Nobody does an analogy quite like Trademark Productions own CEO, Dwight Zahringer. I always feel like I’m not quite measuring up to him whenever I have to come up with my own, especially when talking about something fairly important. Take social media policies. We recently blogged that it’s something a company needs to consider when entering the social media realm. Why?

Think of it as working for a company and going to the airport where you’re potentially interacting with hundreds or thousands of other people (depending on the airport). Maybe you strike up a conversation with some of them, they ask what you do and you find a unique way to mention the highlights of your employer. They’re intrigued. You’ve done your job. The airport is obviously a social media site somewhere on the internet and you’re catching people going to and from.

Now, imagine that your company’s social media policy is the security checkpoint before you enter the main terminal area of the airport. You get screened, but there are rules to the screening, a list of dos and don’ts as well as dos and don’ts when you enter the terminal section. You are representing your company and are expected to act in a manner that is respectful of that; you don’t insult the people around you or make disparaging remarks about your employer, co-workers or products/services your company offers. It really boils down to common sense.

On the flip side, there’s been a tremendous controversy over the new full body scanners and pat-downs implemented at many airports. While John Pistole, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, defends the procedures, there is still widespread discontent with how invasive they are. The same can be said for some aspects of social media policies. Where is the line drawn between employee and citizen?

ESPN came under some scrutiny a few months ago for rolling out a social media policy that felt like it was cutting off blood flow to the body. The big sticking point for me in reading through their guidelines was the part stating “Personal websites and blogs that contain sports content are not permitted.” Excuse me? Chances are if I work for anything having to do with sports like ESPN, it’s because I love that area. If my publisher informed me that I couldn’t discuss anything literary on my personal website or my blog, I’ll tell them something fairly unsavory and unsanitary. ESPN is a job, not a dictated way of life.

Best Buy is another one that, while not nearly as explicit as ESPN, still steps a little over the line. Not only does an employee’s responsibility to Best Buy not stop when they’re off the clock—if you’re not paying me, then bet me it doesn’t—but employees are supposed to identify their affiliation with the company when discussing matters within their job responsibility. The clincher is that if someone is commenting on the business, it’s considered speaking on behalf of Best Buy and hourly employees are not allowed to do so if they are off the clock. Could that be anymore confusing to follow?

Social media policies should be fairly simple and common sense, period. And I’m not suggesting that when someone walks out the door that they shouldn’t continue to use common sense when at home and online on their own time. There are tactful ways to express one’s opinion about a job, for better or worse, or about something that goes hand in hand with their job (i.e. sports) that shouldn’t be trampled on. And people should be able to express themselves. A company’s reach is not limitless nor should it be.

So while a social media policy remains a good thing to have, the ones that go off the beaten path or like one of those Gone Wild videos need some scrutiny as apparently do those full body scanners and pat-down searches at the airport.

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