Social Media Guidelines: Make Your Mother Proud

Social media is used as a communications channel in almost all organizations, at least at some level – even among law enforcement.  Though not always with positive results.  A recent New York Times article, for example, discussed how social utilities like Facebook and MySpace have landed some police officers in the hot seat with their departments and in courtrooms. Cases have been thrown out against defendants because of what officers published on their personal social networking sites (call it what you will – bravado, machismo or stupidity – or a combination).

Social media is a double-edged sword as it has also proven effective for fighting crime and keeping the public aware of any suspicious or criminal activity (look at Boston’s own PD).

The Red Cross tweet heard round the world; followed by a graceful recovery

But now, because of these cases where poor judgment was exercised, many police departments are coming up with social media guideline policies – including what employees can and cannot share. They are not alone.  Other organizations are also creating similar parameters, including health care organizations.  Pointing to the events in the NY Times article, the director of the Mayo Clinic for Social Media referred to social media as a power tool – likened to a band saw or even a doctor’s scalpel.  When used correctly, fantastic.  When handled carelessly, even seemingly silly slips of judgment (Red Cross’ Twitter faux pas, anyone?) can be deadly.

The same Mayo director said about social media:  with “great power comes great responsibility.” (As an aside, my mother has long drilled into me: to whom much is given, much is expected).  To that end, the Mayo Clinic created a Social Media Health Network, which provides information to organizations looking to “appropriately harness the power of social media for health-related purposes.”

Those of us in the reputation communications field encourage and advocate the use of social media, but only with standards in place.  Last October, Morrissey & Company CEO Peter Morrissey blogged about our online footprint (“Nowhere to Hide”) and described the need to create “our own guidelines to better manage our online presence using the same standards of decency, morality, and ethics that should guide any public discourse.”

Tread carefully

Your footprint survives you – the Internet and its forums are the “bathroom wall” of the past, except now all can view. Before you are forced into damage control, look into your cleaning crew and your own policies.  What do you do regularly to keep everything neat and tidy? Does your organization have a plan in place for employees’ social media use?  If so, what guidelines and governance do you use – or not use?


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