ESPN has finally done what most organizations should be doing: they have issued a social media policy. Thanks to Ken Fang over at Fang's Bites, the policy is now out in the world. For the most part, it is fairly straightforward. And as an information technology governance professional, I am probably taking a very different view of the policy then most of the on-line scribes and bloggers out there.
Some parts of the policy, such as the ban on "personal websites and blogs that contain sports content" may seem draconian on its face. But the policy serves a purpose. It establishes a baseline for all personnel who fall under the policy, and provides some level of legal protection for ESPN (and by extension Disney) if they have to terminate someone for something they posted on an external web site or social networking site. Without a policy, they would likely lose in an unlawful termination lawsuit.
A few years ago, I was a member of the editorial advisory board for Corporate Compliance Solutions Advisor magazine. In an article for the publication entitled "Managing the Business Risk of Blogs," I wrote:
What about employees who write about their work on their own time, but the readers of their content know full well who the employer is? In the case of Microsoft, there are posted positions for "evangelists" who are required to blog about their work. They have pretty much free reign in what they are writing. Most "corporate" bloggers are very careful about what they write and when they write it, in order to avoid running afoul of corporate policies. However, it's difficult for many of their readers to distinguish between the individual private blogger and his or her corporate identity...
...Where does the identity of a person end and the identity of the corporation begin? What significant risks are posed in this scenario? What if an employee really does release confidential information or trade secrets? As an employer, you have to be careful in developing policies to cover this. It's clear that you can't stop employees from using social software on their own time, but you do have the right and obligation to your shareholders to make clear what they can and can't write about from the workplace.
Source: Managing the Business Risk of Blogs, by Christopher Byrne and Richard Schwartz. Corporate Compliance Solutions Advisor Magazine, June 2005
It is a tough balancing act to work through. But I can guarantee you (well as far as what I have been able to confirm to date), ESPN is ahead of the other networks when it comes to putting a policy in place. I had a discussion about this with a media relations executive at one network regarding what one of the on-air talent was posting on Facebook.
My bottom line with that network is that they needed to develop a policy and conduct awareness/education sessions with the their employees. Otherwise the policy would fall flat on its face when implemented. This is where ESPN has dropped the ball in this process. And as a result, ESPN and the policy will be ridiculed and mocked over the next several days/weeks.
Finally, before getting to the actual policy document, there is a certain irony here. IBM, which has a much stodgier history and reputation than ESPN, has a much more lenient blogging policy. And what company is now a major sponsor on ESPN? IBM of course.
Here is the policy as posted over on Fang's Bites:
ESPN’S ADDITIONAL GUIDELINES FOR SOCIAL NETWORKING
ESPN regards social networks such as message boards, conversation pages and other forms of social networking such as Facebook and Twitter as important new forms of content. As such, we expect to hold all talent who participate in social networking to the same standards we hold for interaction with our audiences across TV, radio and our digital platforms. This applies to all ESPN Talent, anchors, play by play, hosts, analysts, commentators, reporters and writers who participate in any form of personal social networking that contain sports related content.
ESPN Digital Media is currently building and testing modules designed to publish Twitter and Facebook entries simultaneously on ESPN.com, SportsCenter.com, Page 2, ESPN Profile pages and other similar pages across our web site and mobile platforms. The plan is to fully deploy these modules this fall.
Any violation of these guidelines could result in a range of consequences, including but not limited to suspension or dismissal.
- Personal websites and blogs that contain sports content are not permitted
- Prior to engaging in any form of social networking dealing with sports, you must receive permission from the supervisor as appointed by your department head
- ESPN.COM may choose to post sports related social media content
- If ESPN.com opts not to post sports related social media content created by ESPN talent, you are not permitted to report, speculate, discuss or give any opinions on sports related topics or personalities on your personal platforms
- The first and only priority is to serve ESPN sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content
- Assume at all times you are representing ESPN
- If you wouldn’t say it on the air or write it in your column, don’t tweet it
- Exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for your colleagues, business associates and our fans
- Avoid discussing internal policies or detailing how a story or feature was reported, written, edited or produced and discussing stories or features in progress, those that haven't been posted or produced, interviews you've conducted, or any future coverage plans.
- Steer clear of engaging in dialogue that defends your work against those who challenge it and do not engage in media criticism or disparage colleagues or competitors
- Be mindful that all posted content is subject to review in accordance with ESPN's employee policies and editorial guidelines
- Confidential or proprietary company information or similar information of third parties who have shared such information with ESPN, should not be shared