Technology

Seven Things to Include in Your Social Media Guidelines

Whether the goal is properly representing your association, avoiding controversy, or staying out of legal trouble, strong social media guidelines go a long way. Here are a few things to include.

When the public radio network NPR first began experimenting with social media guidelines back in 2009, it was early to the concept. But in the years since, many other organizations—news outlets, companies, and associations alike—would follow in its wake in their efforts to build a policy that balanced the freedom to speak up with the potential legal and ethical concerns that might come with that.

But what should those guidelines include? Here are a few starting points to consider for your association’s official account—and for anyone representing the organization.

1. Focus on transparency and privacy.

If you work for an association and you’re speaking up on association business, it’s important that the people reading your comments know your affiliation.

The automaker Ford, one of the first big companies to build a social media policy, thought about this issue way back in 2010, suggesting that it is important for Ford employees to disclose their work.

“Best practice is always to be honest about who you are without giving out detailed personal information,” the company states.

Likewise, the Ford document recommends a careful approach to privacy that still holds up today, advising that employees balance privacy considerations with the public-space considerations of the internet.

“Protect your coworkers and our partners by refraining from sharing their personal information or any conversations or statements unless you have their written permission to do so,” the company continued.

2. Set standards for etiquette and judgment.

Creating standards for how your employees interact with others on social networks can help them avoid missteps. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to come down as the heavy in your policy. For example, computer manufacturer Dell Technologies, while emphasizing care, specifically reminds its employees to “Be nice, have fun, and connect!”

“Remember, even when you are on a personal account, your social media activity could be seen by customers or potential customers, so you should treat every interaction on social media as if you are dealing with a potential customer,” the company states.

That’s a lesson that holds up, whether the network is MySpace or TikTok.

3. Consider inclusivity and accessibility in your messaging.

Is your social account, either through what it says or what it leaves out, not as inclusive as it could be? That’s a problem, and something that your organization should focus on improving.

The social media scheduling tool Hootsuite has a few ideas on tackling this issue, including by using descriptive captions to increase accessibility, emphasizing color contrast, and ensuring that pictures and language don’t leave anyone out.

“Social media accessibility isn’t technically required under Web Content and Accessibility Guideline’s 2.1 compliance standards,” the company’s Katie Sehl wrote. “But it shouldn’t need to be. Inclusive social media marketing is just good social media marketing.”

4. Potentially set standards for members, especially those you highlight.

There are likely a lot of subject matter experts among your membership whom you want to highlight in your association’s feed. But that can invite questions about the conduct of those experts, as people posting for themselves may apply different filters than they would if they were working directly for your organization.

The National Association of Realtors offers a useful example of what this might look like. Back in 2020, the organization expanded its ethics policy to include members’ personal conduct outside of work—including on social media.

There may be limits to what you can do to guide your members’ conduct, but having a policy in place might help shape your approach to bringing in subject matter experts.

5. Emphasize the importance of cybersecurity.

The wartime phrase “loose lips sink ships” could very much apply to social media, where people publicly express themselves—and those with questionable motives can take advantage of that.

A guide from the National Security Agency offers a few tips that other organizations can borrow from, including the idea that information, even when shared privately on a given platform, can be leaked. “If you don’t want it public, don’t post it,” the guide states.

Another factor is how accounts are secured: Consider recommending two-factor authentication for all users with public-facing accounts, as well as limiting access to brand accounts.

6. Verify what you put on your feed.

If your association has a brand account or an account specifically for news—especially one with a verification checkmark—it’s important that all information you post is correct.

But what should an accuracy policy look like? The popular newsletter Morning Brew has a useful, thoughtful guide for confirming and verifying information that goes onto the feed. One key starting point? Check your gut.

7. Consider copyright and legal liability.

Can you use that picture of Mickey Mouse on your social media account? Or grab an image off of someone else’s feed without asking them?

This is not an issue to ignore—copyright makes for one of the most complex debates of the social media era, and you could be stepping into a trap if you don’t consider it as a part of your policy.

And be sure to read up on the latest legal rules—you may find that things you frequently do, such as embed Instagram posts, could put you in legal jeopardy.

As Business News Daily notes, you may want to ask for permission, rather than forgiveness.

(Oleg Blokhin/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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