Playing by the Rules: Creating a Social Media Plan

Your organization has been using social media for some time now. But does the staff know all rules? How to handle and respond appropriately to negative comments and criticism? What they can and not write on the organization’s page? How to fix errors in posts without compromising the integrity of the content the public has already shared on that post? Are employees allowed to “friend” your organization using their personal accounts? How do you ensure your brand image is enhanced, not threatened by social media usage throughout the organization? A comprehensive, widely-circulated social media plan can eradicate these issues and guarantee all employees understand the procedures, policies, rules, and expectations for using social media to promote the organization’s brand.

A good social media policy will provide clear guidelines as to what staff should and shouldn’t do when posting and interacting with the community on a day-to-day basis, freeing them up to think more strategically. It’s also likely to help leadership feel more comfortable with the less-formal nature of social media by letting them establish boundaries for its use. -- from the Nonprofit Social Media Policy Workbook

If you do not have a social media plan, you are surely not alone. However, given this year’s projected estimate that Facebook will exceed 1 billion users and Twitter, 500 million, it’s time to protect what this SIZEABLE population has access to- your brand, your image, and your Facebook wall.

Above all, a social media plan is a LIVING document. As your organization experiments with trending social media platforms, faces new challenges, expands its presence online, or changes its online branding, the social media plan must reflect that growth. Below are guidelines, best practices, and resources to help you clearly define your social media objectives and policies in a complete and effective social media plan. And to clarify, an effective social media plan is not one that controls and restricts participation, rather, facilitates and encourages an open relationship with the public. I’m talkin' 24/7 PR.

1) Meet your new best friend: The Nonprofit Social Media Policy Workbook April 2012 (scroll down the page and click "Download the Report"). Download it. Swear by it. Love it. Be best friends with it forever. Thank you, idealware and Balance Interactive.

2) Determine if your social media plan will address policies for internal social media use (expectations for employee-to-employee use), procedures regarding proper usage and maintenance for PR purposes, and/or community guidelines for participation.

3) Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin are the Big 3. If your organization employs one or all of these, be certain the plan includes specific guidelines for each platform.

4) Video blogs, written blogs, podcasts, wikis, community forums, and on and on and on…these need to be considered as well. Perhaps the plan is not as developed for these various platforms, but nonetheless, expectations for their usage should be made clear if your organization/brand is the subject.

5) RESIST THE INCREASINGLY ATTRACTIVE URGE TO COPY AND PASTE YOUR PLAN, especially when you realize your organization not only uses the Big 3, but also has a YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Wordpress account…

As Chris Boudreaux, a social media consultant said:

What is important are the differences that are unique to your particular organization and circumstances, and should be based on your business outcomes and how you conduct your business. Just don't copy everyone else's policy and put it in your database of procedures.

6) TRANSPARENCY. How public are we talking? Will the entire world have access to this document (like the Smithsonian Institution and NPR have done), just your Facebook community (as AARP has done in its "Company Information" section), or will it be an internal document for office staff only? Knowing who will receive this information will determine the language you use and the direction you take with it.

7) Regardless of how public the document will be to the outside world- INTEGRATE IT. It should not be considered an isolated document. I’m going to be bold and take a wild guess that at least ONE person on your staff has a personal Facebook account, just one…Your organization's social media users need to know what is considered appropriate and inappropriate to say in reference of the organization, what copyright issues they may face when posting photos, when they can post things that are “off message” and who can friend whom. The social media plan should be included in the organization’s employee handbook- HR and the legal departments should be involved in making this document come to life, too.

8 ) What to say, what to say. The language you use should be clear, as this is a guide for staff and perhaps, the public. For a few examples on strong and clear language in a social media plan, check out this post from Nonprofit Tech 2.0’s blog.

9) Enjoy this cartoon/graphic by Rob Cottingham depicting the process of creating a social media plan.

10) Look at examples of social media policies (213 organizations listed here). Read social media plans that are inclusive of all social platforms. Read plans and guidelines that are specific to blogging or Pinterest. Browse plans of organizations of a similar size and much larger size, of a similar audience and larger audience, and of a similar or completely different mission. While copying and pasting their plan into your own template serves no one, referencing a model will make you aware of things you hadn’t considered, including policies you agree/disagree with and procedures you admire.

Let employees know what is expected of them regarding social media usage. Let the public know what the organization's expectations are for the social media pages themselves and for participation. Keep everyone in the loop, out of trouble, and participating-- with a social media plan.