What can social media policy drafters learn from reading the US Constitution?
US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has pointed out that the American Constitution has enjoyed longevity and loyalty and has served as a model for other fledgling democracies. Its key merits are that it is 1) short enough to be read easily and 2) abstract enough to be applicable to contemporary values.
Indeed, corporate social media policy drafters can take a lesson from our Founding Fathers. Overly lengthy and verbally tortured documents fail to capture the attention of readers or inspire innovative thought. Then, too, a social media policy that is too specific will not survive as technology and social patterns evolve.
Breyer has also pointed out that the Constitution has 5 major parts. These themes could readily serve as a roadmap for a social media policy.
(1) Democracy: The Constitution establishes its purpose in its preamble. Among other goals, “we the people…. secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves.” We know, from the start, that the people write this document, and the concept of Liberty permeates the remainder of the document. Similarly, a well-written social media policy should include a preamble. It should pronounce upfront whom the policy purports to represent. It should also delineate its primary purpose, namely to facilitate communication. Finally, the preamble should enunciate the corporate values that shape the brand, just as the Constitution establishes its primary truths at the outset.
(2) Protecting human rights: The Bill of Rights enumerates our inalienable rights. An appropriate social media policy should be mindful of employees’ right to free speech. It should also not interfere with employees’ protected rights to discuss their workplace pursuant to the National Labor Relations Act.
(3) Division of powers: The Constitution establishes different branches of government with unique and balanced roles. A social media policy should adopt this interdisciplinary approach whereby different divisions of a company are assigned different roles. Employees should understand if they are empowered to speak as brand representatives. The policy should assign responsibility for media inquiries. Most importantly, the policy should seek to divide employees’ personal speech from professional speech.
(4) Equality: Our Founding Fathers understood innately that all people are created equal, and nobody is more deserving than another. In the world of social media, the consumer and the brand are on an equal footing. No longer is a brand speaking to people. Now the brand speaks with its customers. The social media policy should sufficiently flexible to allow customer input to shape a brand.
(5) Rule of law: Even while acknowledging freedom in America, the Constitution sets up the constructs for all law in our country. It incorporates procedures and structures for governance and declares itself the “supreme Law of the Land.” So, too, a social media policy should not only recognize the essential nature of social media as a free exchange of ideas and information, but also provide rules of conduct for employees. Appropriate rules of law include guidelines for truthful, respectful language and protecting confidential and proprietary information from public disclosure.
It is noteworthy that Justice Breyer delivered his thoughts about the Constitution in as the first US Supreme Court justice to participate in a live social media event. Streaming live from Facebook in July 2011, Breyer taught Tunisian scholars about American democracy while they worked to draft their own constitution.
© Kyle-Beth Hilfer, P.C. 2011.