everyone in what they mean in context.  Then, have oversight via a regularly scheduled social media audit. With those actions in place, you should be ready to trust your attorneys (and staff)?

4. Restricting participation, or even the reading of sites, to legal media only cuts off potentially valuable resources. Besides being impossible to police, you’re still leaving the decision to comply up to the user and there will be much hairsplitting on what qualifies as legal this or that. Within reason, non-legal media sites may be related to work and fall into other industry categories or general news and information.

5. Limiting visits to networks that are primarily entertainment or stream media such as facebook, My Space or You tube during business hours can be prudent, especially for staff. Lawyers should know better. Can they bill that time…no! So it’s their grave they dig if they waste time on entertainment sites.

6. Definitely lay down the game rules, communicate management’s position on best practices, ethical and legal liabilities, but policing attorney activity communicates mistrust.

7. For staff, much like personal emails and shopping sites, they should be restricted to lunch hour usage. Perhaps have a free day once a month, kind of like the “jeans day” that was popular in the past decade. It makes it a treat. But only do this when you are sure your employees understand the boundaries. You can always take it away if it is abused. Say …. tank top, ripped jeans and flip flops?

8. Visits to political sites and leaving imprudent comments is an issue for some firms. I’ve never known a law firm not to have political positions on both sides. Again, it is all about communication and training in ethics, business etiquette, and not bringing harm to the firm or the firm’s clients.

9. Common sense rules offline and online; it’s no different than the conversations lawyers have at events or cocktail parties. Don’t offend anyone. Best to stay away from religion and politics when in the general public. Lawyers must understand that their online personality, and the positions they take on hot topics do AFFECT their business development prospects and reflect on the firm. After that, they should be trusted.

10. To recap, permission based policies are ALWAYS received better and result in fewer transgressions. Permission based policy needs a contextual training component to be understood. It is an investment in something that is not going to go away.

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