There is a lot of discussion about social media policies, especially in government. People want documents to set out how staff can and should use social networks and other websites to engage with citizens and groups, and what the protocol should be when staff comment on blogs or forums in an ‘official’ capacity.
The obvious starting point for this stuff is the online participation guidance for civil servants. These are the high level pointers that Tom Watson requested be developed when he was Minister for Digital Engagement.
These guidelines should, I think, form the basis of any social media policy. Most organisations will, I think, probably want to refine them a bit, however.
In a recent bit of work I have been doing for a client, I wrote up an online participation policy for a specific campaign. This basically listed the standard guidelines, but on top I added three scenarios and what the approach should be to contributing in online discussion spaces:
- If the information you are posting is already in the public domain, for example it has been included in a press release or similar communication, then post it without needing to discuss with others
- If the information you are posting is merely a pointer to another online resources, then again, post away with confidence
- If, however, the response you need to give is providing either new guidance or content, or is expressing a view, then check this with the appropriate policy and communications officials to ensure it is accurate and that everyone is aware of what is being said
Another good place to start for anyone developing this kind of policy would be Carl Haggerty’s blog, where he has kindly shared the document he is developing for his local authority.
If you need even more inspiration, then check out this post from Laurel Papworth, linking to loads of different examples of enterprise level social media policies. Thanks to Steve Dale for pointing out the link.
I’d like to see more policies that tell people to get stuck in and make the most of the opportunities social media offers. I understand the need to avoid stupidity and abuse, but it would be good to have more along the lines of:
1 Listen to people
2 Engage with them
3 Get excited
4 Be creative
Someone I know was talking to a civil servant about a new policy announcement last week. When he asked the official what he thought, he replied: ‘I am neither happy nor unhappy about this policy’. Presumably he was following what he thought was his department’s line, but it’s infuriating for those of us who live in the real world.
I recently developed a policy for staff use of social networks here. In an ideal world I’d have taken inspiration from my partner’s firm’s expenses policy (a succinct “don’t take the piss”) and gone for the simple “don’t be a twat”.
However, I work in local government, so we settled on a five-page document. This began with a simple statement of principles:
1. Be professional; remember that you are an ambassador for your organisation. Wherever possible, disclose your position as a representative of your group, department or team.
2. Be responsible. Be honest at all times. Remember, we have obligations to those who we deliver services to and have information about, to those partners and suppliers we work with and to our colleagues. Do not disclose information that is not appropriate to share.
3. Be credible, be accurate, be fair and make sure you are doing the right thing.
As with any policy, the simpler it is, the easier it will be for people to stick to.