10 Must-Haves for an Effective Government Social Media Policy

An effective social media policy protects your agency while encouraging employee advocacy through: transparency, education, and empowerment.

First, your social media policy must be transparent, clearly laying out the acceptable use of social media for agency business as well as how personal social media accounts are affected. After the rules of engagement have been established, the policy should educate employees on how they can join the online conversation about your agency and then empower them to do so, creating a culture of employee advocacy where they are sharing your agency accounts and content with their networks. This policy should be used in conjunction with your social media strategy to engage and leverage employee advocates.

While an educated and empowered workforce is the end goal, creating a social media policy that protects your brand is the essential first step. Don’t write this in a silo, you’ll want to partner with stakeholders across your agency, including: Human Resources, Legal, Records Retention and Communications as well as any elected officials who will be approving the policy.

The below 10 Must-Have topics to be included in your social media policy will not only protect your brand but encourage employee advocacy:

1. Define Scope

A transparent policy should clearly state what and who are governed by the policy.
What-The policy should include how your agency defines social media, though it should be broad enough to cover new platforms as they emerge.
Who-Who does the policy apply to? Only agency employees? How does it change for contractors or vendors? Are there additional guidelines for Elected Officials?

2. Establish Social Media Authority and Administration

The policy should include which entities have the authority to enforce the policy, as well as who administers accounts. You want to make it easy for employees and departments to find how to get started on social media, as well as give yourself documentation to leverage when dealing with rogue accounts.

3. Use of Personal Social Media

In this digital age, it’s safe to assume that most of your employees are on social media, and that many of them check it from their smartphones. The policy should address how employees can identify themselves on social media as well as how they use their personal social media on agency time. These guidelines should be realistic to your culture, but also respect agency and tax payer money, time and property. Trainings are an effective way to communicate these guidelines to your employees in an educational and interactive way.

4. Use of Agency Social Media

The policy should define the acceptable use of social media for agency business, whether it is through official agency accounts or personal accounts. It should educate employees on the process to obtain permission to use social media for agency business and how to get access to existing accounts or how to set up new official accounts and get proper training. It’s important to be clear that neither personal accounts nor singular (department, program, etc.) accounts, speak for the entire agency.

5. Content Standards

While not as in-depth as your communications strategy, the policy should provide basic content standards. All content, whether coming from an agency or personal account, should be authentic and transparent. As a government agency or public servant, it is imperative to strive to provide accurate information. Additionally, content must always be of legal nature as well as legal to share.

6. Social Media Identification

Social media accounts are an extension of the agency brand in the digital space, and the public needs to be able to quickly and accurately identify official accounts. It also needs to be clear that employees don’t speak on behalf of the agency and that their personal views are their own. The social media policy should define how both agency accounts and personal social media accounts identify themselves on social media. For agency accounts, this can include naming conventions, logo, branding standards as well messaging guidelines. For employees, the policy should have standards for how employees identify their relationship to the agency in their accounts and bios.

7. Moderating and Post Removal Policy

The policy should clearly state what types of posts and comments are subject to removal, such as vulgarity, nudity, advertisements, threats and off-topic comments. This must be transparent to the public; which a publicly posted ‘post removal disclaimer’ could accomplish. It is then imperative to moderate and implement to these standards fairly in all circumstances.

8. Retention Process

State records retention laws and policies must be adhered to when using social media for agency business. Additionally, social media conducted on behalf of the agency is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Your agency social media policy should clearly state how your agency will uphold these laws as well as how to react to a FOIA request. The policy should also include the process to retain both published and removed content.

9. What NOT to Post

Make it abundantly clear what types of conduct and content are not allowed on social media whether on agency or personal accounts. Confidential, copyrighted, embargoes, personal (PPI), HIPPA and other sensitive information must always be protected, and should not be allowed on public social media. Content that is vulgar, sexual, or illegal in nature should never be allowed. The policy should also explain the difference between the use of social media for government business versus politics to follow campaign finance law while still allowing employees to engage with politics on their own time and personal accounts.

10. Violation Consequences

Finally, it needs to be transparent to employees what the consequences to their actions are if they violate the policy. The goal of the policy is to build trust and empower the employees, but that can’t happen unless expectations are clearly set and adequate education and training is provided, as well as a clear understanding of the violations and consequences.

For more tips on how to effectively roll out and enforce your policy, GSMO members can watch the Social Media Policy Best Practices for Government Webinar Replay at: http://gsmo.org/webinars/

Check out Social Media Policy examples from Oakland County and other Government agencies in the GSMO Resource Library: http://gsmo.org/resource-library/

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