Do Social Media Policies Stifle Innovation? - Social Media Explorer
Do Social Media Policies Stifle Innovation?
Do Social Media Policies Stifle Innovation?

Yesterday, US Chargé d’Affaires to Belarus Scott M. Rauland shared a link to a report on Internet Freedom by country.

In Belarus, they block political content and have jailed bloggers, so the report ranks the Internet in that country as “Not Free.”

I’m getting ready to go to Lithuania to advise the US Dept. of State on digital public affairs strategy in the region, so that, and the senseless massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris has me focused on how free speech impacts digital strategy.

I’m asking myself, is there a social media governance lesson?

Are politically correct speech codes counterproductive to the organizations they’re supposed to serve? Or are they strategically unsound?

Je Suis ChalieIs it time to reinvent the conventional approach to social media governance so as not to discourage thoughts and ideas that can lead to growth? Paul Gillin didn’t think so when we discussed it on our last B2B social media podcast, but I’m not convinced.

I’m drafting a social media policy development for a drugstore chain. Obviously, I’ll cover HIPAA, FTC disclosure guidelines, COPPA, harassment, discrimination, privacy and defamation.

But should I remove the sections I usually add in on Respectfulness and Diplomacy?

I’ve always strived to develop social media policies that encourage cooperative online behavior. But is discouraging dissension a mistake?

By trying to steer clear of any kind of disagreement and make sure everyone plays nice, are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Could deterring boat rockers through social media policies designed to preserve the status quo actually wind up stifling innovation?

“Free speech is supposed to incite dispute and it is often provocative and challenging while it presses for acceptance . . . The most valuable expression may well be that which, because it is provocative and challenging, produces these emotions (337 US 1,4, 1949).”

How does all this apply to social media marketing?

When I was researching Social Marketing to the Business Customer, I spoke with the folks at the SAP Community Network, which is a private B2B online social network that’s linked to an online store, which sells only SAP products.

Interestingly enough, they decided to offer star-ratings and customer reviews above each of their products. Their thinking was that if something were poorly rated, it would motivate the product team to get customers to write good reviews, or serve as a badge of shame and get them to fix whatever people were complaining about.

SAP uses social media to improve product performance by spotlighting, rather than censoring, criticism. In this case, they use public disapproval to unlock business value.

And while we certainly enjoy unprecedented freedoms in the West, tracking a four-year global decline, the Internet in US was less free in 2014 than it was in 2013. Different forces may be at work to restrict our freedom, but the results are the same.

Arbiters regard some information as too controversial or damaging to their economic or political interests, and mobilize to sequester it.

The speed and ease with which retailers nearly blocked theatrical motion picture exhibitors from screening “The Interview” and the Obama Administration’s numerous “attempts to prosecute and subpoena journalists accused of publishing leaker information” proves that even in the land of the free, there’s plenty of room for growth.

It’s not just despots and dictators who control the films, televisions shows and websites people have access to. They don’t resort to barbaric acts of terrorism to achieve their aims, but lobbyists, employers, even educators regularly try to restrict free speech, even though the distributed nature of social web makes it almost impossible to do so.

Lobbyists censor legislation through campaign contributions, employers try to control online conversations through social media policies and schools try to control campus demonstrations through politically correct speech codes.

“The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down,” wrote David Brooks.

Would the UCLA policy tolerate incisive, religious satire aimed at raising awareness of hypocrisy? Or would that type of speech be restricted in the name of inclusiveness?

What would respectful satire look like?

Freedom of expression means freedom to agree and disagree, freedom to include and exclude, freedom to tease and offend. You can’t unlock the value of free speech if arbiters are free to pick and choose what should be censored.

So I’ve decided to revise the Social Media Policy Template in my Social Media Policy Development Training Course with this in mind.

Were do you stand on free speech in social media policies? Should some freedoms, other than those prohibited by law, be restricted by employers?

If it’s lawful, should employees be free to say whatever they want online?

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About the Author

Eric Schwartzman
Eric Schwartzman (@ericschwartzman) is a digital strategist who leads teams in the delivery of digital marketing initiatives. He held top strategic marketing posts at two public companies, is best-selling author of “Social Marketing to the Business Customer” and has extensive experience providing content marketing, lead generation, search and social optimization and education technology services to senior leaders at multinational corporations, global nonprofits, the US Military and federal government agencies.

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