Many associations have member volunteers who help with important work, but what happens if those groups ask to start their own Twitter account or Facebook page? Experts weigh in with advice.
There are a multitude of online discussions that occur, but one last week on Collaborate [ASAE member login required] caught my eye because it received a lot of response and made me think it might be an issue that crops up a decent amount at associations.
The premise of the discussion: Social media is generally thought of as the domain of the association, so what happens when its volunteer groups say they’d like to set up a Twitter account with the association and group name?
While member volunteers are incredibly valuable, so is the association’s brand, which means allowing a group to set up a branded social media account may raise concerns. I spoke with a couple of communications experts about what associations need to consider when member groups want to take on social media under the association’s umbrella.
“They need to balance the legal aspects and protecting their reputation and brand management, with the trust and the tone that you have,” advised Susan Young, a visibility strategist and CEO of Sue Young Media.
Social media can move quickly, which means a brand can also be harmed quickly online. “We have to be super cautious,” Young said. “With social media, everyone has a vehicle to the public, to the mass audience. Everyone has the same technology. They can do something that goes viral. It can do tremendous damage to an organization’s reputation.”
That’s why Young says any account tagged with the association’s name should be managed by someone with experience in social media. “While it’s important to have a written policy, you need to be able to trust the employee or the people given with this responsibility who are going to post things on behalf of your organization,” she said.
Ultimately, Young advises against volunteers setting up social media with the organization name, even within the context of their volunteer duties. “Having volunteers do this kind of thing could bring on some problems that aren’t necessary or are avoidable,” she said. “I don’t think it’s smart business or smart policy.”
Although Young did note that volunteers can and should use personal accounts to post and share information. The key is to “draw the line,” which indicates it is their personal account and not representative of the organization. Associations can draw inspiration for advice to give members from rules they have about employee social media. “It’s likely that somewhere in the employee handbook, through HR, they have something that addresses social media posts that don’t represent the organization,” Young said.
Hilary Marsh, president and chief strategist of the Content Company, noted that it’s not just publicly speaking on social media that can cause trouble. Association policies also need to cover whether it is OK to set up private groups for association work on social media platforms not managed by the association.
“The main concerns are, who is in your group and how private is it? Are you discussing private business on a public platform?” Marsh asked. “A free platform is not free, which is a huge potential risk. You cannot guarantee that it is always going to be private. There is a challenge for doing private business on a pubic platform.”
Marsh notes that public platforms do change the rules for groups, and can change group visibility, meaning there is no control. For this reason, many associations have their own platforms that allow for discussion, and Marsh advises leading volunteers to use those tools. The most frequent complaint—that the association tool requires a separate login—is one that staff can counter with kindness and honesty.
“You have to say to them, ‘What is it that you need to do and how can we support that, and not have the rug pulled out from you by the channel’?” Marsh said.
What is your organization’s policy when it comes to volunteer groups having social media accounts? Please share in the comments.