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How to create a social media policy

A good social media policy will provide clear guidelines as to what staff should and shouldn't do when using your organisations social media channels to interact with your community and your supporters.

It should be considered as part of your suite of other policies alongside those for General IT, Acceptable Use of the Internet and Communications.

Adhering to a robust social media policy should protect employees from engaging in inappropriate conduct on-line and help managers feel comfortable that the organisation's the risk of unsuitable behaviour

A social media policy, which is followed and regularly reviewed, should set out clear standards and if boundaries are crossed explain when disciplinary action will be taken. However it should not stifle creativity or prevent on-line conversations that show the social side of your organisation and the value you place on your supporters.

Things you'll need

  • The buy-in of the whole organisation.
  • An organisation with a 'social' outlook on communications with supporters.
  • Trust by staff that they are allowed to be open on-line. Faith from policy-makers that they will respect the organisation on-line.
  • Clear knowledge of your organisation's mission, values and key messages.
1

Principles

These guidelines are similar to those that expected from a member of staff when speaking on behalf of the organisation at a conference, in a meeting or with friends in a social gathering. Trust to be an ambassador for the cause.

At all times an employee should Be Professional, Be Responsible, Be Credible and Be Responsive.

Social media encourages conversations and the formation of collaborative relationships. Embrace these.

Remember that comments and postings made on-line could potentially be permanently visible to anyone. Also be very cautious about giving out any personal contact information on a social networking website.

2

Decide what is acceptable and what is not

Be clear about what is acceptable from an employer’s perspective, and what isn’t. Clearly state what role each person has when using your social media accounts. For example: can all employees respond to mentions of your organisation on Twitter or is it one person/teams role?

There may be occasions when the views of an individual don't align 100% with that of the organisation. Make it clear that comments posted on-line may not reflect organisational policy. Employees could be asked to sign tweets with their initials. Can employees use their personal accounts for work matters? Will the organisation monitor these? 

Using your organisations mission and policy documents prepare some simple responses that could be used in social media conversations to help employees feel comfortable when responding to on-line questions. Don't leave responses open to interpretation or ambiguity. 

When posting on-line identify yourself with your real name and your role in the organisation. 

At all times try to add value and insight to a conversation.

3

Listening and Monitoring

Social media can offer incredible insights into the views of your supporters and the wider discussions about your area of expertise. But it can also be very time consuming and sometimes fruitless if you feel every mention of your cause should get a response. Have a policy on what level of response you have capacity to offer. e.g. 'we will always respond to @ mentions of our charity, but not every mention of the country we provide famine relief to'.

Consider in your social media policy how you will react to posts on-line about your organisation:

  • If it is positive and you feel it will add to the conversation, then respond with thanks or share further information
  • If it is negative then you have a range of further choices to make about your response. Is it spam which should be reported? Is the author trying to taunt you into a response? Does it contain inaccurate information about your organisation which you can easily and politely fix with the facts? Is it from an unhappy supporter which you can resolve on-line or do you need to take it off-line to a phone call?

Don't be confrontational and be the first to correct your own mistakes.

4

Content Privacy

Before creating any social media post that is likely to involve music, film or images, it is vital to make sure that you have obtained appropriate permissions for re-use. This applies to both permission for media content use and permission from individuals too. Consider these scenarios:

  • Do I have copyright to include a film clip or music onto our organisation's website or Facebook page? (Search 'the commons', a library of content with a Creative Commons licence which can be freely re-used) 
  • Do I have permission to upload an image of event participants onto Twitter?
  • By posting a picture on-line of a person and tagging it with a location am breaching any restrictions they are uncomfortable about?
  • Have I asked permission from parents or carers before posting pictures of children or vulnerable adults on-line?
5

Do you distinguish between personal and professional social media accounts?

Employers are increasingly taking the view that social media is so public that if a staff member airs grievances, discloses confidential information, or brings or could bring the organisation into disrepute, it counts as misconduct. Whatever you decide, you should explain it in a policy.

Can employees use work accounts to express personal views? Can unacceptable behaviour in private time using personal accounts be treated as misconduct?

The employee in this particular case had a personal Twitter account and he made several disparaging comments which weren’t related to his work. His employer considered the tweets offensive and he was dismissed for gross misconduct. The employee initially won a tribunal claim as he didn’t have to register on Twitter as part of his job, and the tweets in question were made in his own time and were unrelated to his work. However the employer had to appeal before this decision was overturned.

Had the employer had a clear policy in place it is probable that they would have won the case without needing to go to appeal.

6

Beyond the policy

This example is interesting from both a legal and an HR perspective. It’s the first ‘social media case’ to be considered by an employment appeal tribunal and gives employers some authoritative guidance. It refers to an employee who was dismissed for tweets he made using his personal Twitter account and in his own time. In Game Retail Ltd v Laws EAT/0188/14 the company didn’t have a social media policy in place which covered this type of social media use.

It shows that employees acting in a private capacity could find themselves facing disciplinary proceedings if their organisation’s reputation is affected.

Also, lawyers for both the employee and the organisation suggested that guidance is advisable, however bear in mind that each situation is likely to be unique. So as well as the policy, tribunals are likely to want to consider the nature and seriousness of the misuse, whether or not there had been previous warnings, and any actual or potential damage to the employers’ reputation or business.

Further information

The Idealware Social Media Policy Guide provides advice and downloadable resources to create a social media policy specifically for non-profit organisations:

This how-to guide has been developed from information originally provided by HR Services Partnership, an NCVO Trusted Supplier who provide voluntary organisations with qualified HR professionals and access to affordable, tailored and practical HR support. Bespoke support packages for NCVO members are available.

NCVO helps voluntary organisations cut costs and become more effective by negotiating discounts and preferential arrangements for its members on a wide range of products and services. Find out more about NCVO membership.

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Page last edited Nov 07, 2017 History

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