The San Francisco 49er’s New Social Media Policy

It’s 2015 and every employee is a marketer. This NFL team is leading the way in creating social media guidelines for employees.

The San Francisco 49ers became the first team in the National Football League to restructure team operations to allow for social media and mobile phone interaction. The 49ers coaching staff, led by new head coach Jim Tomsula, realized they are facing the same problem every other company around the country is facing — how do you handle an employee that constantly has a iPhone in their hand?

After consulting with experts from Stanford University to learn how to optimize learning in the Millennial generation, Tomsula made a number of changes to the day-to-day operations of the team.

“The [experts] are telling me about attention spans and optimal learning,” Tomsula told the Wall Street Journal. “I’m thinking, ‘My gosh, we sit in two-hour meetings. You are telling me after 27 minutes no one’s getting anything?’”

So Tomsula shortened team meetings to 3o minutes chunks separated by breaks to allow players to interact on their phones and social media. Other changes included digital playbooks, regular social media briefings, and digital notification alerts for meetings.

It’s an interesting move that dental practices across the country can learn from.

1. Blurred Lines

The line between being an employee and a marketer is blurring. Actually, that’s not true. It’s BLURRED. Social media has enabled quick sharing of opinions and comments. It’s created a platform where employees regularly speak on behalf of their companies — whether or not they even realize it.

Our 9-to-5 used to be more compartmentalized. We left in the morning for a job and returned at night. We socialized with friends and family in the evening, but our work was that “other” place we rarely talked about. If someone asked how our day was we responded with, “Oh, you know… just work.”

Now our daily interactions with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat bring our professional lives to the forefront of conversations. In fact, the platforms drives the content. The need to post something interesting throughout the day fuels the search for content that might get a laugh, a share or a comment. The whole time we’re transforming into PR agents, telling the story of our companies.

Kicker Phil Dawson talked about this new relationship between players and social media:

“When you’re sitting at home and there’s no cameras in your face, you can fire something out there and it’s kind of a different deal. Guys need to understand that anything you put out there represents you and your team and your family and all that. Coach Tomsula does a good job of making sure that’s on the front of our minds.”

It’s 2015. Every employee is a marketer.

2. Disproportionate Influence

Employees’ words and actions have a disproportionate level of influence. On or off of social media. That’s nothing new. If an employee casually says something positive about their company at a party we naturally believe it. If they broadcast their frustration with management on social media, we immediately make assumptions about the competency of the leadership.

When the relationship is good, the influence is great; but when it goes bad, it’s…. bad.

The 49ers have already had their share of mis-cues this year and Tomsula’s staff constantly reiterates the importance of their social interaction. This past May, while Texas was getting pounded with heavy rain and severe flooding, team quarterback, Collin Kaepernick posted a picture of the flooding, saying:

“I warned you the #7tormsComing!! #Houston.”

Kaepernick’s jersey is number 7. He apologized hours later on Instagram for his “insensitive post” saying he didn’t fully understand the situation at the time.

Allowing employees the freedom to post and talk about their experiences with your practice can be the best marketing you’ve ever had. Make sure you’re proactive and continually remind them of the importance of their influence.

3. Principles, Not Rules

Last, every dental practice needs to think through a social media policy. Lead with principles, not rules.

When are employees allowed to interact with their phone throughout the day? What are they allowed to post? What should they not post? What are the grey areas? How should they talk about the practice? Can they accept friend requests from patients? Should they follow patients?

These questions don’t necessarily need to have answers right away, but they absolutely need to be talked about before issues arise.

Last month our Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage across all 50 states. What happened next on Facebook was astonishing. I saw dozens of church staff and non-profit employees misrepresent their organizations by voicing their personal opinions.

Employees will argue freedom of speech, but I would argue wisdom. It seems in the midst of carte blanche online personas we may be loosing the value of discretion. Freedom is never an excuse to be irresponsible and being an adult requires we understand how our comments effect all those around us. Better to have those conversations first.

Consult with your HR specialist and implement a policy that allows productivity and communication in your practice. You’re not going to get it right the first time, so experiment with it. Most of all make sure you are communicating with your team throughout the process. Celebrate and affirm positive examples of social media. Privately address inappropriate posts.

It’s 2015. Every employee is a marketer and their interaction on social media can have tremendous value. Work with your HR team to create guidelines for social posts, but most of all make sure you continually communicate the importance of their influence. Keep the discussion open and experiment.

I’d love to hear about your successes (and failures) around social media. Leave a comment or email me.

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