Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How to Write a Social Media Policy

I can tell you that there's a lot of advice out there about how to write a social media policy, and it is dominated by consultants who work for medium-sized and large corporations. But what about your 15-person nonprofit? Your home-grown restaurant chain? Your small network of art galleries? What should it look like when you want to go beyond an informal "Don't be stupid" policy?

Here are some tips and strategies that will help your organization or business write a policy that works for you.

There are three important documents that a business or nonprofit should create if you want to make the most of your accounts on social media.
  1. Your social media policy answers internal questions about purpose, defines ethical and responsible behavior, and lays out how the levels of management and oversight will function. You may also have an external policy for the public that communicates your commenting and interaction guidelines.
  2. Your social media plan or strategy. This document captures social media's role in the bigger picture of your outreach and marketing efforts, face-to-face relationships, and online presence. How should social media support the website, and visa versa? If you use a variety of social media, how do they feed and support each other?
  3. Your training materials. Don't use your plan or your policy documents for training; they are your underpinnings. the training document is constructed for easy reference and maximum inspiration. Training materials should include information on best practices and clarify the rules most pertinent to everyday work.
Prepare for success
  1. Find a champion for creative use of social media and ask them to create a cross-functional team to create the policy.
  2. Do an audit of the existing accounts by searching all the major platforms for accounts with your name. You may find surprises! Take a look: what kinds of activity are going on?
  3. Comb through existing policy for areas that can be adapted for social media. For example, I based some rules on our existing bulletin board and meeting room use polices.
  4. Start a list of all of the contact people and passwords.

Questions a good social media policy should answer:
  • What is social media? What types of platforms are covered?
  • What will they be used for? 
  • Recognition of the wide variety of tools and possible uses. Examples: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, blogs, FourSquare, Google+, YouTube, Yelp, Instagram. In other words, don't write a policy for a platform like Facebook that won't cover an image-based one like Pinterest.
  • What are your general reasons for being on social media?
  • Which staff members can write for your organization? Who will have access?
  • Who provides training? 
  • Who has oversight? Who collects the statistics and analytics? 
  • Who decides on branding and account naming consistency? 
  • Who decides what new platforms to add? Who decides when it’s time to shut it down and move on?
  • How does it fit into your organizational structure? 
  • What may staff write about? 
  • What constitutes success?
  • What staff and reader behaviors work against your goals? 
  • What legal considerations do you have? These may include records retention, free speech, privacy, operational and information security.
  • Where is your balance between transparency and security?
  • What do you do when things go wrong? How will your organization handle criticism in a public forum?
What your policy shouldn't do is hamstring your staff's creativity and experimentation, or their ability to adapt to the changes a platform will throw at you. You also don't want a policy that is so rigid that it has to be rewritten when new types of social media come along, or one that works against the best uses of the tools. It shouldn't unnecessarily stifle online social behavior either. Basically, you don't want a document that doesn't fit your organizational structure, or one that your best people have to work around or disregard.

I have a true story. Once we launched a Facebook page so quickly I didn't initially have time for the typical 2-hour training. Our staff writer, a librarian, was known to be a delightful writer for her personal account. Pressed for time, I told her I trusted her, and that she should: "Be human, have fun, and show your passion for what you do." You know what, her page is our most successful service-level page. Remember when you're writing the policy that your ultimate goal is to have a fun, engaging, appealing page; your supporting documents should model trust and transparency wherever they can. 

Sample Outline:
  1. Purpose of document
  2. Definition of social media (Example: Social Media: A term for the tools and platforms people use to create community online by publishing, conversing and sharing information. The tools include forums, message boards, blogs, wikis, podcasts, and sites to share photos and bookmarks. Social media applications include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube.)
  3. Recommended uses of social media
  4. Social media access and procedures
  5. Legal considerations

Further Reading

Highly recommended
Best practices for developing a social media policy (
A Template To Help Start Your Social Media Policy (Corey Creed)
Social Media Policy Best Practices: Trust Is Cheaper Than Control (Beth Kanter)
Got Social Media Policy? (Beth Kanter)
American Red Cross Social Media
Policy Tool, a generator for Social Media (Policy for the People)

Examples of Social Media Policies
Social media policies (
Database of Social Media Policies (Social Media Governance)
Analysis of Social Media Policies: Lessons and Best Practices (Social Media Governance) 

Policy for Business
Four Ways To Do a Social Media Policy That’s Simple, Smart, and Right (TLNT) Note: while I like this, I think it confuses a policy with training materials.
5 Noteworthy Examples of Corporate Social Media Policies (HubSpot)
Policy for Government
Designing Social Media Policy for Government (Center for Technology in Government)

Blogging Policy & Ethics
Blogging and Social Media Policy Sample

High-Stakes, Big Company Policies
Sample Social Media Policy (Eric Schwartzman)
This template is more than most of us will need

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