Coca Cola’s recently released social media principles are noteworthy as well as easy to grasp.
In my experience few people, whether upper level managers or entry level employees, will pay much attention to long, complicated, legalistic rules. Thus it is well that Coke’s principles are short and simple because they are meant to guide more than a million employees associated with its extended business empire across 206 countries.
Coca Cola’s new online social media principles define three hierarchical levels of responsibility for its workforce: designated subject matter experts; social media certified spokespersons; and everyone else. Those not certified as spokespersons may not speak on behalf of the company. Certified spokespeople may speak in the company’s name but must refer difficult situations to subject matter experts. The principles apply to all employees but only appear to provide complete guidance to non-certified employees.
You can see Andy Sernowitz’s recent interview with Coke’s Adam Brown about the policy via this two-and-a-half minute YouTube video (highly recommended – short and sweet: nice work Andy). My analysis of the policy and Adam Brown’s commentary is below.
Features of Coke’s policy include:
- it’s short–only 3 pages long, single spaced–which means everyone in the company can reasonably be expected to read it and take a shot at understanding how it applies to them;
- it pushes responsibility for using good sense down to the individual employees, whether acting personally or on behalf of the company;
- it mandates completion of standard (“certified”) training for employees designated as “spokespeople” who are empowered to post to social media on behalf of Coke; and
- it represents the extended cooperative effort of marketing, HR, ethics and compliance, and legal departments at Coke.
The policy also:
- bans fake posts and sites, and mandates disclosure of any compensation associated with reviews by bloggers;
- mandates protection for consumers’ private, personally identifiable information;
- requires recognition and respect for others’ intellectual property;
- bans partnering with online scammers;
- requires the same standards for employee behavior when online as when appearing in public with respect to words and actions that might violate laws (like insider trading) or tarnish the company reputation;
- invites employees to forward negative online references to the proper department at Coke, while prohibiting them from responding personally unless they have been properly designated; and
- delicately reminds employees not to share company secrets with friends and family online.
In addition, company representatives “certified” for social media, who are empowered to post on behalf of company online, are required:
- to disclose their affiliation with Coke (they can’t pretend to be unaffiliated – see “fake posts / sites” above);
- to keep a record of their posts;
- to step back from matters they have doubts about and refer them to the “online relations” department; and
- not to take credit for others’ ideas (related to intellectual property protection, above).
I give Coke’s policy an “A-” for comprehensiveness, simplicity, and clarity, with a point off for relying on additional policies and processes that are outside of this document, namely, Coke’s “Code of Business Conduct” that is applicable to personal behavior whether or not employees are online, plus of course the whole certification (training) process, whatever that entails.
The only fluff in the three pages was a single bullet point exhorting the benefits of utilizing best practices, listening to the online community, and following regulations, a vague catchall. This document is meant to be the unified source of guidance for all employees. The majority of the employees who will be asked to abide by these principles can’t reasonably be expected to research, draw conclusions from, and act independently based on their understanding of industry best practices, online community chatter, and government regulations. It’s just too much of a departure from their day to day jobs. That level of responsibility is better left to the relatively few certified spokespeople and ultimately the subject matter experts in their online relations department, who have accepted or even sought out this responsibility as part of their jobs.
If anyone knows of other examples of cutting edge social media principles, particularly near my home base (Pacific NW), please let me know!
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