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What’s in Your Social Media Policy? (If You Have One)

Guest Post:  Erin M. Kelly, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Along with several colleagues, I helped lead a discussion about “hitting your stride in social media” at the Communications Network conference in New Orleans last October. As you might expect, much of what we and audience members talked about dealt with barriers some organizations face in getting up to speed in how they use social media.

One of the questions that emerged toward the end of our session, and not leaving us enough time to do it justice–hence this post–was how important is it to have a social media policy?
The consensus of my co-panelists is that’s it’s a good idea to have one, though, there is not one set of guidelines that will work for every organization. Certainly, for the sake of directness and simplicity, it would be hard to come up with a more succinct policy than the Mayo Clinic’sdon’t lie, don’t pry, don’t cheat, can’t delete, don’t steal, don’t reveal. 

But for those who want a bit more to hold on to, here’s an online database of guidelines. Also, my co-panelists and I promised to share our organization’s policies — along with a bit of commentary about each.

Starting with Robert Wood Foundation, where I work, our policy helps to minimize legal and reputational risks to staff and the Foundation. It is a long read, so I’m turning the key tenets of the policy into an infographic that can be tacked up in our offices. We want staff to be authentic and approachable; stay focused on the role they serve their network and the subject matter(s) they are knowledgeable about to help them derive value in the way they engage on social media. Since introducing the guidelines, produced as a team effort with members from Human Resources, Communications, IT, Law Department, we’ve refined them a handful of times.

About the John S. and James L. Knight FoundationElizabeth R. Miller, communications associate, writes: Ours is simple and straightforward. Knight advises its staff to be themselves on social media. We ask them to engage in conversations on Facebook and Twitter in the same way they would at a dinner party or any public event. They understand that representing Knight Foundation in these social spaces comes with the territory and we always say, “don’t be stupid.” We offer one-on-one trainings to new staff and existing staff to address any concerns they may have, or to help them use social media more strategically. We encourage staff to be approachable and authentic versions of themselves. The biggest rule we stress to our staff is not to tweet about pending legislation or participate directly or indirectly via social media in any political campaign on behalf of candidates running for public office. We explain that by doing so, the foundation could lose its 501(c)3 status. For people looking for a more detailed list of what’s appropriate, we often refer them to the social media section of NPR’s Ethics Handbook or to the AP’s Social Media Guidelines.

Jenn Whinnem, communications officer from Connecticut Health Foundation, says: Our policy is a part of our Employee Handbook. Here’s a link to it. Staff are encouraged to use social media as a part of their work at the foundation. Our consultant gave staff such a convincing training that a quarter of our staff joined in meaningfully and are still taking part! For the policy, however, we needed to provide guidelines that, as Elizabeth mentioned above, protect our 501(c)(3) status. And as much as we can add “This reflects my views and not necessarily those of the foundation,” to our content, we are still representing the foundation publicly when we participate in social media. As such, our Human Resources department and our lawyers had necessary precautions to add to protect the foundation’s brand.

Commenting on his foundation’s policy, Marc Moorghen, senior communications manager, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, writes: Our staff need to know what we expect from them when they use these platforms socially and professionally. As a result, more of our team members have become engaged in online communities. Our initial policy was about five pages long and very restrictive. However, we soon realized that people weren’t paying any attention, because we had set unrealistic expectations. Policies stand a better chance of adoption and absorption if they are brief, to the point, and platform agnostic. Our current policy, which we review in the communications onboarding for new staff, is a one-page document with a dozen bullet points. The gist of it is to use one’s common sense and be respectful of others.  We apply the same advice to all our communications. We feel confident that our team members know and follow these 12 points.

Even though, Carnegie Corporation of New York, doesn’t have a specific social media policy, Adrienne Faraci, communications coordinator, notes: We have a broad technology policy that encompasses social media. Currently it reflects the technical aspects of using the equipment for social media. As we begin to work with staff to help them with their own social feeds, we will revisit our policy.

Hope you find this useful. Again, If you want more resources on the topic, this online database of guidelines should be helpful.

Please feel free to reach any of us if you have questions about our policies, or are looking for advice to craft one for your organization. We’re here to help!

Erin M. Kelly, MA, is the social media Manager at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  Follow Erin on Twitter – @erinmkelly.


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