7 tips for writing your social media policy

If you work in comms in the public sector, you’ll be familiar with a few phrases:

“We need a poster.”
“We need a comms plan”
“We need a press release”

The next one you’ll probably have heard is “we need a policy”. And if your organisation is new to social media, this is something that will be causing a lot of nervousness among the powers that be.

But what should your social media policy actually look like, and what should it contain?

  • How do you make it so people at the top of the organisation are reassured?
  • How do you ensure as many eventualities as possible are covered?
  • But crucially, how do you make it so it evolves with new channels that crop up, rather than needing to re-write it every time you adopt a new one?

Well, here’s a few bases you should ensure you cover to make it authoritative, agile and ready to go quickly….

1) It should complement existing IT usage policies

Check firstly what your existing IT usage policy says. If it was written any time after 2007, it probably refers to “social networking websites like ‘Facebook’ or ‘MySpace’”, and may have some guidance on how they can be used “for work purposes only.”

This isn’t really ideal for this day and age. But it’s a start. And a useful one.

It may be more of a case of updating an existing policy rather than creating an entirely new one, with all the time, governance arrangements and meetings these can take in the public sector.

But even if it is a brand new policy, it should absolutely complement what is already there. Remember that much of what you write may well just be formalising existing custom and practice.

Staff are probably already using social media - this is just about helping them to do so within the spirit of the rules.

2) It should set out broad principles

Broad principles are far more important than the minutiae of specific channels (see point 3).

These will be different for every organisation, but as broad principles go, you could start with the following:

  • A statement that corporate accounts will be controlled by the central comms team, and will be subject to the same professional standards as any communication, regardless of channel.
  • Times, roles and responsibilities for managing corporate accounts
  • Guidance for staff reminding them that whatever they do personally online, if they identify as an employee, will reflect on the organisation, for good and ill.
  • A statement on the tone of voice and the overall approach to posting and responding via social media, in line with the brand promise and experience of the organisation.
  • A statement on whether or not you are happy to give responsibility to individuals to post organisational content (this will be different in different organisations).

These broad principles will be applicable whatever channels you use, and whatever new fangled things come online in the future.

3) It shouldn’t get bogged down in the particulars of specific channels

Don’t worry about the fine (but important) details between the different channels.

Many organisations will seek to change their policy every time they take on a new social channel. This is the fast track to inertia, curtailed creativity, and frustration.

Stick to principles. This way you can still be creative with whatever new channels come along.

4) It should complement your existing disciplinary policy

In a large organisation, employing literally thousands of people, some of them may do something stupid from time to time.

And in an offline world, these misdemeanours would be subject to disciplinary action.

If a receptionist is rude to a member of the public, if someone uses offensive language within earshot of a customer or patient, you would expect them to have a sharp talking to, or worse, if they’re repeat offenders.

The point is all of these incidents negatively impact your brand, and there should be an effective disciplinary policy in place to deal with stuff like this.

It should be no different online.

5) It should be short

Let’s be honest, public sector policy documents are rarely the most exciting reads. And, to be fair, very often neither should they be.

However, there’s no reason they have to be War and Peace.

When it comes to social media, this is something that is a daily / hourly / constant reality for most of your employees anyway. So to make sure you’re engaging with them effectively on this important point, the language and format you use needs to be accessible and easy to understand.

But it your organisational format for policies doesn’t allow this, you should consider a complementary guidance document - this could be in the style of a “Dos and Don’ts” list of a Buzzfeed-style infographic list (Think: 12 things you need to know about using Social Media in this organisation).

Either way, make it accessible, and easy to understand - very much like social media itself.

6) It should be easy to find on your intranet

OK, so like every other request you get, it probably can’t go at the top of your homepage. But it should be very easily accessible through either architecture or intelligent tagging.

Remember, this is something that the majority of your staff are doing anyway, and may well fall into an unfortunate situation without clear guidance. It IS important, and should be treated as such. This makes making it clear and easy to find.

6) It should empower, not just enforce

You probably don’t need another blog post about how social media is a great thing and can help your organisation reach new people in new evolving ways.

But your policy shouldn’t just be about the stick. The carrot should feature prominently in there too.

So, what about a bit of background? How many of your community use Facebook? How many are on Instagram?

What benefits are there to your organisational brand to have an engaged workforce that give the organisation a human, authentic voice?

Use the policy to sell social media, and to encourage people to engage with it positively to help their professional development and to forward the cause of the organisation.

Remember, social media is an ever evolving beast. Your policy (and by association the rest of your comms activity) should do the same.

By following these broad principles, you’ll have a policy that works for you, and your organisation.

And, best of all, you’ll have happy bosses, and a happy community, which is, after all, what we’re here for.

MusterPoint was built by a team of people who have worked in the public sector and emergency services - they know what it's like to do your job - it's affordable and simple to use.