Got a Social Media Policy?

Photo: Steven RollBy Steven Roll
ASBPE Past President

The Wall Street Journal has one, the New York Times has one, Bloomberg has one. What about your publication? Does your publication have a social media policy?

Like many B2B publications, chances are your publication has been dipping its toes in the social-media ocean, but hasn’t jumped in yet. Maybe you’ve set up a Twitter account or a fanpage on Facebook, but nothing more.

Even if your publication is still in the exploratory stage, it’s probably a good idea to adopt a social media policy.

After making a few informal inquiries last week to some tech-savvy editors, I was somewhat surprised at how many publications still haven’t adopted a policy for how writers and editors should conduct themselves when communicating in a professional capacity on social media. Many of the people I spoke with said they were in the process of developing one. (Of course, the reason I was asking is because I'm drafting a policy for my company.)

Maybe editors are reluctant to adopt a formal policy because they feel social media initiatives are something that should be built from the “ground up.” After all, it’s mostly the younger people who have fully embraced it. Perhaps adopting a formal policy might somehow inhibit the free flow of conversation on Twitter etc. Both the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg were criticized for adopting overly rigid policies.

It seems like the danger of off-message or inappropriate communications outweigh the awkwardness of adopting a policy concerning a medium many of us don’t fully understand yet. But it seems like it would be a lot easier to change an misguided policy, than to try to somehow compensate for an offensive Tweet or misguided blog post.

The social media policy I’m working on has two levels. The first level is a set of broad principles that outline some basic rules of conduct. Here are a few:
  • be honest and transparent;
  • coordinate your messages with your publication;
  • add value;
  • blog about what you know;
  • if you make a mistake, admit it, and correct it; and
  • be diplomatic and professional — especially with the people who are behaving rudely or with whom you disagree.
The second level reads more like a style guide. It will include more specific information such as:
  • a sample blog post;
  • what a typical Tweet should look like; and
  • best practices for sharing a blog post on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
To be sure, the policy my company ends up adopting is likely to look entirely different than my conception of it. But even if that turns out to be the case, I think it's a worthwhile exercise to start establishing some guidelines. Otherwise, how else will you be able to identify inappropriate conduct. Like old age, having a policy to point to sure beats the alternative.

Through a colleague, I found the following gem at the Online Database of Social Media Policies: Chris Boudreaux, author of the upcoming book Social Media Governance, has assembled 82 such policies on the book’s website. From companies to charities to military organizations, it’s a treasure trove for those struggling with social media guidelines.
Source: Social Media Governance (via Mashable)

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Thanks for a great post - a lot of food for thought as we navigate these unchartered waters. I was also dismayed at the stringent social media policies adopted by NY Times, but understand that they are coming from a blank slate, and probably had a lot of help and input from the legal department (there goes transparency and trust!)
# posted by Anonymous Fani Lemken : October 9, 2009 at 9:02 AM
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