Monthly Archives: October 2009

Social Media Policy – Part 2 – Defining “Social Media”

Defining what “social media” means is another factor cited as important to a social media policy.  This definition provides a framework for understanding what the organization is discussing. For instance, Facebook is commonly known to be a social networking platform.  Twitter is often called a micro-blogging platform, but some believe it to be a social networking platform as well.  Both Twitter and Facebook can be categorized as social media tools.  However, many traditional media websites are adopting social networking or social media aspects to their websites. For instance, the New York Times recently released a social media application, called TimesPeople, on the website that allows users to create profiles and share New York Times materials with other users.  Additionally, the social media landscape changes rapidly and, as such, future popular services are either just beginning to develop or have yet to be invented.  Therefore, consideration should be given to what types of tools are to be included rather than focusing on specific tools when developing a definition for social media.  Broadly speaking, social media tools encompass any website that allows a user to post information that others can view or otherwise to interact with other users.

So how would you define social media?  Is a definition important?

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Social Media Policy – Part 1 – Organizational Culture

One of the key items to consider when developing a social media policy is the value that the organization’s leadership places on the use of social media.  This value system regarding social media will largely determine how the organization resolves issues with its employees’ use of social media.  Broadly speaking, organizations can be divided based on three types of views of social media: those that widely support usage, those that restrict usage, and those that fall somewhere in the middle.  The following chart illustrates the view of social media by such organization types. 

Supportive In the Middle Restrictive
  • The organization supports employee use of social media for both personal and work-related issues.
  • The organization places very few, if any, restrictions on the use of social media. 
  •   These organizations vary from organizations that are supportive of employee use of social media, with mild restrictions and well defined guidelines. 
  • The majority of organizations fall somewhere in this category.
  •  The organization restricts use of social media tools for both personal and work-related issues.
  • The organization blocks access to social media websites on the organization’s system.

An example of a supportive organization is Zappos because the organization adopted an official Twitter policy that requires employees to “just be real and use your best judgment.” An example of a restrictive organization is the U.S. Marine Corp, which has banned all access to social media websites on the organization’s computer system.  The Mayo Clinic, IBM, and Intel are examples of “in the middle” organizations because these organizations allow employees to use social media websites to discuss work-related issues, but the organizations have set clear guidelines as to what actions are, or are not, appropriate when discussing organizational business.

So what is your organizations culture?  Is this a good starting point?  What would you add to this topic?

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Prologue – Social Media Policy Series

Over the past few months, I have been researching employee social media use policies.  This post is the prologue to a series of posts to share that research.  Hopefully, the information I provide will be helpful, but I also hope that you will provide feedback and guidance.  What have you experienced?  What should be in a policy? 

As stated above, the information found in this series is adapted from research and materials prepared by myself and my colleagues Scott Primeua and Heather Garmeson.  Special thanks for their assistance.

The why “an organization needs a social media use policy” issue is important, but  I am not going to cover that topic.  Afterall the topic has been addressed by Jay Jaffe here, here and here, Beth Kanter here, Doug Cornilious here, among many others.  Lets just say that a social media use policy is important to your organization. 

Of course, it is always important to keep in mind that the social media policy addresses what employees have always done – talk to other people about their jobs and personal lives.  The only thing that has changed is that employees now have more tools to reach wider audiences.  Thus, before implementing a social media policy, the views and opinions of the employees of an organization should be considered in order to build a consensus regarding the use of the Web and social media tools.

Your comments and resources will help me build a better work product.  (Of course, I will attribute any information to the contributors in future work).  So thank you in advance!

In that spirits, I’d like to acknowledge my colleagues Scott Primeua, Heather Garmeson, and Keith Whitelaw for their feedback and assistance with the materials presented in this series.

Transparency – when a good thing goes bad!

In an October 9th article in the New Republic, Lawrence Lessig authored an important critique of the transparency movement. Primarily asking the questions – transparency is all fine and good, but what is the end?

Lessig’s article and a related article by Jill Lepore, which takes a critical look at the history of scientific management, in The New Yorker point out that what seems to be a good idea at one time may not be in the long run, especially if not examined.  As the saying goes “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  Thus, without careful review the rush to transparency may lead to unintended consequence that we do not want and may jeopardizes the good that could have been achieved by opening up government data.

In fact, Lessig points out the non-contextual nature of raw data.   Without context, data can saying anything.  An example that comes to mind is the Denver Post’s effort to publish the salaries of all Colorado state government workers in the Post’s data center (the information is no longer available).  As a pure transparency matter, such publication is not a bad idea.  However, this data cannot speak the whole story alone.  The data that was release simply stated the name of the employee, the employee’s agency or department, the employee’s state classification, and salary.  The data did not say if the employee worked for a full year or not.  The data did not say if the employee was promoted or demoted during the year.  The data did not say what the employee’s job was.  The data was without context.  So yes a few department of transportation drivers appear to have huge salaries.  Why?  They drive snow plows and work lots of over time.  Was the information useful?  Yes.  But without the context it does not tell the whole story. 

Neither Lessig’s article nor this post on O’Reilly Radar, which highlights both Lessig and Lepore articles, condemn open government data/transparency, rather they point to the need for goals and to ask the important question of “what is the end?”  I support transparency fully and think government does need to open up more information.  But we do need to think about what will be the benefits and the costs.  And if we are republishing, redisturbing, or mashuping any of the data for use as a policy tool, we must provide context and avoid bias whenever possible. – legislative links made readable

Finding legislative materials is often have the battle of staying informed on what law makers are doing.   Sites like and are aimed at making congressional information more accessible and do a good job at achieving this goal.  A new project,, recently started with the same aim of making legislative and statutory information more accessible.  Legislink goes about this task differently by creating human readable URL that direct the user to the legislative information found on the government’s site. 

Legislink is not necessarily a better product.  Just a different way of getting to important information.  (I should disclose that I have contributed to the legislink project on bring it to the state level in Colorado).   What I think legislink does extremely well is get the user to the source of the information, the government.   Now republishing the legislative material on a new site like Opencongress or govtrack is fine, but why not go to the source of the information first.

Legislink does this by creating URL that can be cited much more easily than the official URLs provide by legislative sites. 

For instance,  the official Colorado legislative URL for House Bill 08-1266 (a bill I also worked on) is  The legislink URL is   I think that is easier, but you be the judge.  In addition, legislink allows users to go directly to  a specific section of the piece of legislation, such as section 8 of HB08-1266,  If a bill of interest is long or if you are looking for a specific section of a bill, this feature is extremely helpful.

As a I state above, legislink is not necessarily the answer.  Just as opencongress and govtrack are not the answer.   But these sites are a step in the right direction to making government information more accessible.  

So in the spirit of Chris Brogan, I must applaud Joe Cramel, a retired IT manager for the US Congress, for getting it right by creating the legislink project.   I am also encouraging others to participate in building and expanding legisllink by joining the conversation and contributing to the effort on the project wiki.