Social Media Policy Best Practices: Trust Is Cheaper Than Control | Beth's Blog

Social Media Policy Best Practices: Trust Is Cheaper Than Control

Social Media Policy

In my book, the Networked Nonprofit, we devoted an entire chapter to creating a social culture, including the development of a social media policy.   On my Facebook page,  I asked folks what the best practices were for creating a policy.   Here’s a summary of the responses and some tips.

What’s In A Social Media Policy?

The tone and philosophy in a social media policy depends on the risk appetite of the organization.   As this was explained in the discussion on Facebook,  organizations with a stronger risk appetite/tolerance for their activities might have a more “permissive” social media policy.  More conservative organizations and fields, might have a more restrictive social media policies.   It’s the all about organizational culture as well as the depth of  senior leadership’s understanding and knowledge of social media.  All these factors come into lay in the writing of policy and how it is enforced.

Structurally, a social media policy has two sections:

(1) Guidelines: This section should be one or pages that summarizes how your organization can be more effective at using social media. It should not be about control, but more on how to use the tools effectively. It should lay out parameters around organizational and personal use.    See Ford Social Media Guidelines for an example.

(2) Manual: This section refers to your social media plan, includes best practices on using social media with specific examples. Many organizations use it as part of their training.   Take a look at the Red Cross Social Media Policy for a good nonprofit example of the operational side of the policy.

What’s the Process?

Your social media policy should be developed in tandem with your strategy.   Discussing the results of the strategy along with the guidelines is valuable.   It is also helpful  to look at what other organizations are doing and pick out the elements relevant to your org and goals

There are many examples out there, so there is no reason to start from scratch.  There is also the Social Media Policy Tool that allows you to answer a couple of questions and it spits out some boiler plate to get you started.   But, if you want the policy to truly work, you need a process, especially if your organization is still grappling with fears and concerns.  ( Here are some tips for addressing those issues)

If your nonprofit is a large organization with many staff, you’ll want to consult with HR, Legal, IT, and other key departments. You may need a couple of meetings to discuss and review the following:

  • Who should be involved writing the policy?
  • Who will vet the policy?

See more advice here

One of the best how-to guides I saw recently was when I was in Canada at the My Charity Connects Conference last June and I sat in on this session. There’s lot of good advice and resources to get your started.

What are the best practices for creating a social media policy? How did your organization develop its policy?  What training and support did you provide? How do you enforce it?

23 Responses

  1. Brian Block says:

    Great post! I just forwarded this to several non-profits I’m on the marketing committees for.

    Because I work at a PR firm, we rely on trusting our team to manage their professional/personal social media balance. We even promote their Twitter handles when promoting their content. This way people can connect to the authors of blogs and articles.

    But just as the title states, it needs to be approached with trust. We’ve always felt that trust creates – in the person you’re trusting – a sense of pride, duty and encouragement to do a good job instead of pressure to make sure they don’t get in trouble.

    The only thing we enforce is that people understand how to protect themselves and understand their security settings. Knowing how to keep sponsors/donors/volunteers/etc. at a distance from your most personal information is a key factor for orgs I work with like the Boy Scouts and women’s shelters.

    Thanks for the great resources!

  2. Kelly Meeker says:

    This is great advice not only for nonprofits, but for any organization. I work in the elearning/professional training sector, and we find that employees who engage in social media (either personally or on behalf of their organization) build lively professional networks that become a “personal learning network” (PLN). The PLN, which develops organically, helps the employee stay on top of developments in their field and drives their ability to innovate in their job. In other words – social media drives not just engagement between the organization and the external community, but creates a community that drives the employee’s engagement in the organization.

  3. Erica Mills says:

    So glad you mentioned the Social Media Policy Tool! It’s such a handy, doable tool for nonprofits, especially those that are doing a policy for a first time. Makes it feel less scary…as does your–always fabulous–post!

  4. Thanks for your great post, that comes just in time!
    Greetz from Germany!

  5. I think it’s important to remember that ALL organizations should update their policies to reflect Digital Era realities, not just those who actively engage in social media. I recently wrote a blog post that provides a relatively in-depth look at how organizations should manage social media risks. It’s called “Social Media Policies: Necessary but not Sufficient” and can be accessed via

    Courtney Hunt
    Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

    PS – I recommend your book all the time when I give social media presentations to non-profit groups.

  6. […] social Media Policy” My advice came from a recent post that I wrote on the topic titled, “Trust Is Cheaper Than Control“. We discussed that it isn’t a matter of “giving up control,” but to think […]

  7. radicaldesi says:

    The organization I work for has a Fellowship program and our fellows are required to blog once a month on the Official Fellowship blog. Overall, the organization is very nervous about having them blog on their own. I convinced my boss to let me revamp the Fellowship blog this year by switching from blogger to wordpress and making it multi-user (not to mention nicer looking and more functional!) When we were using blogger, the Fellows emailed their posts in, and then staff posted it. There are many issues in having our fellows blog unsupervised, such as not keeping with the branding and mission of the organization, upsetting their mentors at their respective NGOs, and so on.

    The only way I was able to convince my boss to let me revamp the blog and make it multi-user is if I moderate their posts (which I do, luckily that is a feature in wordpress!). It does bring up a larger issue of trust control and whether we can ever let our fellows blog unsupervised. Apparently I was not doing such a great job of moderating posts, as one fellow posted a post about their work at a public health NGO and the director of this NGO got very very upset. I got a call from the program staff asking me to remove the blog post immediately. I think that this proves that there is a need for some supervision, but my thought is that there should be very strong guidelines in place and a blogging and community ethics training before the Fellowship starts. Thanks for the resources you have posted here, I will definitely incorporate into my work!

  8. Beth says:

    @radicaldesi thanks for sharing this. I think that in situations like – when you are having “outsiders” or non-staffers blog or be spokespersons – you need to give them handrails and guidelines. I think there is a distinction between supervision and “control.” Many organizations do have multi-user blogs and do light moderation. I agree with you about the guidelines – you need editorial guidelines and some training – and be very clear about what is and what isn’t an appropriate post. In fact, the offending post might be a great “teachable” moment for the next crop of fellowship bloggers.

  9. […] Social Media Policy Best Practices: Trust Is Cheaper Than Control | Beth’s Blog (tags: socialmedia guidelines policies) This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← links for 2011-06-02 LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  10. […] Beth: Risk adversity – issues around organizational culture or changing the way they work or deliver programs.  Here’s a recent example from the classical music world. Nonprofits need to establish a social media policy, there’s more here. […]

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  13. Wonderful.. I will bookmark your blog and take the feeds also…I am satisfied to find so much useful info here in the post. Thank you for sharing…

  14. […] one policy is right for every company, but numerous thoughts have been shared and resources are available to help outline what factors should be […]

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  16. […] medium will. But since you can’t wait to bring it up at the next board meet­ing, here’s some best prac­tice advice for craft­ing a social media policy from Beth […]

  17. […] As Beth Kanter writes, “Trust is cheaper than control.” […]

  18. […] and the more prescriptive it is, the harder it is to police. As Beth Kanter points out, “Trust is Cheaper Than Control,” but empowering staff rather than restricting them can also increase employee engagement and […]

  19. Iaris says:

    Policies specifically arnuod social networking more often stifle the creative element of this forum. In the corporate environment, where management are concerned on productivity or worse the relfection of their corporate image, we require more of a guidelines of use. There will be mistakes along the way, and management need to understand, that just as with faxing, email, sms etc, all had their own challeneges when first initiating a correct protocol of use.How I have best seen this work, is not to focus on the specific medium, but to look at consistency arnuod communications in general. Lead by example, citing how the elements could be used and what is considered appropriate.This is an uncertain direction for each of us exploring this space, and policies have more of a restrictive nature than the positive aspects that these tools can deliver to an organisation to encourage and leverage engagement accross the enterprise.

  20. Rose says:

    It’s difficult to find knowledgeable people on this topic, however, you seem like you know what you’re
    talking about! Thanks

  21. […] School This Edutopia article provides 7 important steps to take as well as excellent resources. Social Media Policy Best Practices: Trust Is Cheaper Than Control Kanter explains what a social media policy is and the process it takes to create one. She also […]

  22. […] “Social Media Policy Best Practices: Trust Is Cheaper Than Control” from Beth Kanter, which includes links to some excellent resources. (Kanter also wrote The Networked Nonprofit, an inspiring read about the impact an empowered social network can have.) […]

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