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...Later:- September 2010 - I knew that something had changed because Yvonne Buchanan's website had disappeared - which is why I linked to the archived version instead of the spammy cyber squatter replacement.

Yvonne Buchanan has more recently published an ebook - The Marketing Plan for Law Firms: Fast Track to Success.

Writing an Electronic Communications Policy

Yvonne Buchanan, the author
Yvonne Buchanan has been a public relations writer, editor and freelancer for more than 20 years. She is an instructor at The PR Academy, a professional development institution based in Portland, Ore., that provides public relations instruction and information.

Article by Yvonne Buchanan The PR Academy

See also:- Press Release FAQs
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Increasing Your Brand's Visibility by Search-engine Marketing
Editor's intro One of the reasons that the computer storage business continued growing throughout the IT recession of 2001 is that most of the critical business data received and sent by most highly paid knowledge workers are actually embedded in emails. Technologists are at work to harvest this data in CRM, partner management and other systems, but until then it all has to be archived. In the Microsoft anti-trust trial, non storage gurus were maybe surprised to find that deleting an offending email, does not make it disappear for good. So it's worth thinking about what might happen if other people see your communications. This article can help your company avoid many pitfalls.
Writing an Electronic Communications Policy

With corporate America's heavy reliance on technology, an electronic communications policy should be a mandatory component of every company's employee handbook. But because business often lags behind technology, many companies do not have an electronic communications policy in place. A quick scan of many of the cookie-cutter employee handbooks available online reveals that even these publishers, who often tout their content as "cutting-edge," fail to mention this key area.
An electronics communications policy acts as a guideline for employees in the use of a company's electronics communications system. As such it provides an important safeguard for companies against liability due to misuse and abuse of electronic communications resources by its employees. A good electronic communications policy should also provide guidelines for dealing with employees who abuse the policy.

Getting Started

The first step to creating an electronic communications policy is forming a committee to provide the content. Drafting this policy will definitely not be a one-person job. Ideally, the following departments should be represented in an electronic communications policy committee: human resources, information technologies, communications, and management. An external committee member who will be involved later is the company's legal advisor. The electronic communications committee may choose to begin with a sample draft, or poll the company's departments for input before creating a first draft.

When the document begins to take shape, it is time to pass it by company attorneys for their review. Significant rewrites are fated at this point. Attorneys know what can wrong, and will want to cover every contingency. It will be up to company's electronic communications committee to decide which edits to keep (probably most of them), and how to translate legalese into "humanese" without changing the meaning. Legal advisors may suggest not only content changes but format suggestions as well. One company's attorney asked that an FAQ section be removed and the content distributed throughout the policy. Reason: by calling out certain items in an FAQ, and not others, it gave unintended weight to certain portions of the policy, thereby minimizing the import of the remaining areas.

Once a committee is in place, its members may choose to look at other organizations' electronic communications policies. While online cookie-cutter companies charge $50-$500 for sample employee manuals, and many of them don't even include electronic communications policies, several excellent examples of policies are available in the government, education and nonprofit sectors. The City of Vancouver, Wash., and the University of California (Davis) have web sites that demonstrate the range of electronic communications policy samples available (from the informal to the complex). Because sample policies are written for specific organizations, some sections will not apply to every company's needs, and they should only be used for format and content suggestions.

Components of an Electronic Communications Policy

Key components of an electronic communications policy include:

Introduction. In the introduction, the company states the need for the policy. The introduction for a software company read:
Other web marketing sites and articles recommended by Marketing Views

  • Stories That Sell - is a blog which discusses how you can leverage your current successes into new sales. My favorite article here is - Why Companies Need to F-R-E-E Their Case Studies. This is something I've been telling vendors for years - so it's good to see this issue discussed more widely. My policy as an editor is almost never to link to content which requires log-ins.
  • Useit.com/alertbox - is one of the few web marketing resources which has survived intact from 1995. Its theme is web page usability. My favorite article here is - Fighting Linkrot - which is just as relevant today as it was in 1998 when it first appeared.
  • Does Telling Someone to "Click Here" Work? - this article by Brian Clark, on his site Copyblogger.com may surprise you. I've been advising banner designers to add this text to their images since I started selling banner ads in 1998. This article discusses alt-text - which has pretty much the same goal.
  • Getting the Message - Email, Blogging, Linked-In etc. It seems that once a popular messaging channel becomes too clogged with extraneous messages, a new message channel emerges.
  • Search Engine Optimization - Google's own SEO article includes an amusing but serious warning. Apparently Google themselves receive spam emails offering to improve their search rank and saying - "you are not listed in major search engines and directories".
  • Knol versus Wikipedia - Fair Fight or No Contest? - I like this article because it appeals to my sense of balance. Wikipedia irritates writers like me by remixing and regurgitating articles from original sources - and producing ersatz blends which sometimes score higher with Google searches than the originals. Now Google is annoying Wikipedia by doing something similar -with articles called knols which often cite their main research source as being - Wikipedia.
  • Click Fraud Gets Smarter - this BusinessWeek article (published 2006) looks into some of the systemic ways that cyber crooks cream off advertising dollars you place with leading search-engines. A proportion of their ads run on 3rd party sites. But some of those sites are simply set up to skim off revenue with computer generated clicks.
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.......... While electronic communication tools are tremendous assets to our company when used appropriately, abuse of these resources can put both employees and the company at risk. Therefore it is important that each employee read and understand this policy. This will help minimize the risk, both to the employee and to the company, inherent in the abuse or misuse of these systems. Abuse and misuse of these systems will result in disciplinary action up to and including termination. The use of company electronic resources implies an understanding of and agreement to this policy. ..........
This brief introduction clearly demonstrates the need for the policy both from the company's and the employee's viewpoint. In the last two sentences (suggested by the company's attorneys) it also states the potential outcome of not following the policy (termination), and avoids any future claims of ignorance: any employee who uses the electronic communications resources is assumed to know the rules applying to such use.

Definition of Terms. After the introduction, it may be helpful to provide a definition of terms that will be used within the electronic communications policy. This helps avoid any misunderstandings as the employee reads the rest of the document. Terms that may require definition include: electronic communications; electronic communications records, electronic communications resources, electronic communications system, emergency circumstances, transmit, use, user. Although this section generally comes early, out of necessity, it will most likely be written last, once the remainder of the policy is written and terms requiring clarification are made obvious.

Scope. Early in the policy, a statement should be included defining which electronic communications resources, users, uses and records the policy applies to and which it specifically does not apply to. This provides the context from which the electronic communication policy governs.

Guidelines. The guidelines are the heart of the electronic communications policy. Here is where the policy delineates what constitutes acceptable use, misuse and abuse of the company's electronic communications resources, and repercussions for those who do not comply. Points to be made may include:
  • Whether personal use is permitted of electronic communications systems, and to what extent;
  • That responsibility lies solely with the user of the system;
  • That the company retains ownership of the content of any messages and data sent from, received by, or stored in or upon the company's computer and that communications systems are the sole property of the company, regardless of the form and/or content of these messages and data;
  • What expectation of privacy employees may count on (generally none);
  • Which safeguarding measures must be followed when accessing electronic communications resources (passwords, encryption, turning off computers when not in use);
  • How and whether monitoring or audits may be conducted, and what may be done with information obtained during an audit (for instance, they may be disclosed to federal and state law enforcement officials without prior notification of or consent from affected employees).
A list of potential system abuses should also be included, but such a list should be accompanied by a disclaimer that states that the list is in no way conclusive, and that employees are accountable for inappropriate or illegal activity, as well as any breaches of security or confidentiality relating to their use of electronic communications resources. System abuses that may be called out include:
  • Viewing or distributing sexually explicit, pornographic, racist, sexist, or material disparaging based on race, origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion or political beliefs;
  • Viewing or sending messages intended to harass, intimidate, threaten, embarrass, humiliate or degrade another co-worker or that contain defamatory references;
  • Conducting illegal activity including gambling;
  • Using electronic communications resources for commercial uses not intended to benefit the company;
  • Downloading or distributing pirated software or data, entertainment software, music or games;
  • Sending chain letters;
  • Propagating viruses, worms, Trojan horse or trap door program codes;
  • Copying, destroying, deleting, distorting, removing, concealing, modifying or encrypting messages or files or other data on any company computer, network or other communications system without the permission of an authorized supervisor;
  • Communicating in the name of the company or contacting the media via a chat room or other electronic communications means without company authorization; Releasing protected information via a newsgroup or chat room;
  • Attempting to access or accessing another employee's computer, computer account, e-mail or voice mail messages, files or other data without their consent or the consent of an authorized supervisor;
  • Using resources for personal use that interferes with business operation, business productivity or distracts employees from their responsibilities.
In addition, it is important to state the disciplinary action that may be taken in the event of policy violation.

Federal Laws and Statutes

Before finalizing an electronic communications policy, it would be wise to review the federal laws and statutes that may apply. A listed of these may be included within the policy as an appendix. This will help reinforce the message that a core purpose of the company's policy is to comply with the laws of the land. Applicable federal laws and statutes include:
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
  • Communications Decency Act of 1996
  • Copyright Act of 1976
  • Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998
  • Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986
  • Privacy Act of 1974
  • Telecommunications Acts of 1934 and 1996
  • Federal Communications Commission Rules and Regulations
Personalizing the Electronic Communications Policy

Every company has its own internal processes and procedures, systems and safeguards. The electronic communications policy should address the specific needs and concerns of the company it serves. One way to do this is to include the specific names of anti-virus programs, departments, networks, and protocols that the employee will use when using the company's electronic communications resources. This will not only help personalize the electronic communications policy, it will also make the policy easier for company employees to understand and follow.

Another way to personalize the electronic communications policy is to write it so that the tone of the policy reflects the company's corporate culture. But here lies danger: using "you" instead of "the employee" is generally safe enough, but a tone that is too friendly may imply a lax attitude toward the policy. Where possible, it is best to avoid legalese and still maintain a firm, no-nonsense tone. Where it's not possible, the legalese may rule. Form follows function, and the function of an employee communications policy is to protect the company and its employees. ...The PR Academy



Sources

Ad Wizards' "Employee Policies on Disk" - Table of contents for an employee policy manual outlining a section on employee communications. This is a canned employee manual offered for sale, therefore only an outline portion is available.

City of Vancouver, Washington (publication date unknown) Electronic communications policy, a Q&A format for city employees.

Personnel Policy Service, Inc., "Instant HR Policies" (publication date unknown) A listing of table of content items available in a canned employee policy manual. Does not include the employee communications policy.

University of California, Davis (2000) Electronic communications policy, a section of the U of C's employee handbook.

Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis (2000) Employee handbook for Washington University School of Medicine. Related site is found under "Employee Handbook" then "Standards of Conduct and Corrective Action"

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