By Gina F. Rubel
Special to the Legal
Lawyers often find themselves representing nonprofit organizations or serving on nonprofit boards. When the issue of a social media policy arises, it is important to understand how social media has changed the communication landscape and the critical elements of a policy. It is not practicable, advisable or even legal in some cases to prohibit or unduly restrict the social media activities of employees. Guidelines for acceptable use, however, are crucial to mitigating the risks inherent in social media engagement. Here are a few FAQs regarding drafting a nonprofit’s social media policy.
Why won’t an off-the-shelf form policy serve a nonprofit well?
A social media policy provides the rules for engaging in a highly influential public space. How each organization can and should engage will depend on the culture of the organization, its goals and the skills and interests of its employees. A form policy that has not been customized to an organization, and that the employees cannot or will not follow, can do more harm than good. Instead, it is important for an organization to develop social media guidance that addresses the way its employees actually use social media, as well as the culture and social media goals of the particular organization. The policy should also be general and flexible enough to remain relevant in a rapidly evolving social media world.
What key concepts should a nonprofit social media policy cover?
- Don’t assume that everyone knows what is meant by “social media.” Not everyone knows what social media is or what types of online activity constitute social networking. It is important to educate everyone who may engage online on the nonprofit’s behalf.
- Emphasize personal responsibility and accountability. Employees must be encouraged to exercise good judgment and common sense. Focus on key concepts that will help employees to minimize legal and reputational risks to themselves and the organization. Remind everyone that their social media activities, even those conducted on personal accounts, have the potential to impact the reputation of the organization.
- Avoid National Labor Relations Act violations. Overly broad policies may be viewed as a violation of the NLRA. Section 7 of the act broadly protects the rights of both union and non-union employees to organize and to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment.
- Refer to other applicable rules for social media engagement. Remind the nonprofit that their social media activities for the organization do not occur in a vacuum—all of the same rules apply that would apply to any other business-related communication. Include references to other applicable policies to which all social media activity is subject.
- Address expectations of privacy. Have the nonprofit provide notice that employees should have no expectations of privacy in social media activities while at work, on work time, on work accounts, or using the organization’s electronic equipment, employment email addresses or the organization’s systems.
- Clearly ban activities prohibited by law. Address activities that violate the federal tax laws for your type of tax-exempt organization and any other laws. For example, it is prudent for a Section 501(c)(3) public charity to prohibit employees from engaging in political campaign intervention on organizational accounts or accounts that employees use for significant professional purposes.
- Set boundaries for use in the hiring process. Remember that decision-makers researching job candidates through social media are likely to gain information about protected characteristics and may be deemed to have notice of any dangerous or illegal behavior reflected in social media postings.
- Set boundaries for personal social media use at work. Provide parameters for use of social media for personal activities during work hours or with the organization’s equipment. Recognize that an outright ban on all such activity is likely to be ignored and may be difficult to police.
- Address mixed personal/professional use of accounts. It is important to provide guidance on how to manage personal and professional profiles, such as using social network account settings that allow users to send messages to separate audiences, applying “the views expressed are my own and not my employer’s” disclaimers and other measures.
- Provide clear rules for sharing third-party content. Remind employees to respect the intellectual property rights of others, to always provide proper attribution to their sources and to seek permission when appropriate.
- Safeguard organizational property. Remind employees that they should not share privileged, confidential or proprietary information of the organization or appropriate the organization’s logo or brands when using social media. Also provide guidelines on appropriate use of the organization’s logo and other brand identifiers in social media.
Once we have a policy, are we done?
The answer is a resounding no. There is much to do once a nonprofit has a social media policy. The nonprofit must provide regular training and tips on social media etiquette. It is important to understand the world in which employees engage. Provide guidance and training on media engagement. And periodically review and revise the social media policy to address changing platform uses and nonprofit needs.
Gina F. Rubel is the owner of Furia Rubel Communications, a strategic marketing and public relations agency with a niche in legal marketing. A former trial attorney, she is the author of Everyday Public Relations for Lawyers. Rubel and her agency have won many awards for legal communications, PR, media relations, website and graphic design, strategic planning, corporate philanthropy and leadership. She maintains a blog, is a contributor to National Law Review, The Legal Intelligencer Blog, AVVO Lawyernomics and The Huffington Post. You can find her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter. For more information, go to www.FuriaRubel.com.