Social Media Rules: Does Your Outsourcing Provider Have Any?

Does your outsourcing provider have a social media policy?

I've been randomly asking this question when talking to IT buyers, and the answer has usually been,  "I do not know." These companies usually have some guidelines for their own shop but don't typically discuss how their provider handles all of this. I've asked some providers too, and responses have varied from "No, not officially" to "We trust our people to behave responsibly."

That's a good philosophy, because nothing turns off smart, creative techie types like draconian rules and Big Brother monitoring. On the other hand, from an official, legal standpoint — sadly, we live in a cover-your-butt society — some form of written, posted, on-the-books policy is a good idea.

"Most policies are crafted primarily with company protection in mind," says Stephanie Schwab at Social Media Explorer. But, she says, "I’d argue that an equally important goal of your policy should be to eliminate confusion on the part of employees, making it safe for them to engage in social media without constantly asking for guidance (or fouling up)."

Most of the policies out there cover the big things like security and confidentiality, but in the sourcing world, they need to also include anything related to a client's brand or reputation. "Just finished code for Shinebox Industries. What a bunch of idiots!" Clearly not something you want to see tweeted.

One of the most refreshing policies is Intel's. As the folks at The Social Path blog said, not only does Intel encourage employees to use social media, "it’s encouraging them to be themselves while doing so." One example: "Provide unique, individual perspectives on what's going on at Intel and in the world." Of course that advice comes with reminders to respect proprietary info, but the point is, it's a policy that treats employees like adults — smart, responsible adults.

At the risk of sounding like a jerk, the one issue I would raise with a provider, though, is: How much time do your workers spend on activities like Facebooking and tweeting and blogging? Do you have a policy or management attitude about that?

We've probably all worked with a person who was apparently addicted to some form of online activity. It happens.  Ages ago I had on my team a woman who spent so much time reading and responding on newsgroup discussion boards (remember that text-only Internet?) that we had to terminate her access. She would be at her desk, looking like she was immersed in her job, but instead was spending 5 to 7 hours online sharing her wisdom and ripostes with the rest of the world instead of, you know, doing actual work.

This was an extreme case, of course, but the lesson is that the little screen on everyone's desk is a portal to distraction — into the Land of Lost Time. I'm not suggesting policies that put official time limits on social media use. I'm just saying it's something that providers and buyers need to keep an eye on.

There is at least one outsourcing provider that has a published social media policy, and that's Capgemini. Being a humongous corporation, it needs official rules; this is not like a small software shop where everyone knows everyone and the boss knows his team is conscientious enough to stay focused on work. But Capgemini's guidelines are light-handed and, like Intel's, on the philosophical side: "Above all, please use good judgment, be attentive to others and take the trouble to listen and be understood."

The big French services company includes as its first rule a dictum that some readers of this blog have wondered if the writer of this piece ever follows: "Think before you post."