How to Create a Successful Social Media Policy for Government

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Millions of people communicate with each other through social media every day. Private citizens and businesses use social media platforms to share their news, photos, videos, advertisements and links.

If social media works so well in connecting people and businesses, won’t it do the same for governments? Absolutely. Governments are now finding that social media is opening new channels of communication with their local constituents. Not only can they get messages and announcements out faster and to a larger number of people, they can receive feedback easier too. People can voice their opinions, make suggestions and comment on their government faster and easier than ever before.

Using social media platforms is a great way for governments and citizens to engage with a wider, more diverse audience but it doesn’t come without risk. Of course all forms of communication carry some risks but it’s even more important to be cautious when using electronic devices and social media platforms. That’s why governments must create a successful a social media policy, a necessary tool to minimize the risks involved and ensure proper use of these great platforms.

What is a social media policy? 

The first step that governments must take before using social media is to develop a social media policy that assures responsible and effective use of social media by employees.

Through a study of existing policies, the Center for Technology in Government put together a guide to creating social media policies to help governments in the development process.

The results of their study showed that there are 8 core elements to a social media policy. They include employee access, account management, acceptable use, employee conduct, content, security, legal issues and citizen conduct.

Government agencies use social media policies to define their official position regarding use of social media by employees by describing what constitutes acceptable use and the correct process for accessing social media sites.

Why is having a social media policy important for governments?

Typically, government employees engage in three types social media use: agency use, professional use and personal use. The problem is that there tends to be an overlapping of these three types of usage. In other words, employees may spend time on personal or business social media sites while at work, on a government computer, or do official government work on a personal computer while at home. While the boundaries between the three types of use may seem straightforward when explained in writing, in practice they are not. Therefore, they are difficult to regulate without an official policy in place.

How do governments create a social media policy?

In order for a government to create a successful social media policy they should use those 8 core elements as their guidelines when drawing it up. Each of the elements covers a necessary section of the policy:

  • employee access defines whether or not employees are allowed to access social media sites while at work, as well as the official procedures for gaining access
  • account management determines the procedures for the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the social media sites used by the government concerned
  • acceptable use gives guidelines as to how employees are to use social media tools at work and includes time limitations, purpose of use and acceptable equipment (personal or government-owned computers, for example)
  • employee conduct defines the expected conduct while on social media sites and what constitutes a violation as well as what the consequences are
  • content explains the procedures and responsibilities for posting content, creation of the content and editorial requirements for the content
  • security procedures that are necessary for government data and infrastructure
  • legal issues to include legal considerations and requirements
  • citizen conduct describes managing citizen posted content

As an additional reference, The Institute for Local Government’s website has a very helpful list of links for sample social media policies that are sure to give more insight into how to create a successful social media policy for a government.