Ellie Burke
Ellie Burke
Image of mobile phone with social media icons.

How to Write Your Organization’s Social Media Guidelines

Have you ever posted something on a social media account that had a typo? What about a bad joke, or a more controversial opinion? How did your followers react? Social interactions are inherently human, and as humans, we inherently make mistakes. Yet the social media accounts of your organization represent your viewpoints, culture, and values, and because of this there is less room for mishaps, and often much less forgiveness.

As these platforms become increasingly relevant for the business and nonprofit world, posts are being considered reputable sources of supplementary information about an organization and are held to high standards. In light of this, it’s important to set guidelines for your team using this platform in order to develop a consistent voice and reduce the potential for any misconduct.

The Big Oops

In 2014 retailer American Apparel reblogged an image on Tumblr in celebration of the upcoming 4th of July holiday. This image happened to be of the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding. Immediately, followers were in an uproar. Ultimately, American Apparel removed the post and posted an apology in its place. They attributed the error to their social media manager’s young age and that he was international.

Unfortunately, in a situation such as this, the actions of one individual represent the opinion of your entire organization. Errors such as these have the potential to change the views of hundreds of thousands of individuals in sheer moments and cost you big in the long run.

While misunderstandings are a common source of social media slips, there are also other types of errors your organization could make:

  • Employees making factual errors speaking on behalf of your organization
  • Employees revealing proprietary information on their personal pages, or publicly behaving in a way inconsistent to your brand
  • PR crises
  • False representations

The Solution

We all know mistakes happen, but your organization can take steps to reduce their occurrences significantly. For example, a system of checks and balances could have prevented American Apparel’s horrific Tumbler post. By creating social media guidelines for your team, you can set a standard for all posted content that unifies your messaging and supports high-quality content.

General Tips for Creating Your Organization’s Social Media Guidelines

Before you dive in, consider these tips:

Write Two Sets of Social Media Guidelines

The first, for all employees/volunteers responsible for posting on behalf of your organization in some fashion. The second, for employees/volunteers using their personal social media profiles.

Be Transparent With Your Team Regarding the Need for These Guidelines

Brainstorm with the entire team to decide what these guidelines should include so they are more useful and so that the team has more buy-in.

Use Your Guidelines More to Educate Than to Restrict Behaviors

While you want to avoid potential PR disasters, you don’t want your team to feel they can’t be trusted. Use a respectful tone in your writing. These guidelines should ultimately empower professional and creative posts.

Write Them Down

Whether it’s on paper or online, make sure your guidelines are accessible to your entire organization. This ensures they are a useful resource that anyone can refer to when in doubt. This also makes for a great document that can be used to educate new staff members in case of turnover. Clear expectations can be set immediately.

Be Careful What You Tell Your Employees They Can and Cannot Do

According to Social Media Examiner, it’s important to consider any legal ramifications when constructing these guidelines. Your employees are protected by the law to discuss their workplace conditions with their fellow employees (whether that’s at the water cooler or on Facebook).

On a Legal Note, Go Ahead and Have a Lawyer Review Your Document

Do this before you share it with your team in order to ensure your guidelines are sound.

Look at Examples to Get Started

Social Media Governance’s website hosts an entire database of social media guidelines used by both for profit and nonprofit organizations.

Outline Any Consequences for Violating These Policies

What will be your process for retrieving any faulty posts? Who will make a public apology, and when? Consider how you will evaluate the severity of the infraction and what the repercussions will be for different types of violations so the protocol is in place from the beginning and is not a surprise. Your team will understand how serious an offense is.

How to Write Guidelines for Posting on Behalf of Your Organization

When a handful of individuals wield the power of communication on behalf of your organization online, you want those individuals to be consistent across the multiple platforms your organization engages on, and you want to set clear expectations for what is and is not acceptable.

Step 1: Outline Your Team

Everyone should know who has access to what.

Step 2: Store Your Login and Passwords in a Secure Location

Communicate the importance of keeping this information private.

Step 3: Set the Editorial Process, if Any

Consider having team members check in with each other to catch any potential mistakes. A practice like this can help you catch embarrassing misspellings, but also potential disasters like American Apparel’s.

Step 4: Determine Who Will Be in Charge

Will a controlled group of team members oversee your social media content or will all employees contribute? Be sure employees use disclaimers that their opinions are their own whenever making comments as an individual.

Step 5: Set the Voice and Tone You Want Used Across All the Channels

What are the adjectives you want people to use when they describe your organization? Have a conversation about how your social media strategy fits into this.

Step 6: Establish Etiquette for Your Team to Follow

What general rules of thumb can your team keep in mind to help guide their behavior? For example, it never hurts to remind your team of the golden rule.

Additional guideline examples to include:

  • Be personal, not private
  • Be active
  • Listen
  • Be responsive
  • Create value in conversations
  • Use humor only when appropriate
  • Don’t push our organization
  • Don’t be rude or impatient
  • Don’t ignore negative feedback

Negative feedback in particular can be a more challenging aspect of engaging with your community on social media. The American Red Cross responds to constructive criticism and deletes anything unconstructive in order to keep the conversation relevant and respectful. Consider what the right policy is for your organization.

How to Write Guidelines for Posting as an Employee or Volunteer

Step 1: Examine Existing Company Policies for Inspiration

Some organizations have very simple policies for their employees, while others go a little more in depth. Ford Motor company, for example, gives their employees five core principle guidelines when participating in a conversation online about Ford or the automotive industry.

  • Honesty about who you are
  • Clarity that your opinions are your own
  • Respect and humility in all communication
  • Good judgment in sharing only public information—including financial data
  • Awareness that what you say is permanent

While they provide additional information as well, these five points are reflected throughout their guidelines as the main ideas behind their principles. Other organizations are a bit more thorough. The Red Cross provides their field units with a 109-slide presentation via SlideShare that includes information on their philosophy, national presence, and tips for creating social media presence.

Step 2: Decide What Is Important to Your Organization and Communicate It to Your Team

If you’re unsure about how much information to provide, meet with your team to discuss their questions and create a document inspired by their feedback.

Here are a few more popular guidelines many organizations give their employees:

  • When in doubt, don’t post!
  • Use disclaimers
    • “Hi, my name is Bob, and while I am an employee of Ford Motor Company, my opinions are entirely my own and do not represent the views of my employer.”
  • Don’t do anything illegal
  • Beware that posts may be permanent
  • Do not reveal confidential information

As Benjamin Franklin once simply stated, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Your organization’s reputation is a serious matter that warrants safeguarding. How you are perceived by the public affects the number of supporters you have for your cause and the overall impact of your organization. Create and enforce social media guidelines to foster and protect positive conversations on social media that represent your organization’s character, convictions, and heart.

Rock Every Channel.

social media guide for nonprofits

Photo Credit: Flickr User Jason Howie

Where social entrepreneurs go to learn and grow

Join over 20,000 leaders just like you who get their weekly dose of technology, innovation, fundraising ideas, and the latest industry trends.

Subscribe to the Classy Blog