Why Your Nonprofit Needs a Social Media Policy

Photo by jenni from the block

Last week I offered 7 ways your nonprofit can involve employees in your social media efforts, with the understanding that they are among your best brand advocates, and can help you spread the word.

Part of that understanding is the assumption that your organization allows its employees to use social media during working hours. Sadly, there are many organizations that don’t permit their employees to use these sites, and some even go as far as to block them. I think this is a mistake, but there are generally three arguments that I hear for barring staff from using social media during the work day:

  • — Argument #1–“It’s a time suck, and our employees will waste time playing Farmville and chatting with friends.” Yes, this is a valid concern. But I also believe that your employees can be among your best ambassadors. If you treat your employees well, they will reflect that in how they talk about your company. All you need is a simple plan in place, perhaps written. People are expected to do their jobs. If they don’t complete their work, they will be reprimanded. Too many reprimands could lead to dismissal.
  • — Argument #2 –“I hear you, but I don’t trust my employees to abide by such a policy.” If you don’t trust your employees, perhaps you need to be more careful as you hire them. And if you don’t trust your employees, what does that say about your organizational culture?
  • — Argument #3–“It puts a burden on our servers and slows down our productivity.” This is the most legitimate response I get. I fully understand that having a lot of employees online can slow things down. If that is the case, you need to make some decisions. Does giving your employees access to social networking sites (where they can be encouraged to be strong brand evangelists) warrant spending some money to beef up your computer network? That is something I can’t answer for you. You need to weigh the pros and cons and determine that for yourself.

However, if you are concerned about how they might behave online, or use their time, all you need to do is put a social media policy in place. In fact, I think a strong social media policy is something that every nonprofit organization must have in place. Such a policy should both encourage your employees to behave online, as well as lay out the ground rules and expectations for HOW they will use social media and spend their time online. By encouraging them and positioning it in a positive way, you are setting expectations. You might be surprised at how your employees rise to the challenge.

As for a good policy, I strongly encourage you to check out a few resources.

First off, get a copy of Engage by Brian Solis and check out Chapter 17: Defining the Rules of Engagement. In that chapter, Solis gives an example of how the U.S. military has recognized the need to embrace social media use by the troops:

If the U.S. military is actively seeking guidelines for defining, regulating, and promoting the use of social media to improve communications and influence constituents, then it’s safe to assume that your organization should follow suit.

Then check out the Online Database of Social Media Policies. This is a great collection of more than 200 social media policies from businesses of all sorts, including nonprofits. I particularly like the social media policy of the American Red Cross, as well as their policy on how individual employees and volunteers should use their personal online spaces. Spend some time looking at the time-tested policies used by different businesses and organizations, and see if what they are doing might work for you.

Next, check out the Policy Tool for Social Media. This handy interactive tool will ask you questions, and walk you through the creation of a Social Media policy for your company. My only caveat would be that once you use this tool, you should print out the policy that it creates for you, and then use that as a starting point or framework for your real policy, rather than using it as the final thing.

Additionally, check out two of the better social media policies that have been put into place by two large corporations:

  • — Intel’s Social Media policy–Notice it doesn’t say “If you engage.” It says, “When you engage.” Engagement online is assumed and encouraged. Intel’s policy is well thought out and takes a lot of different scenarios into consideration.
  • — Best Buy’s Social Media Policy–Another well-crafted policy that encourages smart engagement.

By all means, allow your employees to be involved in social media! In fact, encourage that use of social media. But don’t forget to protect yourself by crafting a strong internal social media policy.

Make it a part of your employee handbook that is given to all new employees. Go over it with your employees on an annual basis, and consider having them sign off on it every year. It won’t vaccinate your organization against every worst case scenario, but it can go a long way in preventing a wide variety of social media mistakes and crises.

Have you implemented a social media policy for your organization? Tell us about it in the comment section!