Social media policy – a guide for membership organisations

Oct 18, 2016 | Membership Organisations, Social Media

With a renewed social media push by one of my membership organisation clients, I advised they should have a social media policy in place.  With more staff and members involved in the updates, they need all involved to understand what is required, what is unacceptable/inappropriate, and what will be the consequence if an individual steps out of line.

I had not written a social media policy from scratch for a while so turned to the internet for some basic desk research to determine whether there had been any significant advances since the last one I wrote.  I was hit by a barrage of examples of what many companies / people interpret as being best practice – and came to the conclusion that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.  Neither should there be.  All organisations are different – although membership organisation have their similarities – but each has its own peculiarities and to roll out a template used by many others would be disingenuous to my client.

My solution was to start by downloading the CIPR Social Media Guidelines document from the CIPR’s Toolkits and Best Practice Guides website (go take a look yourself, there are 15 available to non-members on a range of PR-related topics, plus another one for members only) – pages 21 and 22 very helpfully give advice for employers.  According to the CIPR, a good approach for employers is:

  • Ensure employee induction, training and terms of employment cover what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. This should cover legal requirements, appropriate industry regulation guidelines, such as the CIPR code of conduct, and employer-specific guidance – given that such rules and regulations can and do change, policies should also be kept under regular review
  • Include guidance on where the line is between personal and professional use of social media; for example to make clear in personal social media updates when they are talking about a client
  • Include guidance on when issues about tone of voice may cause an issue for employees; for example, if clients in Scotland are important for the employer than making anti-Scottish comments, even on a private social media account, may cause problems.
  • Making sure that such policies are incorporated into staff terms or contracts both provides employers with an appropriate framework to use if there is a problem and also protects employees from inadvertently making mistakes. Consideration should be given to what steps will be taken if the policy is disregarded by an employee.

I then searched for examples by a range of organisations (quite a few (helpfully) have these freely available on the internet) and I found the commonalities.  These common areas, along with my experience and knowledge plus CIPR guidance, mean I am confident I have created a solid and encompassing bespoke social media policy for my client.  By including terms used in their profession, along with their regularly-used jargon, my client has a truly tailored social media policy, relevant to their current situation.


What should be included in a social media policy?

To save you the same pain of researching what should be included in a social media policy, I have listed below the common areas I found, with a few examples to help you on your way.  They may not all be relevant to your organisation, or you may need to add some other areas, but the list below will be a great start:

  1. Why the policy exists – explain in simple terms, so there is no ambiguity, why this social media policy is in place.  For your policy to have the best chance of being effective, i.e. being workable in practice, stay away from floury language and legal-speak.
  2. What the policy covers – who does the policy relate to (employees? members?)?  What social media platforms are covered?  How will the policy be enforced?
  3. Approved users – these are the people authorised to access and post on your organisation’s social media accounts.  I call these individuals ‘designated’ employees and/or members.  Make it clear that these individuals will be ambassadors for your organisation.
  4. Purpose of the social media accounts – explain what social media will achieve, e.g. engage stakeholders, raise awareness of your organisation and/or members/profession/industry, contribute to business goals, etc.  Indicate how this will manifest, e.g. distributing fresh content, sharing third party content, interacting with stakeholders.
  5. Inappropriate uses of social media – what is considered unsuitable/inappropriate content?  i.e. illegal/criminal activity, defamatory/libellous/pornographic words or images, discussing (past or present) members/partners/associates in a derogatory manner.  Approved users must respect confidentiality at all times.
  6. Guidelines for social media use – simple rules to set a baseline for the behaviour you expect, e.g. check grammar and spelling before posting, if you feel by responding you will spark conflict or be antagonistic – do not post, take personal responsibility for what you post and do not hide behind the organisation’s name.
  7. Policy enforcement – what will happen if an individual violates the social media policy, e.g. would you terminate employment or exclude the individual from membership?


Agreement of the social media policy

I believe that a policy or code of conduct has more significance if an individual is required to physically sign their agreement and acceptance of what is expected of them.  I advised my client to include a final page to their social media policy for each approved / authorised / designated user to sign and return thus demonstrating their agreement to abide by the policy.  Only when this has been received by your organisation should you release the login details for your social media accounts.

If you are faced with writing a social media policy from scratch, or updating one that has been around for a while, then please get in touch for my help and advice.

Disclaimer: I made it clear to my client that the policy I drafted for them was not legally binding – for this they should seek legal advice.  It should also be linked to their employment contract.  This affords both the organisation and employee some protection.  If you authorise members to post on your social media accounts, consider how this can be incorporated in their terms of membership.


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