Social Media Policy

Policies are part of an organizational culture. As the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Implementing a social media policy won’t prevent misuse, and can even block effective use of new media tools. For social media to be successful, an organizational culture must embrace the viral nature of these new tools. And that can be easier said than done.

Reality is: people already talk about our organizations and brands online. The best way to ensure a positive image is to be actively involved online before issues are manipulated or a crisis develops. After all, you can’t respond to criticism if you aren’t present! Yes, it’s true–90% of social media can be a waste. It’s the 10% that can be stellar that we’re aiming for.

Colin McKay in his Nonprofit Secret Underground Guide To Social Media Adoption suggests that most large organizations already have policies in place to deal with potential concerns, as social media doesn’t create new behavior, it only amplifies existing behaviors. Those policies–and some small organizations have even a few of these–may reference confidentiality, designated spokespersons, internet use, approval of official communications, use of logo, privacy, and appropriate behavior. Following the organization’s core principles is a good rule of thumb when drafting a social media policy–don’t stray to far from what you already have, and don’t create a solution that’s looking for a problem, so to speak. My thought is this: If you don’t already have a crisis communications plan in place–long upheld as the gold standard in non-profit communications preparations, you don’t need to start down the social media policy road just yet.

Discussion with staff, media consumers, and departments concerned with IT, fundraising and marketing issues will provide insights into boundaries and potential uses of the internet or social media. If your organization is fearful of social media–or heavens above: personal internet use at work!–these dialogues need to happen for the benefit of your organizational culture. They’re not just about ‘it’s time to create a social media policy.’ Opening the discussion and working towards some simple guidelines on how your staff and volunteers can communicate (onlien and in person, too!) on your behalf instills a foundation of trust and gives everyone the same expectations for expressing individual views about an organization.

This is an outline of a very basic social media policy. It’s important, too, to be very clear in these that your organization supports online participation for the benefit of your mission. You can elaborate on each of these principles in accordance with your existing values and policies.

Be transparent. : Say who you are, and be clear that your views are your own unless you’re posting on an organizational site.

Be connected. Share with others, follow other policies, cite sources, and have open dialogue.

Be respectful. Think twice, maintain confidentiality, respect work time.

Be thoughtful. Question motives, be consistent, protect your own privacy, uphold your liability.

Most importantly, policies should support efforts of staff and supporters who are adding value to your mission. Don’t put out the fire before it starts!

Read more:
This policy is from DePaul University’s Social Media Working Group.
Beth Kanter writes and links to a range of though on these policies, as does Nancy Schwartz.
More on specific blogging policies from the Groundswell blog.
Here‘s what WildApricot and others have to say about the social media policy debate.


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