Organisations should not shun Web participation for a fear of bad behaviour, but instead they should anticipate it as part of the social experience and formulate a multi-level approach to policies for effective governance.
Gartner says that creating policies for social application participation is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and policies will vary based on the goals of the particular social application and on the characteristics of the participating community.
"Before creating policies for social application participation, organisations need to understand the purposes of participation in a social application and the trust model of the target community," says Anthony Bradley, managing vice-president at Gartner. "The trust model helps organisations to understand the characteristics of a particular community and its likely behaviours, which, in turn, illuminate the behaviour opportunities and risks that influence participation in policy formation."
Bradley advises companies to build a trust model for all significant and strategic participation in social applications in order to add value to subsequent policy formation. He said that a trust model should capture information such as a basic definition of community and its characteristics, potential positive behaviours and their likelihood, potential bad behaviours and their likelihood, sensitivity to certain behaviours, required freedoms, a trust assessment, the potential for self governance, and a framework for guiding rules and behaviours.
When it comes to formulating governance strategies for social sites, it is important not to focus too tightly on controls and restrictions and thereby to lose sight of the fundamental goals of building a thriving, self-sustaining community.
"Overly restrictive policies and controls can substantially inhibit community growth and can lead to the failure of the social application initiative," added Bradley. "Managing an appropriate balance between freedom and control is crucial to community growth and maintenance, and must be tuned continuously."
Organisations should create a general policy statement for expected online behaviour, which should reflect established corporate policies on appropriate and ethical behaviour, underscoring that company policy extends to online social interactions. Employees should be aware that if their profiles on public social networking sites identify them as employees of a company, then their postings can have an impact on the company's reputation.
Organisations concerned about general public misbehavior, such as copyright infringement and inappropriate brand use, should compile a second set of relevant policies but be careful not to restrict freedom of speech and personal freedoms; such restriction could risk alienating established and potential customers.