What is a Social Media Policy?

Depending on the size of your organization, where you’re at in your growth and even the type of community or audience you serve, a social media policy can mean very different things.  In a very broad sense, a social media policy is a set of guidelines to help your organization best utilize social media platforms to support and grow your mission.  For some smaller organizations with just a few staff, this may look like a short document with bullet points outlining who posts content to what channels and a list of topics for what content to post.  For others, it may be a more detailed document creating the framework for what platforms can and can’t be utilized, the type of content created and shared, privacy standards and legal notices.

Why is a Social Media Policy important?

Regardless of the size or type of organization you run, look at the creation of a social media policy as another tool for running a successful business or nonprofit.  Not only will having a clear policy in place limit the risk of a negative experience online, on the positive side, it can improve work efficiency and ultimately help create a more effective way of utilizing social media to grow and support your mission.  If you’re a one person show, then think of a social media policy as another way to stick true to your brand and not chase down a new trend if it doesn’t truly fit with your style.  If you’re at the point where you’re ready to contract out your social media management then creating a policy is a great way to onboard that new assistant or contractor.  By keeping your values and mission at the forefront of the conversation when creating your policy, you can be assured that in the end it will become an extension of your voice and ability to share your organization’s story.

Questions to Ask Before Creating Your Social Media Policy

Before sitting down and getting into the nitty gritty of writing your policy, you’ll save yourself some frustrations throughout the process if you stop and ask yourself the following questions.  Write out your answers and, if you’re working with a team, you may want to hear what their responses are as well.  By writing down your responses you may find that you’re already coming up with some of the written policy as you reflect and share.

You’ll want to start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Who will have input on the creation of your social media policy?
    • Will it be only management or will other staff be included?
    • What role will your Board play (if you have one)?
    • Do you have a lawyer who you’ve worked with in the past on policies and procedures and will they need to be involved in this process?

If your organization is small and limited to just yourself or a few key staff or volunteers, then it may be easy to decide that you all should have input.  But for a larger organization, figuring out who the key people are for input may need a bit more thought.  You may already have policy in place for determining who has input on policy and procedure, but for those who do not, put some thought into these questions.  If staff is used to being asked for their input, then having them share their opinions now would be natural.  You may also decide to form a social media policy committee made up of staff, volunteers, board members and other key people in your organization.

Next you will want to ask the questions that will determine the structure of your new social media policy.

  • What structure do you want your policy to follow?

You may decide that your social media policy will be more formal and cover what staff can and cannot do and what can and cannot be posted on behalf of your organization or you may decide that now it is more appropriate that it act more as a guideline to keep anyone involved on track with your goals for social media usage.

  • What legal parameters should be considered and included in the policy?

If you are a nonprofit and serve a population whose privacy needs to be considered when sharing information and updates, then this should be included in your new policy.  Keep in mind that the type of content you create and share may also impact your nonprofit status if it is seen as supporting or opposing certain legislation or public figures running for political office.  Look through your current policies as well to find any overlap between what already exists and how that might affect or need inclusion into your social media policy.  If you’re hiring outside help to post on your behalf, think about how images will be obtained (are you supplying them or will they find them on your behalf?) and who has a license to use them.

  • Do you have a current privacy policy?

It is important to look at your current privacy policy, if you have one, or create some guidelines if one doesn’t exist. Incorporate them into your social media policy and be especially mindful of your legal responsibilities. Occasions may arise when you want to include photos of your staff or volunteers or even clients.  Create guidelines for when this type of content is appropriate and how you will seek their permission as well as what waivers you will need signed in order to use their photo.

  • Who will have/has access to administer your social media accounts now?

If you’re already using social media for your organization it’s a good idea to review who has access to each platform.  It’s always a good idea to have at least two administrators on each platform you decide to use.  Facebook makes this easy and convenient to set up through Page Roles.  This way if someone is out of town, doesn’t have access to the internet or leaves the organization, there is always a backup administrator who can manage the account.  If you’re using a scheduling service, like Buffer or Hootsuite, you also have the ability to set up access for several staff, depending on the type of account you purchase.  Who has access, what platforms or services are used and what level of access is given should all be included in your social media policy.

  • What goals are you trying to fulfill through social media?

Just like you have a mission statement for your organization, you should also state your mission for why you’re using social media.  By having this clearly stated in your social media policy, anyone reading the policy and managing social media for your organization should have a foundation for the content created and shared and the purpose for when and why it’s being shared.  What goals do you hope to reach through social media?  Will you be recruiting volunteers, raising funds, or spreading awareness?  Take the time to think through your marketing strategy and what role social media plays in it.  Then refer back to these goals throughout the writing process of your social media policy to be sure each instruction is in line with your goals.

Additional Questions to Help You Get Started

By now you may be ready to start writing, but depending on how you plan to structure your social media policy, you may want to consider some or all the following topics as well.

  • What type of content will you share?

Will you be creating original content, such as blog posts or a short write-up about your current work or will you be sharing content from another source?  If you envision sharing content from another source, include language regarding copyright and licensing to be sure staff know what they can share and how to properly credit the original owner.  You may even want to include the ratio as to how often you want original vs shared content to be posted.

  • Who will be responsible for creating original content?

To have a successful and engaging social media presence you will need to provide some original content.  While it doesn’t always have to be as lengthy as a blog post that is then linked to from social media, in order to support and grow your mission and marketing goals, you need to create posts that are created in your voice and encapsulate your vision and values.  In addition to including content creation responsibilities in your social media policy, you may also want to include an outline of the approval process for the content before it is posted.

  • Are there certain topics that are off limits or not in line with your organization’s mission and values?

Refer to the items discussed above that could affect your nonprofit status, but also think of other topics that might come up.   If they don’t support your goals, mission or values, make a list and include examples in the policy.

  • How will posts be attributed?

You may have seen posts that clearly state the person’s name who is sharing the content or is “signed” at the end.  Have you thought about the voice in which you want your content to be shared? Will the author of the post “sign” their name or will posts remain unsigned?  Regardless of what you decide, make it consistent.

  • Will you be following a social media marketing plan?

Thinking back again to your goals for using social media, they may have come straight from your existing marketing plan.  If this is the case, you may want to include language in your social media policy that refers to how the plan is incorporated, who is responsible for overseeing that it is incorporated and how its effectiveness will be measured.

  • Do you have a social media content calendar?

A content calendar is invaluable for staying on track with social media and using it effectively.  Language about the use of a content calendar and who creates it can also be an important piece of information to include in your social media policy.

  • Will the same person be responsible for multiple social media platforms?

It is not necessary to have a presence on every social media platform.  In fact, I advise against it and instead encourage organizations to only use the 1-2 platforms where their target audience is most active.  But even with just 2 platforms to manage, it can become cumbersome.  In choosing who will be the point person for each platform, first decide if they are qualified to do so.  Do they know how to use the platform effectively and have they used it before in a business setting?  If not, how quickly are they able to learn how to use the platform?

  • Who responds to questions and comments?

One of the greatest strengths of social media is the ability to respond to your audience and create engagement and interaction.  However, to do so, you must be engaging and interact with your followers.  That being said, one important aspect of your social media policy should focus on who has the ability to respond to questions and comments.  In addition to who will respond, here are a few more things to consider:

  • Is there a timeframe?
  • Who monitors your profiles outside of business hours?
  • Is it elevated if the comment is inflammatory?
  • How do you determine if the response is public or private?
  • Who decides if the comment is deleted?


Putting It All Together

Once you’ve reflected on the questions above and had an opportunity to think just how a social media policy can help support your organization, you’re ready to put together a draft of your policy.  It’s important to keep in mind that social media is fast paced and ever changing, so allow yourself the flexibility to change parts of the policy that no longer work for your organization or are outdated.  As your business or nonprofit grows, you will want to review your policy for ways to incorporate any new guidelines that support those changes. It may seem overwhelming at first, but focus on the result; a solid foundation for building the future of your organization on social media.