Getting Started, social media etiquette, social media strategy

Review: The Nonprofit Social Media Policy Workbook

2 Comments 23 April 2012

In March, I sat on a panel at SXSW Interactive with three fellow nonprofit community managers to discuss personnel/personal boundaries in online community management. Organizations and community managers are grappling with this currently, and the active Q&A (documented here) during the session was a testament to this fact. Idealware and Darim Online, with support from Balance Interactive, have just released a free Nonprofit Social Media Policy Workbook for nonprofits trying to figure out how to get a handle on the personnel side of social media.

Why do you need a social media policy? The workbook introduction sums it up clearly:

“A good social media policy will provide clear guidelines as to what staff should and shouldn’t do when posting and interacting with the community on a day-to-day basis, freeing them up to think more strategically. It’s also likely to help leadership feel more comfortable with the less-formal nature of social media by letting them establish boundaries for its use.”

In this simple yet complete guide, the authors walk through many of the critical social media policy issues with which organizations struggle: the reasons for a policy, applying organizational values to the policy, social media roles, what to say online, social media monitoring strategy, responding to criticism online, responding to other comments online, privacy and permissions, and thinking through copyright and attributions. Each section offers at least one highlighted example from an organization that has struggled with the same issue, and how the issue was resolved.

When I was an online community manager, I was left to navigate the world online community without guidance. I found myself making judgement calls “on the fly” about how much about myself to reveal personally when interacting within other online communities, how to deal with negative criticism, staying “on message” when developing personal relationships with community members, and whether or not to use my personal social media accounts to promote organizational efforts. The Social Media Policy Workbook is a godsend for organizations grappling with just these issues.

What I love about the workbook:

  • It is non-judgmental and approachable. There are no set guidelines or clear preferences; policy positions are laid out along a continuum of choices that best fit the organization’s values, mission and culture.
  • It is hands-on. It is really a workbook, and every section of the workbook includes probing questions, guided exercises, and space for answers.
  • Real-world stories and experiences from organizational staff support each section of the workbook.
  • The companion social media template.  The online template is not the workbook, replicated; it is a a companion piece  of sample language taken from existing social media policies of other organizations.
  • It is short, sweet, and to the point. At 20 pages, it’s just the right length not to intimidate.
  • Guided decision-making. For every decision, there are guided questions, simple worksheets, and space to add organization-specific data. For example, it includes a stellar worksheet intended to help leadership consider social media roles and responsibilities within the organization.
  • It includes provocative questions. True to their introduction, “chances are good that you’ll find the conversations you have as a team are every bit as important as the product you end up with.”

I feel that the workbook would benefit from a section about how “personal” you want your organization to act or appear online. I struggled with this same issue as an online manager: do I sign the organization’s twitter updates with my initials? Should I add my name to any/some/all of the Facebook posts? Should I put my name at the top of our FourSquare account?  It would be helpful to include in the workbook a list of the social media channels, and ask which circumstances in which it is more or less appropriate to connect as a person rather than “a logo” online. Chapter two, “Your Organization’s Social Media Values,” could easily be modified to include this discussion.

I also wish that the workbook had included a discussion or decision-tree around posting within other professional spaces (LinkedIn groups, other Facebook Pages) as a staff person. How and when to identify the fact that you also work at a certain organization is an issue all staff encounter at times.

The Nonprofit Social Media Policy Workbook is an essential resource for initiating, discussing, and drafting your organization’s social media policies.

If you are looking for a starting point for your social media policy, look no further.

Lisa Colton of Darim Online and Andrea Beery of Idealware presented a workshop at the Nonprofit Technology Conference entitled “Maturing Your Organization’s Social Culture by Creating a Policy.”  Many of the workbook elements were discussed during the workshop. The talented Rob Cottingham graphically captured the workshop discussion in the illustration below. Enjoy!

Noise to Signal Cartoon



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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