As organisations have increasingly turned to social media, policies to govern their use have become the new frontier. It can be difficult for organisations to find examples that fit their needs. A good social media policy will provide clear guidelines as to what staff should and shouldn’t do when posting and interacting with the community. A good social media campaign can help your organisation fulfill its mission, and there are many examples of organisations using these tools successfully. But there are also examples of organisations that have encountered pitfalls along the way. By developing a policy that provides guidelines for how and when to use social media, you can save staff time, improve the effectiveness of your efforts, and limit the risk of other potential problems.
Defining a Policy
Before you write the plan, think about who is going to follow the policy and whether it fits into a larger plan. Existing policies could influence your guidelines for social media, so give some thought to whether they need to match with regard to style. Similarly, your social media policy is your opportunity to guide staff towards a better fit with your organisation’s brand and values presence on social media.
Identifying and incorporating values
Think of your social media presence as an interactive extension of your organisation. It’s often the first and easiest way for stakeholders to learn about you and comment on, share, and applaud your actions. Start with your organisation’s mission, and identify a short list of values central to the work you do. Defining your core values helps ensure that you incorporate them into your social media guidelines.
Who will be the person interacting with your community through social media? Who maintains the Twitter feed, and who posts to Facebook? Is it one person, or several? Well-defined roles and responsibilities among staff will help to eliminate the ambiguity that can often come with social media content creation. Remember, social media works best when it is current, active and responsive — it’s easier to allow for that when everyone is clear about who can post, when and how often. It’s often easier to keep content organised if the social media strategy is owned by an individual or small group.
Creating and sharing content
Whether you’re posting about your organisation’s work or events, there are plenty of topics to post about. Use your policy to narrow your focus to fit with your organisational goals. By finding your niche and creating or sharing mission-related content, you’re more likely to draw people in and entice them to return. This is also the time to consider what types of content should never be posted, or posted only with approval. This can be as simple as maintaining a certain image for your organisation, or as complex as protecting it from legal problems. A good policy that defines what can and can’t be posted can help prevent problems from arising.
Monitoring conversations and responding
Social media is a two-way conversation so your policy should not just inform external communications but how you deal with what people say to, and about, you. Creating and publishing content means it’s open to comments, both good and bad, and can be shared with other networks, often without your knowledge. You could choose to disable comments on your Facebook page, but then you’d miss out on one of social media’s greatest benefits. Instead, develop a strategy for monitoring and responding to comments, both positive and negative. Who will respond? Will you do it public or take the discussion offline? Responding thoughtfully can turn a bad situation into a positive “customer service” moment and publicly correct misinformation. If you receive a customer service complaint, determine who will handle it and what they will say. A good way to develop a response policy is to practice with a series of hypothetical situations.
Answering hypothetical questions
If you receive a complaint or a post with misinformation in it, you should take the opportunity to respond. Determine who will do so, and what they will say. Consider removing comments that will damage your community. Some negative posts are better left unanswered, especially if a response is likely to incite the poster into further action. Don’t just reply to negative comments — be a part of the conversation and reply to positive or neutral comments to create a rich, informative environment for your audience. Answer questions that arise, invite others into the conversation, and thank people for participating. Your responses put a human quality to your content and can create a feeling of goodwill in your community.
In an era where sharing content is so easy, and even encouraged, privacy concerns seem to be often overlooked or ignored. Part of the problem lies with the tools — new privacy complaints about Facebook and Twitter seem to pop up all the time — but it’s important to review your organisation’s privacy and permissions policies. Start by examining your existing policies for relevant information. When can you use photos or names of children, do you need their permission? Update your policies and waiver forms to include the social media channels you plan to use — there’s a big difference between getting someone’s permission to use their photo on a brochure, and using that same photo in a blog post or on your Facebook page.
Enforcing the line between personal and professional
In many cases, you want your social media presence to be as personal as possible. But you can run into problems when the line between the personal lives of your staff and your organisation’s goals are blurred. What type of personal information can be posted to your organisation’s social media channels? Do you only allow mission-related posts, or can staff express personal opinions or share information about major life events. Defining the boundaries in advance can prevent inadvertent problems, but make sure your staff understands how the policy relates to their own, personal social media use. Even if staff don’t self-identify as employees on their Twitter feeds or Facebook pages, in most cases, a good number of people still know where they work. To address that, your policy might train staff on the effective use of social media, and ask them to adopt strict privacy settings on personal pages.
Creating your policy
You can’t foresee or protect against all possibilities, but being proactive and thoughtful when creating a policy can help ensure that your organisation gets the most benefit out of its social media efforts while avoiding many of the problems. The return on your efforts is likely to be worth the extra consideration. Start by identifying your team, and make sure all the right stakeholder groups are represented. Ask and answer the questions identified here to help get the conversation started, but don’t hesitate to ask other questions specific to your organisation’s work and goals. Your policy should ultimately fit your own use of social media, and your own needs.