Essential Elements of a Government Social Media Policy

Government Social Media Policy Part 1: The Public Notice

There are two major elements of an external-facing government social media policy. That is to say, a policy that is applicable to the public. The elements include:

  1. The section detailing the moderation of third party content, and
  2. A notice regarding applicable public records law.

Moderation of Third Party Content

A sound commenting policy is all about balance. It should be to allow moderation of inappropriate and irrelevant content, while still respecting relevant opinions and First Amendment concerns.

Here is an example of a content moderation policy:

Written correctly, government agencies can safely moderate and remove content based on the criteria of this policy. Furthermore, public entities can explicitly distance themselves from the nature of the content shared by third parties.

Notice of Public Records Law

Since social media is public record, citizens must be aware that their communications are being retained and could be shared with others, even if those communications are moderated or later deleted.

Check out this example from Seattle.gov’s facebook page:

Remember, it’s perfectly fine to re-purpose here. If you come across a social media policy that may work for your agency, use it as a template.

Government Social Media Policy Part 2: For the Employees

In addition to the external government social media policy, it is equally important for public sector organizations to establish an internal employee-use policy for social media.

The policy should include 3 elements:

  1. Guidelines for personal versus professional use,
  2. A mechanism for an agency to approve and register social media sites, and
  3. The ability for oversite and enforcement.

Personal vs. Professional Use

Any employee-use policy must differentiate between personal and professional social media usage, and explain how the rules apply to each.

GSA’s Social Media Navigator does a great job of outlining what “official use” means:

When you join Facebook, Twitter and other social sites, you do so with different responsibilities. When representing the agency, you’re speaking in an “official” voice and have been authorized to speak for the agency. If you have your own Facebook and Twitter sites, you’re speaking in a “personal” voice” with your own views and opinions.

The difference between official use and personal use of social media is this:

Personal use: You can do anything that’s not illegal.

Official Use: You can do what you’re authorized to do.

Approval and Registration of Social Media Sites

A fundamental component of the employee-use policy is the section describing approval and registration of social media sites.

Remember: this does not mean that a public affairs office should approve every post. But the person in charge of social media should approve the actual social media profile. In other words, an agency’s facebook page should be approved, but not every single post written by the agency.

Why would an agency need to do this, you ask? It’s actually a way for public affairs to accomplish several goals at once: to ensure brand consistency, to provide training, and to ensure that each social networking profile serves a distinct and meaningful purpose.

But wait! There’s a bonus. The approval process provides a natural entry point for populating and maintaining a registry of the organization’s social media profiles.

Oversight and Enforcement

Finally, the employee-use policy should establish rules regarding oversight and enforcement. A social media profile created for professional purposes ultimately belongs to the organization, and not the individual employee.

Responsible parties in the organization, ranging from public affairs to legal, must have the right to monitor and enforce actions on a profile when necessary.

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