So here’s the deal: with social media becoming even more mainstream, a lot of nonprofits have or are contemplating taking the plunge. Since this blog is about SM and small nonprofits, it’s obvious which side of the fence I’m on. Assuming that your small nonprofit is taking advantage of SM or about to, you may be contemplating a policy for its use.
Should You Have One?
A lot of nonprofits are freaking out about losing control of their brand and their mission through participating in SM. Although I haven’t heard of any nonprofits doing it, some for-profit companies have even banned the use of SM in the workplace, going so far as to have their IT departments disable access to SM sites from corporate servers. Not that this will solve the problem; as Olivier Blanchard at the BrandBuilder points out, “Ban access to the medium and you solve nothing: The behavior is still there, only now you are blind to it.”
So you’ve got staff, board, volunteers, interns with access to the internet. How successful can you expect to be at controlling what’s said about your small nonprofit – what secrets are leaked, what internecine struggles will be revealed, what board member might be reviled publicly, etc.? Answer – not very. You need to be part of the conversation, which means giving up your small nonprofit as a hostage to fickle Fortune. But don’t let that stop you, because it is, anyway. More so in this economic climate.
People have probably been talking about your organization and its mission for ages – with SM, the word gets around faster to a potentially wider audience, which results in a more immediate impact. You can’t stop the talk, so what you need to do is provide guidance. And this is where the policy comes in. It should be something that makes people aware of the risks, trusts your people, and is a living thing.
On Blanchard’s blog post about social media policy for corporations, he draws an analogy between SM guidance and the WWII “Loose Lips Sink Ships” campaign, which I think is great. Make your policy spell out what the possible consequences could be to your organization through participating in social media without due caution.
Make sure that everyone gets educated – all staff, especially the ED, who is usually the point person for the organization, any interns, and the board. So far I haven’t heard of anyone Tweeting or doing an FB update from a board meeting at a nonprofit, but it’s just a matter of time. And since most board meetings are open to the public, it’s likelier sooner rather than later. And reinforce the education as often as necessary until social media discretion becomes second nature.
Trusting Your People
They’re grownups and you should trust them. If not, then they shouldn’t be there. Alright, we all know that’s not strictly true; some people are inherited as either staffers, board or volunteers. And for whatever reason – clout in the community, knowing where all the bodies are buried, or whatever – they can’t be eliminated.
You’re just going to have to suck it up on this one. Maybe you’ll get lucky and they won’t be interested in SM. Or maybe you’ll be unlucky and they absolutely love it. You could make someone else on staff the point person for SM, which might mitigate things, but even so –
Mistakes Will Be Made
Be prepared for it. Doo doo happens. Don’t be so focused on preventing it that you don’t do risk management planning for it. And I hope like fire that your organization works smoothly enough that when someone puts a foot wrong they come forward with the information instead of hoping that nobody will notice. You can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broken. If your organization doesn’t work this way, then you’ve got other problems and a social media gaffe may be the least of them.
It's Social Media, Not the Great Pyramid
Today’s Twitter can be tomorrow’s Myspace. Social media platforms will be born, evolve, and some will die. The way a platform is used can change (Myspace isn’t a big deal for kids chillin’ anymore, but lots of musicians are finding it a great way to connect with their fan bases). Your policy should live and breathe and evolve as well, instead of being consigned to policy hell by being overwritten to end up sounding like a legal document then requiring a vote by a majority of the board for a change, and moldering in the Executive Assistant’s file cabinet under “Policy – Social Media,” getting a facelift only when there’s a new “five year plan.”
Make those “risk awareness” sessions do double duty by also discussing what’s new in social media – what are your staffers and board using it for in their private time that might be useful or should be considered in terms of risk? Make creating the policy a collaborative effort, not some desiccated biscuit handed down from on high, “eat it or else.” You’ll get both a better response and a better policy. For more great information regarding social media and nonprofits, check out "Interesting Reading" on the sidebar.