I've been hearing a lot lately from folks who work in nonprofits asking for examples of "social media or social networking policies." There are examples (see below). But, if an organization simply cuts and pastes a social media policy without the internal culture change, it won't be effective.
There needs to be discussion. Not only about the potential concerns and how to respond, but how the organization or its internal culture can embrace social media. As one social media strategist told me over a year ago,
"I facilitated social media guidelines as a first doable step because there was so much fear about encouraging staff to use social media at organization. Laying down guidelines makes everyone think they have more control and it helped everyone to feel better. In truth, our guidelines are quite vague. It goes on for a while but really just says, "Use common sense and please don't say stupid stuff. In fact, we'd love it if you told your personal institutional story in a constructive way."
A policy in of itself does not guarantee effective social media use, and if the policies magnify dysfunctional internal communications issues or silo culture, a policy may even get in the way of the organization owning social media.
As part of effective social media strategy development, the internal conversation must take place. But the policy can only be effective if the organization's culture can become agile enough to allow the rapid response to stakeholders and accommodate experimentation. The conversation is the first step. And it probably won't happen unless the organization's leadership facilitates the conversation and using social media to have that internal conversation is also a great way to improve understanding.
Colin McKay (aka Canuck Flack) in his Nonprofit Secret Underground Guide To Social Media Adoption suggests that most nonprofit organizations (well large ones) already have policies in place to deal with potential concerns about social media. That social media doesn't create new behavior, only amplifies existing behaviors.
- Confidentiality of information
- Appropriate Behavior - Interpersonal Conflict, Harassment
- Who acts as a spokesperson on behalf of the organization
- Protection of personal information
- Internet Use Policy
- Approvals on Web communications
- Use of logo or representation of brand by outside stakeholders
- Intellectual property rights and other legal issues
Let's look at a couple of areas where a policy or policy discussion might pave the way for more effective use:
Personal versus Organizational
A few years back, most of us on social networks might have answered the question, "How Do You Use Social Networks?" with "just for fun." But as more and more organizations flock to Facebook and social networks aren't just for kid anymore, nonprofit staffers are using their personal profiles for professional networking online. The first wave of this was the social media strategists for nonprofits, take Wendy Harman for example.
But for social media to be successful, the organization has to embrace it. And this means having more and more staff having a presence on social media sites. Take for example the Capital Area Food Bank
where staff members are active on Twitter, each has their individual profile on Twitter. All of them talking about hunger issues. Their accounts are in their names, but include the organization's logo. Even senior management is tweeting.
Some folks have decided it is easier to keep a boundary between their personal and professional lives and set up two profiles (personal profile and professional persona). Certainly with tools like co-tweet maintaing multiple presences can be efficient.
But what if you want your organization to be more transparent and open. Here come nagging policy questions. If the lines between your organizational/personal presence are squishy, what is appropriate conduct? Does your organization need something more formal than "using common sense? Do existing employee guidelines suffice? As the organization's leader and if you aren't comfortable or have first-hand experience with social media, how do you trust your staff?
Drew McLellan puts it, "If you drop the f-bomb on Twitter, does your boss have a right to wince?" He goes on to ask these questions:
- Do you think employee manuals of the future will have "social media guidelines?"
- Do you think your boss has a right to censor your social media activity?
- Do you think you have an obligation to do so?
I'm not sure we need "social media guidelines," but if your staff is unsure or the executive director is uncomfortable, I think a conversation is needed.
I like how Holly Ross from NTEN handles her presence and her staff's presence -- and they are using Twitter for the organization. She says they simply follow their organization's core values. Wendy Harman, American Red Cross, said once, "I use my personal profiles for professional networking and we don't have formal policy. My policy is not say anything on Twitter that would embarrass my mother."
About a year ago, I wrote a post about nonprofit blogging policies where I summarized and pointed to examples in corporate and nonprofits and some shared their policy creation process which is embeds culture change.
Social Networking or Social Not Working: Internet Use Policy
Back in the mid-1990s, as Internet access came into the nonprofit workplace, nonprofits drew up Acceptable Internet Use Policies. This covered what could be downloaded on a computer, whether the employee could use their email for personal use, and browsing the Internet during work hours. While there were many templates, it was helpful to have the conversation when pervasive Internet access in the workplace was a change. Everyone needed to sit down and look at exactly how they could make the best use of this new technology.
This needs to happen for social media, including establishing clear guidelines for acceptable use for external communications with stakeholders and using social media for a productive, internal purpose. Or else the perception of "wasted time" or fear that employees will play rather than work or view inappropriate content at work.
There is another layer too and this is with the IT Policy. For the social media strategists as well as other users, some of the software needed to efficiently use social media at work may be blocked. Or, the IT systems may be so locked down and controlled that didn't give people enough wiggle room for experimentation. Peter Campbell has a terrific post on the ROI of Flexibility, riffing on one of my earlier posts about IT and Social Media. It's important also to think about the opportunity cost of command and control IT policies.
Can every on staff be a spokesperson? How do we control and protect our brand? Can our fans remix our logo or will legal get involved?
Many organizations just beginning their social media strategy understand the value of listening as a first step. However, eventually listening leads to some conversation and participation. I was working with an organization last year, on a listening strategy. And the senior managers got concerned, "do we want our staff commenting on blogs? When should a senior person respond?" This lead to a productive conversation about those fine points as well as a work flow process. And while they did not map it out in the military precision of the AirForce Blog Response Assessment, it worked for them.
Some of this, of course, is organization culture driven. I keep thinking about the presentation that Tony Hsieh from Zappos gave about organizational culture and that he would let any of his thousands employees talk to the press. It's because he has built a culture within the organization where people know what is expected.
A couple days ago, an anonymous reader who works in the development department of a large nonprofit, shared a story about how the marketing department want to approval of Facebook Page set up by young professionals and how it took so long that the organization's supporters just set it up on their own. This is an example of how silo and control of brand culture prevents effective social media use. While some organizations may have very formal, written policies about the use of their brand and logo and others have unwritten social contracts, the social contract between your stakeholders and your brand is changing.
Last week, I heard a wonderful presentation by Chad Nelsen from the SurfRider Foundation. I had noticed that there were over 300 groups in Facebook for SurfRider, many remixing the official logo. The CEO of SurfRider commented that it was a function of their organization's culture - that everyone is focused on the mission and principles and they have a DIY culture. "We're more focused on the our mission than our brand and so we're open to letting others shape our brand." Even if it upsets the legal department, it is key to scaling their advocacy effort.
Does your organization have a social media policy? How does the process of creating a policy help or hinder adoption of social media in your organization? How has your organization dealt with culture change issues to pave the way for successful social media adoption?
Social Media Policies
- ASHA (nonprofit) social media guidelines
- Intel Social Media Guidelines
- Blog Council Disclosure Best Practices Kit
- IBM Social Computing Policy
- Charlene Li's Wiki of social Media Policies
- MindMap of Social Networking Policy Discussion
- Laurel Papworth: Social Media and PR Crisis (had lots of policy links)
- Laural Papworth: 40 Social Media Policy Links
See my posts on social media policy
Mashable, Should Your Company Have A Social Media Policy
Dave Fleet, External Policies
Dave Fleet, Social Media Policy Series
Dana Theus, Air Force Blog Policy Case Study
Peter Campbell, The ROI of Flexibility
Steve Heye, I Believe in the ROI of Flexibility, Don't You?
Beth Kanter, IT Departments and Social Media
Colin McKay, Secret Understand Guide to Social Media Adoption
Mashable, Facebook Can Get You Fired
Mashable, YouTube Can Get You Fired
Sachachua, Gen Y Social Media in the Workplace Guide
Drew McLellan, Who Really Owns Your Social Media Persona
Beth Kanter, Stop Blocking Facebook
Mashable, How To Manage Multiple Social Media Profiles
Phil Gerbyshak, Fired for Facebook and Twitter
Nonprofit Management Library, Internet Acceptable Use Policies
Posts Written After This Post
BeaconFire Setting Technology Policies that Make Sense in a Web 2.0 World