11/01/2012 06:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why You Need a Social Media Policy, Even If You're @HubSpot (or @WGAins)

The discussions about social media policies moved from the
"nice-to-have" guidelines to the necessary legalistic, corporate documents a
few years ago. Most companies who engage in social media now have some type of
policy outlining guidelines and expected behavior from their employees. Some
brands have a link to their policies from their Facebook "About" tabs.

The need for having an internal social policy is simple: it
reduces risk. In reality, the social policy is most likely a variation on other
internal, employee documents. One advantage it does have is that it clearly
states what behavior is allowed and forbidden in specific social channels.

Legal teams like social policies. Social media scares them
to start with, so having some type of protection is necessary for them. It's
also a good for all of the employees. The clearer companies are with their
employees, the fewer misunderstandings and mistakes will happen in the social
channels. Social policies won't stop all poor behavior. But they will cause
some people to pause and think before they act socially. And if companies need
to take disciplinary action, employees can't say they haven't been warned. 

Do all companies need a social media policy? Maybe. But
there are certain types of companies that do themselves a disservice by not
having one.

Take HubSpot, for example. HubSpot is one of the bright
social media stars out of Boston. It's seen strong growth and has assembled one
of the best teams of social media thinkers in the country. It offers a suite of
inbound marketing tools along with training and is a boon for both newbie
social companies and more mature ones. It's one of the reasons we at the
#BTVSMB invited Rick Burnes to come to Burlington a few years back. 

Which is why I was quite surprised to see this pop-up online
in a comment stream:


It made me wonder: Does HubSpot, who teaches others how to
act socially, have a social policy themselves? Here is a clearly self
identified HubSpot employee, a supposed social media pro, talking about minors
and "Over The Pants Hand Jobs." Posting on company time no less. 

Now maybe I missed the post where some of my social media
favorites like Laura Fitton, Dan Zarella and Brian Halligan, all HubSpot gurus and some of the smartest people in the business,
write about social media masturbation (although you could make the case that this
IS what social media is all about. But that's another post.). I can't remember
them tweeting about encouraging employees to make highly inappropriate comments
with the brand name attached. 

Actually I'll bet the opposite is true, given the recent
examples from Chrysler and Kitchen Aid.

The super smart Mike Volpe wrote an opinion piece a few
years ago arguing that having a social media policies was stupid . I think Mike
only got it half right that time. You need to hire smart people AND have a
social policy. I think Brian Halligan's gang went 0 for 2 this time.

Insurance companies are part of a very risk averse industry sector. That's
an understatement. Their business is based on risk avoidance. That might be one
of the reasons why many of them have been late to online and social media.

Yet in that same comment stream referenced above, there are
comments from an employee of William Gallagher Associates, a company who
describes themselves as "a leading provider of insurance brokerage, risk
management and employee benefit services to companies with complex risks and
dynamic needs."

In the comments the young man expresses great support for
the risky behavior of underage and binge drinking.  Now, I'm not an insurance guy but shouldn't
they be promoting less risk, not more? While the guy is not as easily
identifiable as a William Gallagher Associates employee as the HubSpot guy, it
doesn't take much effort to find out, or to see that he too is commenting on
company time.

I've worked with a few insurance companies in Massachusetts
and I know it's a tough, competitive environment. I'm not sure promoting binge,
underage drinking is the right brand message for William Gallagher Associates. Insurance
companies place a great emphasis on building trust between their sales people
and their customers. Maybe saying impetous comments builds trust for some
people. But I'd rather not buy my insurance from someone like that.

WGA does participate in social media: they have a very good
, a small Twitter presence and a pretty good Web site. I bet that they
don't have a social policy either. As a risk management company, they probably

I may be missing something though. WGA CEO Philip Edmundson also tweets under the name PoliticsOfObesity. It's a great stream, by the way. Could it be that he's starting a new focus, Politics of Binge Drinking, and using some of his staff for research?

None of this really comes close to the Chrysler debacle.
Maybe I am picking on HubSpot, but it's only because they're big guns that can
take it. But both of these comments are so off brand as to raise some serious

What do you think?

[If you want to actually dig into the comment stream I
put on your waders because there's a lot of garbage there. Another
example of how broken online newspapers comment sections are. NOTE: Morgan has subsequently deleted his posts but you can parse out where they were.]