CivicPlus Blog

5 Practical Tips For Developing A Social Media Policy

Posted by Angie Marquart

Oct 11, 2012 11:33:00 AM

5 social media tipsGuest blog written by Steve Cosentino, Partner at Stinson Morrison Hecker LLP.

Developing a comprehensive social media policy that actually works for your government organization is always a daunting task. Because the audience for eGov services is potentially limitless, the effect of social media on your sector can be huge. The speed of Internet communications combined with such a large eGov audience means you need a policy that is easy to understand and easy to enforce quickly and consistently.

Here are some tips for making that happen. 

1. Differentiate Between Business-Focused Social Media and Personal-Focused Social Media

You will find that it is much easier to develop a social media policy that makes sense if you recognize that there are distinctions between different types of social media outlets and the way in which they are used. 

For example, employees often view Facebook as a more personal-oriented forum, while LinkedIn is seen as a business platform. Your message to your employees about what is and isn’t permissible could and probably should vary by the type of service they use. 

I typically define sites as Category 1 – Social Networking sites directed towards business relationships, and Category 2 – Social Networking sites that are viewed as more personal in nature. 

You might also define Content Sharing Sites as those primarily geared towards file or image sharing as opposed to social networking. 

2. Describe Social Media Websites Generically

Today’s MySpace is tomorrow’s Facebook. It is helpful to point to specific examples for the types of websites you are defining, but use the actual sites only as examples. Use something like the Category approach I described above.

3. Be Realistic

A social media policy that is rarely enforced or is only selectively enforced is often worse than having no social media policy at all. Understand that your employees will use Facebook and will do it on company time. If you have limitations that are appropriate and can be enforced, you might be able to exert at least some control. 

4. Consider Special Rules for Social Media Campaigns

While I would never suggest that you require every employee to surrender their Facebook account to your organization, there are select instances where having company control over a social media campaign will save significant hassle later. 

If you have a marketing, public relations and/or communications team that establishes a campaign for your organization on Facebook, for example, or establishes a group on Linked-In, they should either be required to grant you rights in and access to that account, or at a least make your organization an administrator. 

If your campaign is extensive, consider requiring an assignment of rights document. If thoughtfully handled in advance, this will be a big help to your organization’s continuity on the web. The same applies to Twitter personas that might be run by an individual but with a very organization-oriented persona.

5. Don't Forget the Basics

Every social media policy should discuss the fact that social media usage is not private and the organization has the right to monitor. 

All policies should have an easy-to-understand-and-read list of unacceptable practices like infringement, defamation and harassment.

Always include a statement about asking first if there is a potential that an employee may be endorsing a company product or service or inducing a user to endorse something. The FTC has established new guidelines on the use of endorsements on the Internet. Make sure that employees understand that they are not speaking on behalf of the organization, particularly if they disclose their affiliation with your organization.

Follow these guidelines and keep things short, simple and easy to understand.  You will soon be on your way to an effective social media policy. 


Steve is a partner at Stinson Morrison Hecker LLP in Kansas City, MO. He is a member of the firm’s Intellectual Property and Technology Division and an associate member of the firm’s Corporate Finance Division. He provides document drafting, negotiation and general legal advice for a wide range of firm clients. Steve’s primary focus is on technology related transactions, with an emphasis on software licensing, application service provider transactions, outsourcing, online privacy, cloud computing and Internet related laws. Steve also has extensive experience in mergers and acquisitions, taking an active role on a number of corporate transactions and due diligence investigations. 

Read more from Steve on his blog,http://techknowledgyblog.squarespace.com/.



Topics: digital community engagement, eGovernment, social media