Some perspectives on ESPN’s new "social" media guidelines

This will be brief, but I did want to offer some of my own, personal perspectives on the issue of ESPN’s new guidelines for employee use of social media. I’m basing this on my own experiences here at IBM in helping maintain the IBM Social Computing Guidelines, which we’ve had now for over four years. The IBM guidelines were created, literally, by the IBM employees who were participating in these social spaces. I won’t go into too much detail here about it – but I’ve written up our experiences in a prior post for your reading pleasure.

Now, to ESPN’s guidelines. Overall, they seem fairly reasonable. ESPN has a business to run and they need to protect their reputation and revenue streams. I understand and appreciate that. Guidelines are absolutely essential for corporations to protect both the company and the employee. But, I did have two main reactions:

  1. They come across too heavy handed.
  2. They seem to have been created and communicated in a completely old-school, top-down manner without input from employees.

If my experiences at IBM have taught me anything, it’s the following:

  • Don’t create social media guidelines for employees without including employees in the process.

Why? As far as I see it, there are a few reasons:

  1. Corporate-only mandates instill a sense of distrust between employee and employer. Nothing says we don’t trust you like management saying out of the blue that you aren’t allowed to do “X” or “Y.” If employees are part of the process, then this becomes a moot point. But by mandating behavior on employees you turn off those who are most likely your most valuable assets in the social media space. After all, nothing is more powerful for a brand than to have its employees out there talking to clients, customers, partners and – in this case – fans.
  2. Missed value. The suits in CHQ (yes, I’m one) can never know all the ways that employees are finding value through social media. And much of that is bringing value to the corporation. So to dictate rules without the perspective of the employees means a lot of potential value can get lost.
  3. Employee “ownership” of the guidelines results in a wonderful phenomenon: better behavior and a self-regulating community. We do no policing of employees in social spaces at IBM. One of the reasons for this is because the other IBMers – the ones who helped write the guidelines – keep everyone else in line. Positive peer-pressure if you like. And if you were trusted to help create guidelines, naturally, you are more predisposed to understand them and to follow them.

Social media in sports is still in its nascent stages. Heck, I even have my own little story about it. I’m very interested in seeing how professional sports leagues, organizations and media outlets ultimately find the balance for all of this. But one thing is for sure, they should all listen to employees and fans as their starting point.

Update: looks like someone else picked up on the IBM example too.

7 Comments on “Some perspectives on ESPN’s new "social" media guidelines”

  1. “Don’t create social media guidelines for employees without including employees in process.” Love it, don’t mind me if I quote this.

    Social Media is a network effort and without the network supporting it, guidelines are useless.

    Great post.

  2. Tiffany Page says:

    It seems to me that many of the corporate decisions about social media and the use of social media by employees are being made by people who wouldn’t use it in the first place. Perhaps the CEO of ESPN would never tweet s0 it seems perfectly reasonable to him t0 say no tweeting unless ESPN says to do it. It is a relatively new landscape and people are going to make mistakes, but if people are not respected for their professionalism, they are not likely going to stay with their current employer for long!

  3. Noah Kuttler says:

    “The first and only priority is to serve ESPN sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content”

    To your comment about heavy handed. While it is true (the actions of employees should be to further the company), the wording sounds downright Draconian. Community interaction is the way to go when it comes to establishing policy.

    The irony is that ESPN were the ones that changed the game when it came to sports reporting by _not_ sticking to just sports. By making things like SportsCenter more relivent and linked to pop culture and things outside of sports. Apparently they are forgetting their own roots and just simply want to turn the social media into PR feeds. Pass.

  4. Fantastic post, Adam.

    Command decisions of this sort often happen in an operational vacuum and are thus almost always deeply flawed.

    Taking the time to ask real questions, to engage with internal users of Social Media platforms, to truly weigh the pros and cons / risks vs. opportunities of the technology across the entire organization would have probably yielded very different guidelines and policies from ESPN and the USMC.

    IBM did it right, and as far as I can tell has had zero issues. (At least no bad press about any incidents.) In sharp contrast, organizations whose command teams make unilateral decisions about things like this invariable turn a precarious situation into a very bad one, not only operationally, but from an image and PR perspective as well.

    Your points here are fantastic and well taken.

  5. adamclyde says:

    Olivier. Thanks for the thoughts. I wouldn’t say we’ve had NO issues. We have. But I think they’ve been kept in perspective given the many people engaged and the tremendous amounts of good work around too. And the fact that the community of IBMers who were engaging in these spaces were really the drivers behind the guidelines has helped tremendously to making it a continued success.

  6. […] types of business’ seem to be able to have a bit more control.  Another blogger has made some excellent points about the creation of policies being dictated by the employees that will be subjected to […]

  7. Kimberly says:

    Adam, I found this blog post very interesting and am interested in communicating offline about this. I can be reach at the above email. Thanks, and I hope to hear back from you.

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