How to Create a Social Media Policy That Protects Your Association

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Strong social media policies not only inform employees and volunteers but also help reduce statements that could damage an organization’s reputation or cause liability.

Because we live in a world where so much communication happens online and moves fast, associations must have a strong social media policy. An inaccurate post—whether it comes from the association’s verified account or from an employee or board member—can tarnish reputations or even lead to lawsuits, said Katharine Meyer, principal at GKG Law, P.C.

“There are a lot of legal issues that arise with social media,” Meyer said. “Those are the things you need to have policies on so everyone is clear on how to proceed. It’s important to lay out for your volunteers and your employees what you can and can’t post, and who can and can’t post.”

While many are concerned with posts misrepresenting the view of the association, Meyer said people often overlook the legal issues that can arise from inappropriate posts.

“You have defamation, where people aren’t thinking and are stating something that is untrue about a person or a competitor,” Meyer said. “Confidentiality can be a problem. If employees or board members don’t understand what is confidential, sharing that online can create liability.”

Having a good social media policy in place can help those posting for associations promote the organization and its initiatives without causing harm. The social media policy should include who can post on an association’s accounts, what they’re able to post, and how employees and board members should post when using their personal accounts.

“For employees, this has been a big issue, not only what to do in a professional capacity, but what to do in a personal capacity,” Meyer said. While employees, volunteers, and board members can express opinions, it must be clear that they are, in fact, representing themselves and not the organization.

“It’s important when blogging or making comments online that employees or volunteers be accurate and transparent,” Meyer said. If an employee or board member has something to say on an issue, they should use their real name, explain their role in the organization, and indicate they are not speaking for the organization.

“They can have a disclaimer on whatever they say,” she said. “The views are the personal opinions of the employee or the board member. What is posted is not approved by the organization.”

Social media policies should remind staff or boards not to connect their role at the organization with personal accounts. Meyer recalled an instance where an employee’s Twitter name included the organization’s acronym (XYZA Hannah, for example). The employee had radical political views and soon the association began getting complaints. “People thought she was representing the organization,” Meyer said. Removing the association’s acronym (changing it to just Hannah) cleared up the confusion.

Meyer did note that not every problem that occurs on social media will be handled by a social media policy. Code of ethics or code of conduct violations are enforced through those policies, even if the violation occurs on social media. For example, the National Association of Realtors recently updated its ethics policy, in part to address complaints about comments that members made on social media.

Two other issues to address in a social media policy are copyright infringement—particularly making sure staff-run accounts use only items they have rights to—and continuity when staff leave. “Who controls the passwords? Who owns the sites?” Meyer said. “Make sure your policy includes, if somebody leaves, those pages are turned over to the association, and the association has access to all the passwords for all those accounts.”

Finally, once the policy is in place, have users sign off on it. For employees, this is typically done during onboarding. With board members and other volunteers, Meyer suggested they sign off on the social media policy at the beginning of their term, and then annually after that.

What have you found are the most useful elements of your social media policy? Share in the comments.

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