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Social media policy for busy people - getting to the heart of the matter

Community & Social Media

Have you been told that you need a social media policy and thought “well that’s great, one more thing to do and to make matters worse the whole topic makes me want to die of boredom”?

And yet, like most things that are important but boring, there is a real reason why people are telling you to do it - if you don’t, bad stuff could happen. Put more concretely: inappropriate remarks and dealing badly with negative feedback can hurt your reputation and damage relationships. We at TechSoup Canada have experienced the long-term damage that one unprofessional tweet can cause, and I’m sure we’re not the only ones. Recently Girl Scouts USA was in the middle of a controversy over how they handled comments on Facebook asking them to stop using rainforest-destroying palm oil in their cookies. This stuff actually does happen.

In short, there is a reason why social media policy is important - it helps us think through (in advance) how we want to act on social media and set expectations, so we avoid problems and know how to react when situations arise.

At a webinar on social media security I was at last week, they did a poll of attendees (mostly businesses) and found out that 66% did not have a social media policy. I was curious to see what the situation was in the nonprofit world, so I asked my Facebook group and this was their response:
Facebook poll results

In my small sample, 25% of organizations had a social media policy and 50% did not. What interested me were the other 25% who didn’t have a formal social media policy but had informal expectations and guidelines that applied to behaviour on social media.

While it’s ultimately better to have a full social media policy that has buy-in from all your staff and volunteers, I think there is room here for an intermediate step. Instead of deciding that you don’t have time to make a policy and ignoring the topic all together, I would rather we at least start the discussion. With this in mind I asked my Facebook and Twitter communities: If you had to boil down your social media policy (or what it would be if you had one) to one key message, what would it be?

I got several great answers:

It seems to me the main theme is this:

Social media is like real life! The principles that you value and try to embody in other areas of your life (transparency, courtesy, respect, professionalism etc.) are equally important on social media. You are interacting with real people in a public space, so act accordingly.

It may seem obvious, but don’t take it for granted that everyone has this same understanding (or agrees on what the principles are). If you do nothing else, I recommend having an open and honest conversation with staff and volunteers to come to a shared understanding about behaviour on social media and to set expectations about what you as an organization are looking for.

For those ready to take the next step, my next post will talk about how to go about writing a social media policy with examples, templates and guidance from the pros.

What about you - if you had to boil down your social media policy to one key message, what would it be? Do you think it’s important to have this discussion?