conferences, presentations, social media policy

50 Shades of Social Media: Navigating Policies, Laws & Ethics at #14ntc

1 Comment 24 March 2014

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Social media practices evolve, along with questions of how to implement social media, who should do it, and how should practitioners do so. As organizations, we struggle with questions such as: who owns social media followers, what is acceptable to post privately to social media even if you are the public face of an organization, who in the organization should post updates to Facebook, and is it acceptable to ghostwrite tweets? These are the gray areas. At the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference, myself, Farra Trompeter, Carly Leinheiser, and Ashley Lusk developed a session focused on addressing the “50 Shades of Social Media.”

We focused the session around three pivot points: ethical sources to address social media dilemmas, a legal case illustrating the complexity of social media in the workplace,  and breakout discussions about law, organizational culture, and policy as it relates to social media.

Social Media Decision-Making Framework

As a panel, we felt that organizations struggling with social media dilemmas could be supported by determining an ethical framework for addressing social media dilemmas. During the first part of the session, I highlighted the five generally accepted sources of ethical standards, and discussed how each might be used within a standard framework for decisions. In order to use this framework, I highly recommend that the organization first decide which ethical approach best fits the culture of the organization. An explanation of the five ethical standards (and resource links) may be found in the slide deck at the bottom of this blog post.

#14ntcShades ethical framework

Case Study and Legal Considerations

Carly Leinheiser, our lawyer on the panel, walked us through the facts of PhoneDog v. Kravitz. The company PhoneDog brought suit against former employee Noah Kravitz for damages resulting from his continued of the twitter account that he had used during his employment, when Mr. Kravitz refused to hand over the login credentials. The lawsuit eventually settled. (The case is more complex than that, and you may read more about it here.) Each panelist then proffered an opinion as to which side is ethically in the right, using one of the ethical sources for decision-making. (I used the “Common Good Approach,” and surprised even myself when I concluded that PhoneDog was ethically in the right.)

Social Media Policy and Legal Considerations

Ashley spoke about social media policy considerations related to the case, and Carly offered general thoughts about legal lessons and outcomes from the case. Legal questions to consider are: who owns the account, who knows the username and password, is there a contract or policy written to address this? Social media policy considerations are: communicate clearly at the beginning of the relationship who owns a particular account, have a social media policy in place, and don’t ask employees for access to personal social media accounts. Ashley recommends NPR’s social media policy as a standard of excellence, and there are further social media policy resources at the end of the slide deck.


Attendees broke into small groups to share and discuss their own social media ethical, policy, cultural, and legal questions. Panel moderator Farra staffed the online NTC and #14ntcShades Twitter hashtag during the breakouts, while we walked around and listened in on lively discussions taking place. During report-backs, we heard from groups that discussed ghostwriting, deleting old comments, creating social media policies, and other questions. This is a favorite quote from one of the small group discussions, which I also overheard:

#14ntcShadesDalai Lama

Overall Considerations

Social media communication empowers individuals to directly communicate synchronously, which can lead to a blurring of the lines of how the organization is represented, who is saying what, and when is it ok or not ok to respond. If your organization is actively using social media, then social media policy, organizational culture, ethical considerations and legal considerations are all at play. It’s not as simple as crafting a social media policy and saying “we’re done.” As social media usage evolves, hopefully still will our considerations as organizations, including determining ethical standards and frameworks for social media dilemmas, social media policy revisions, training, and evolving culture.

This is from attendee @EricSchwartzman, with a post-session thought:

Thank you to my session co-contributors, thought partners and panelists: Farra Trompeter of Big Duck, Carly Leinheiser of Perlman & Perlman, and Ashley Lusk of Threespot. Special thanks to Threespot, which polished up the presentation and made it shine.

If you attended this session, I’d love to hear your thoughts and takeaways in the comments. How does your company deal with social media dilemmas?

  • Julia Smith

    So great to read this recap! Thank you for being so transparent and thorough with such a huge topic. I especially love the “His Holiness” policy. p.s. A quick reminder to everyone reading this: If you attended this or any session at the 14NTC, you have through this Friday, April 4, to fill out an evaluation and let us know if you have feedback for NTEN or for Debra, Farra, Ashley, and Carly.



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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