Has Your Organization Thought Through its Social Media Policy?

Submitted by Brett on Wed, 10/28/2009 - 7:17am

Dee Albritton, Fast Forward

You open the door to your office and see your Program Director in shorts and a t-shirt with a dubious message, holding what might be an inappropriate beverage. He is talking about outside activities. Close the door! Except the door you opened was to your social network space. It's too late to take it back -- and it could have been seen by clients, donors, funders, volunteers and clients.

Tough economic times mean fewer donations. Trying to raise money, you increase your social networking, adding that responsibility to one of your employees, one who is paid with grant funds. It is caught during an internal audit. What part of social networking can be charged to program funds?

Your transitional housing program for homeless families always needs activities for children. A volunteer group put on a Fun Day. A few days later you get a call: they created a social network page about the day. In their excitement to share what they did, they posted pictures. Unfortunately, they did not have releases for the children's pictures.

A new employee at a local foundation educates herself on the agencies they are funding by visiting their social network sites. On one site, she clicks on an employee. It's all on the page: the employee came in late and left early -- often. They deny partial funding.

Extreme circumstances? Not really. We think of social networking as a great way to get our message across, to raise funds, to communicate with our constituents. And it can be, but too often, we fail to see the other side. What may be just one fun photo of a staff member can destroy the professionalism of your office. The $500 you make in donations may cost you $12,000.

The mission and vision of your organization may be at odds with your social network choice. There are many things you need to consider:

Should your on-line presence adhere to the same laws as your physical space? Social networking sites are not handicapped accessible. Can you deny "friendship" to someone you would be required to serve in your office? Can you use governmental funds for services that are not Section 508 compliant?

Should you have a dress and behavior code for staff and others who become "friends", including their avatars? "As the use of virtual environments for business purposes grows, enterprises need to understand how employees are using avatars in ways that might affect the enterprise or the enterprise's reputation," said James Lundy, managing vice president at Gartner, Inc. "We advise establishing codes of behavior that apply in any circumstance when an employee is acting as a company representative, whether in a real or virtual environment."

Is it a good use of funds? NTEN reports in Nonprofit Social Network Survey Report, "Staffing and budgets for nonprofit social network projects -- on commercial social networks -- are real but small, with four-fifths of nonprofit survey respondents committing at least one-quarter of a full-time staff person to these efforts. More than half of nonprofit survey respondents intend to increase social network project staffing over the next 12 months". In a study of marketers, 64% were using social media five hours or more each week, with 39% using it 10 or more hours; 10% are spending more than 20 hours a week. According to SimplyHired, the average salary an administrative assistant is $30,000. Some rough math tells us that 10 hours of social networking costs $8,528 annually (without benefits). "Only a tiny fraction of the 179,000 nonprofits that have turned to Causes [Facebook App] as an inexpensive and green way to seek donations have brought in even $1,000, according to data available on the Causes developers' site," says the Washington Post.

Nothing can hurt your nonprofit's reputation like someone soliciting money using your information. Squatters are becoming more prevalent.

Protecting your nonprofit from your employees is another touchy area. A Federal case in New Jersey questions whether comments made by employees about their employer on a private site outside the office can be constituted as defamation.

Some other issues to consider are: misconduct by employees, amount of time spent on sites, and the appropriateness sites visited. Are employers liable for hurtful or discriminatory comments posted from office computers? Are complaints posted on social networking sites grievances?

Then there are your employees themselves: protecting your employees is important. Information such as who is working late alone, where to find employees in their personal time, and when large checks are in the office often shows up on social network sites.

Finally, don't forget your clients. At a recent workshop, one nonprofit was shocked to hear that their clients could see their social network site. It is hard to turn down a client for services when they saw the picture of the big check on your site.

A survey by Robert Half Technology of 1,400 CIOs of companies with 100 plus employees reflects that 54% now completely block social networking by employees. 90% restrict usage to business purposes only. Companies are also experiencing an increase in exposure incidents through social networking and are taking a much stronger position with employees; 8% of employers reported firing employees as a result of social networking use.

So, is your organization prepared? Brett Bonfield has a test to help evaluate whether you are ready for social networking.