Your Social Media Policy Can’t Wait

Social media policies. Oh boy. So many questions.

Who does a policy police? What behavior does it guide? Who is it for? What incentive is there to follow it? Is it possible to spell out every single thing a person should know?

There are more but, in all honesty, just typing out those few made me want to hyperventilate. These questions have been bouncing around in my head for years, and the lack of answers–or at least the lack of easy or enforceable answers–has kept me from putting on paper any sort of formal policy for my university. It just feels so big. How can I possibly write a single document that will instruct campus departments in using their accounts, while also addressing individual behavior, and isn’t a lot of this common sense?

Breathe.

(That’s for me, not for you. But if I’m making you anxious, you’re welcome to breathe with me. Let’s breathe together.)

And now, focus.

While my brain has been running through this paralyzing and endless list of questions, I’ve been missing something important. It wasn’t long ago that a brand new question started keeping me awake at night: What if something goes terribly wrong with a university account, and I can’t do anything about it?

This question puts the importance of a social media policy in an entirely new context. Guiding behavior is important, yes, but so is ensuring reasonable safeguards against the type of behavior that lands an institution in the national media. Think about it. If any given campus department posted something wildly inappropriate online, would you be able to take it down quickly? Would you know who to contact? Would you even know the account existed?

After talking with my university’s legal office, it became clear that setting some parameters around the administration of university social media accounts is extremely important. Further, a defined and enforced inventory of social media accounts and administrators is necessary as part of any campus policy.

Finally, FINALLY, I’ve drafted what I hope will become a social media account policy for my university. It does not attempt to address individual social media conduct, nor does it spell out every best practice for every network on the internet. Those things may come later. First, though, comes the groundwork for the “reasonable precautions” that should protect the university from liability.

These are the questions this draft aims to answer:

  • What is the responsibility of an account administrator?
  • What content is considered inappropriate?
  • What should administrators know about legal liability for social media content?
  • What reasonable precautions should be taken?
  • Who should have access to social media accounts?
  • How will University Relations inventory accounts, access, and behavior?

Bottom line: This policy thing is important. Shame on me for not realizing that sooner. So much about social media conduct is still hazy, but there are some definite, concrete rights and wrongs, too. Does your campus social media policy address these questions? What else might you consider mandatory for laying the foundation for responsible account administration?

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2 thoughts on “Your Social Media Policy Can’t Wait

  1. Good post, Alaina. This also raises the issue of “policy” versus “guidelines.” We developed guidelines on our campus for social media use as a means of cutting through the bureaucracy. (Anything with “policy” in the title needs to go through several layers and up to the general counsel’s office of our multi-campus system, never to be seen again.)

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