A good social media policy is a good idea

Newcastle United, in an apparent break in their usual culture, appear to have done something sensible:

Newcastle United’s players will shortly be given guidelines about their tweeting habits. Alan Pardew was annoyed last Tuesday when José Enrique, his Spanish left-back, informed Twitter followers he would miss the team’s game at Tottenham through injury. As Enrique, happily restored to fitness for tomorrow’s trip to Wigan, is a key player, Pardew had intended keeping his absence quiet until the teamsheets appeared.

OK, so maybe a policy just for Twitter is over the top…

In an ideal world, no organisation should need a policy setting out the dos and don’ts of online interaction. After all, all the compliance stuff ought to be covered in existing policies on bringing the organisation into disrepute, communications, information security and that kind of thing.

But with new and emerging technology, sometimes you just need to spell things out a bit more clearly.

After all, it’s a potentially messy and complicated situation, especially when a member of staff is using a personal channel to communicate with friends and family.

The golden rule for me is that if someone can be in any way connected back to their employer, then they have to start thinking about how what they say might be traced back.

Even better, assume everyone knows and can see everything about you – friends and family but also your boss, and the media too.

But a good social media policy isn’t really about what staff shouldn’t do. It’s role should be to encourage and promote the right behaviour online. Don’t put something online that you wouldn’t say in a meeting, to a journalist or to your mum. If you do, then be aware that you’re taking a risk.

The civil service guidelines are a good starting point here – brief, and positive:

  • Be credible
    Be accurate, fair, thorough and transparent.
  • Be consistent
    Encourage constructive criticism and deliberation. Be cordial, honest and professional at all times.
  • Be responsive
    When you gain insight, share it where appropriate.
  • Be integrated
    Wherever possible, align online participation with other offline communications.
  • Be a civil servant
    Remember that you are an ambassador for your organisation. Wherever possible, disclose your position as a representative of your department or agency.

I would add Be aware to this list – make it a part of people’s duties to keep an eye on what is being said online and to take the web and online communities seriously.

Don’t clog your policy up with lists of rules about what to do and what not to do on the internet. Instead, encourage staff to be open and transparent, and confident that they are doing the right thing.

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