The 2012 Olympics in London has faced some new and unusual challenges with the rapid adoption of new technologies. For instance, NBC has attracted a lot of complaints about how it has handled the decisions to broadcast time-delayed events during primetime — which is challenging when social media means results are instantly reported.

But one of the biggest topics of debate for the 2012 Games is the set of social media rules imposed by the International Olympic Committee. The organizers drafted restrictions and guidelines for both the athletes and the spectators that have caused confusion and sparked criticism, even though the Games had plenty of positive social media ideas this year. Here’s what the IOC’s rules were, and how you can learn from its pitfalls when monitoring your own employees’ use of social media.

The Official IOC Rules

For people in the audience, the IOC guidelines specified that posts about the Games are allowed on any social media channel. The restriction is in the phrasing of those posts. The “postings, blogs or tweets must be in a first-person, diary-type format and should not be in the role of a journalist,” according to the guidelines.

The rules about first-person perspective in social media posts also applied to the athletes. In addition, the IOC prohibited any video of the Olympic Village from being broadcast, and said athletes needed to obtain permission from any people in their photos before posting their images online.

The first problem with these restrictions is the vague language. There are no examples of what might constitute an acceptable “first-person, diary-type format” in the guidelines. It’s not an approach most people are used to taking toward social media; it would be easy to break the rules without meaning to. The second problem is that the confusion for people in London seeped out into the media, leading to false claims that the IOC was preventing any social media use for spectators.

The Committee did issue a request to audiences to limit their tech communications after one of the cycling events, where a high volume of wireless traffic overloaded networks and kept television broadcasters from finding out accurate results and times from the race. However, the problem with this request — and the third problem with the IOC’s overall approach to social media — is the sheer scope of attempting to police those rules. It would be nearly impossible for the IOC to actually keep an eye out for all rogue tweets and status updates that didn’t adhere to its rules.

What You Can Learn From The Games

Even though the Summer Olympics only comes around every four years, you can apply the ideas and lessons that came out of the Games’ stance on social media to your company’s everyday actions. First, it is worthwhile to have some sort of understanding with your team members about expectations for their behavior on social media channels.

Be sure that your rules are clear. Give your employees a formal way to learn about your social media policy. Encourage them to ask questions for clarification. Specify what constitutes acceptable behavior on an internal social network and what’s considered inappropriate language for a public post. You might even want to consult with some of your personnel about what would be a reasonable and fair stance toward social media for the whole company.

Another important fact to remember is that even the best, most loyal employee probably uses social media in his or her personal life — not just at work. Whatever policy you come up with, make sure that all of your company members will be able to maintain that balance. That was a major complaint from the Olympic athletes about the IOC’s stance. Since many of the athletes use the Games as a major source of building their marketing power, not being able to fully share with their fans was a concern.

Remember that your company’s stance toward social media is a part of your general corporate culture. As we’ve discussed before, corporate culture should be integrated into every aspect of work. Good social media behavior should be demonstrated by example, rather than just followed out of fear. You’ll want to avoid the IOC example, where you’d never be able to police and punish violators because of the scope and vagueness of the rules. Instead, make sure that all members of your company are willing to follow your social media policy so that you have minimal need to look out for infractions. Be clear and fair, and you should avoid the drama of the IOC.

What do you think of the IOC’s social media guidelines? Let us know in the comments!

[Image credits: Shawn Carpenter, Dave Catchpole, Ian Patterson]