WSJ Social Media Policy: Still Not Getting It

May 14th, 2009 | by Stan Schroeder

In a recent article, we’ve asked should your company have a social media policy? Well, today the Wall Street Journal gave its answer to that question by issuing a lengthy list of rules of conduct on social networks, such as Facebook (Facebook reviews) and Twitter (Twitter reviews), for its staff. Guess what? They aren’t really encouraging them to participate in the social web.

The rules, or guidelines, if you will, are quite restrictive. Among them are the following:

“Let our coverage speak for itself, and don’t detail how an article was reported, written or edited.

Don’t discuss articles that haven’t been published, meetings you’ve attended or plan to attend with staff or sources, or interviews that you’ve conducted.

All postings on Dow Jones sites that may be controversial or that deal with sensitive subjects need to be cleared with your editor before posting.

Business and pleasure should not be mixed on services like Twitter. Common sense should prevail, but if you are in doubt about the appropriateness of a Tweet or posting, discuss it with your editor before sending.”

There are also some good points, mostly falling under the umbrella of common sense for any journalist:

“Never misrepresent yourself using a false name when you’re acting on behalf of your Dow Jones publication or service.

Don’t recruit friends or family to promote or defend your work.”

Now, if you head over to our article on the subject, one of the most important questions any organization looking to implement a set of rules such as this one should ask itself is: WHAT can social media do for my organization?

Unfortunately, the WSJ is not asking that question; they’re mostly asking: how can social media harm us and what we can do to prevent it? From an old-school journalism point of view, many of these rules make sense; yes, you should not tell the world (including your competitors) what you’re currently working on, at least not directly. But it’s not all about what your employees shouldn’t do; it’s also about what they should do.

Any media publication – any company, really – should encourage their authors to intelligently and creatively participate in the wonderful world of social media. Mixing business and pleasure is bad? I say it gives a human touch. Discussing unfinished articles is forbidden? I say that discussing certain aspects of it (without disclosing information that might help the competitors get the story first) and getting feedback from the social media community, can be invaluable.

Yes, explicitly forbidding certain types of behavior keeps stupid mistakes from happening, but it can also prevent a lot of good stuff from happening. WSJ may have prevented some problems that may arise in the future, but at the cost of choosing a very closed approach to everything social. They should know that being open about mistakes is one of the things that makes social media so valuable.