Get your head out of the sand! Write that social media policy!

The benefits of social media are tremendous. Millions of dollars have been raised online and countless acts of advocacy been performed.

It’s exciting. And mindboggling.

Yet, despite the many benefits, social media also comes with significant risks. These risks include employee privacy, employee safety, labor relations and HR issues, brand identity, client confidentiality and so much more. Because of the ever-evolving nature of social media, we don’t even know what some of these risks will be.

It’s a scary situation, one that makes many CEOs want to bury their head in the sand.

Social media polices are one way to provide guidance to staff and ensure we avoid major pitfalls. So. . . it is critical that we get our heads out of the sand and write that social media policy!

Here are three tips to help get you going.

First: Don’t let funders pressure you!
Nonprofits are being encouraged by funders to outreach to clients via social media. For the nonprofits that have not written a social media policy, this can be dangerous. The risks to engaging in social media increase when we engage in direct client outreach. If you begin client outreach without thinking it through properly, you’re asking for trouble.

Before you outreach to clients online, make sure you:

  • Have a social media policy in place;
  • Have trained staff; and
  • Know who will and how to respond to a social media crisis.

Second: Write that social media policy!
Many CEOs aren’t familiar with social media tools and thus are reluctant to provide governance in the form of policies. This is understandable but dangerous. Instead, CEOs should use the staff resources at hand including: HR Director, IT Director, Program Staff, Marketing/Development Director, “digital native” staff, and others. Gather your team together to first identify potential risks and then craft the policy.

When you write a social media policy, be sure to include:

  • A statement of purpose, values, and/or ethics;
  • An outline of who can/cannot officially engage in social media on behalf of the organization;
  • References to any relevant internal and external polices;
  • Any branding requirements;
  • A separate policy for staff engaged in social media as a part of their job and all staff engaged in social media for personal use;
  • A list of staff who should be contacted in case of questions, emergency, policy violation, etc.; and
  • A date for when the policy will be reviewed.

Third: Help your employees understand their three voices.
It is important to help employees understand they have three main voices: official, professional, and personal. Understanding the distinction between these voices can help them to make wise social media decisions at work and in their personal lives.

1)     Official: My official voice is the role I am given by an employer. My job description will indicate what I can and cannot say on behalf of the organization.

2)     Professional: My professional voice is the image I want to portray in the professional world. This might include a Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn profile I create specifically for the purpose of career networking.

3)     Personal: My personal voice is who I am outside of my job. It is who I am with my friends and family. On social media, this might be a Facebook profile I share with friends and family only. Many choose to keep this information on strict privacy settings. If I choose to include my professional contacts on my personal social media pages, I’ll probably be more cautious about what I share.

This isn’t as easy as it looks. The distinction between these three voices may appear clear, but online, the boundaries blur quickly. We can use privacy controls and disclaimers (i.e. “these thoughts are my own and do not represent my employer”) to distinguish between our voices; but, unfortunately, there is no guarantee that professional networks won’t see personal information and vice versa.

The bottom line is this: “What happens in Vegas, stays on Facebook.” . . . We should all proceed with caution.

One final thought. Even if you don’t employ union staff, it important to understand what the National Labor Relations Board is saying in regards to social media. (Link to: http://www.nlrb.gov/)

Now . . . Get your head out of the sand! It’s time to write those policies!

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