Never Too Late to Create a Social Media Policy

By Kathy Gurchiek Jun 13, 2014

Ev​​ery type of nonprofit should have a social media policy, whether it stands alone or is part of an organization’s broader communications policy, advised David Tinker, vice president of advancement at Pittsburgh-based Achieva, which serves people with disabilities and their families.

Tinker, who was on the council that drafted the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) social media guidelines (
Social Media Guidelines: Ethical, Safe and Effective Practical Standards), offered advice during The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s free June 10, 2014, web discussion “How to Keep Your Staff Out of Trouble on Social Media.”

A social media policy “gives you guidelines as well as expectations and boundaries of who should be speaking on your behalf, and what should and should not be said and how it is said and how to respond,” Tinker said.

The policy should be reviewed regularly because technology changes so rapidly.

“It’s not static,” said Lisa Chmiola, director of major gifts and planned giving at St. Agnes Academy, a Catholic school for girls in Houston, and frequent speaker about social media. “There are new applications,” such as Snapchat, “coming out all the time.” Chmiola recommended that organizations involve their HR, leadership/administrative and communication teams as they start creating a social media policy.

“They can bring in different concerns that you may not be think about from the development side.”She advised organizations to view social media guidelines as part of their overall communications strategy and pointed to www.socialmedia.policytool.netas a template that organizations can use when crafting their own guidelines.

“Look at the guidelines for communicating in your organization overall,” she said. “Social media is another tool in the communications arsenal. It’s not a completely foreign concept. You think about what your policies are for communicating with the media, what your policies are for communicating with your clients and other constituents.

“I would want to see those line up and be consistent. It makes it a lot easier for people to understand what’s appropriate if it’s not a big variance with what your organization is already doing.”

And while social media guidelines do not have to exhaustively name all social sites, it’s important to be aware of how changes in technology may affect an organization’s existing communications guidelines, she pointed out.

Tinker concurred that it’s important to update a social media policy. “It’s not something you come back to every five years,” he said. “It’s something you need to visit often.”

His organization and AFP involved human resources, communications and fundraising departments in developing their social media guidelines in order to create “a tool that would be very easy to use and very easy to understand, as well as set the expectations that we had.” His employer also sought input from its board of directors in creating guidelines, “because it’s such an important tool that impacts each of our programs.”

A policy’s key elements should cover what is considered acceptable behavior when using social media, including expectations of who should not be “friended” such as clients and subordinates, Chmiola said, as well as how to handle offensive remarks that are posted to your site.

Consider giving multiple people administrative rights to your organization’s social media sites, she advised. She recounted the example of a college faculty member who had sole administrative rights to her department’s sites. When that person left for another job, she maintained control of the school’s LinkedIn account, which was in her name, and its followers stayed with her. That college department had to start a new LinkedIn group and rebuild its follower base.

Tinker pointed out the importance of maintaining privacy standards when using social media. Organizations such as his that deal with a client base for which the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy issues come into play must exercise caution, he noted. An employee taking a “selfie” photo at a client’s home or in a medical facility could be violating privacy laws if consent has not been given for a Facebook or Instagram posting, for example.

While many people enjoy seeing pictures of children, consider whether it’s a correct use of that communication tool, he cautioned.

“It’s not just the people you serve that you have to consider for privacy, but the people you work with, your trustees, your consultants, your other volunteers.”

Training in social media use is important and should include volunteers who serve an organization.

“You want to train volunteers just like you would staff,” Tinker said. “It’s great that they’re sharing information about your organization … but you want to make sure they know some of the rules that you like people to follow,” such as the proper use of logos and photos, what information should and should not be shared, a consistent approach to messaging and how to respond to the public.

“Twitter is a great place to tell the world what you’re thinking before you have a chance to think about it,” he said, reciting a favorite quote. “It’s true of all social media. Take a second to think about it before you post.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News.

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