Monday, April 1, 2013

Good manners and best practices when creating policy

By Nan Craft

Conventional wisdom dictates that it is better to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission. 

When dealing with nonprofits and social media there are two existing perspectives regarding the creation of a policy for an organization to engage in social media: you can grow the policy along with the communication or you can set out a clear and defined path, according to Sharlyn Lauby in her 2009 article, “10 Must-Haves for Your Social Media Policy” ( )  But with so many pitfalls and legal possibilities, the consensus seems to be in favor of covering your bases first.
 There are more aspects to include when considering what you need in a policy for using social media that just manner issues. Although the basis of your policy might be geared to the communication of employees, volunteers, agents and, board members it is important to consider written policies covering the manners of communication, oversight of the communication and the legalities surrounding the communication, too.
So where do you start? If you want to view what other organizations have written, see Boudreaux’s 222 examples at You can read the policies for Ball State University, the Red Cross, the Basque Government, Mayo Clinic, the City of New York, the Department of Defense and so many more. After reviewing examples, we can move on to determining the rules of engagement for this type of communication.  
Here is a list of tips on the topic of manners:
  • Follow the guidelines conduct of your nonprofit (NP)
  • Introduce your purpose; define your take-away
  • Identify yourself by name, title, and; authenticate if you are posting personally or for your NP
  •  Like the Hippocratic Oath, do no harm; post nothing to harm the NP; nothing that is disparaging, discriminating, harassing, defaming, bullying, deceptive, unsubstantiated, confidential, privileged, or proprietary (trade secrets or intellectual property)
  • Be responsible: use a disclaimer to separate your opinions from the NP’s platform—or better yet, put your personal opinions on your personal blog because this is not necessarily a place to exercise your freedom of speech rights
  • Respect your own privacy; what you post could remain in the public domain for an extended period of time
  • Respect your audience: a virtual community exists so that we can support each other; for a NP, social media is a safe place for sharing not a competition
  • Respect your NP: don’t misuse logos or trademarks
  • Respect your past, present and potential associates: don’t alienate anyone
  • Policy writers: don’t count on common sense; be explicit about what is and is not appropriate, what is and is not acceptable
  • Bring value to the conversation, build excitement for your NP, ride for the brand
  • Spirited or passionate posts must remain respectful of other opinions
  • Be the first to correct your own mistakes (IBM)
  •  For a NP, social media is for learning and contribution to a greater good
Here is a list of tips on the topic of oversight from Smarsh this year;
  • Establish which sites employees should use on behalf of the NP
  • Determine if your NP wants to pre-view posts
  • Create a procedure to implement and enforce this policy, if applicable 
  • Post supervision structure should mirror the NF structure
  • Review posts regularly; create a key-word search to match your risk profile
  • Track complete threads
  • Supervisors should document actions and be able to flag messages
  • Produce regular reports on the use of social media, positive and negative
  • Decide how you want to manage your brand
“Productivity matters: execute on the core competencies of your business. Remember that in order for your social media endeavors to be successful, you will need to find a right balance between social bedia and other work,” Lauby says.

Attorney Gene Takagi offers the following advice on the topic of  legalities.
  •  Write policy on copyright and trademark usage
  • Funds raised through social media are subject to registration requirements with foreign
  • There are qualifications for events and to do business with foreign states
  • Provide rules and limits with volunteers, agents and supporters of the NP
  • Supervise agents of the NF; provide definitive written guidelines for acceptable procedure that equates with acceptable office behavior (no harassment, discrimination, obscene language)
  • Advocacy and lobbying: no sponsoring or  “liking” political candidates or posting political messages
  • Collaborations/partnerships: determine if you want obligations to each other to be enforceable; determine if you are liable for harm caused by a partner
  • Write policy on the ownership of the account: it is either personal or belongs to the NP; this determines what can be posted
  • While a NF will not want to write extreme policies that restrain employees from seeking aid or protection, particular use of social media to criticize managers/board “may be protected from retaliation”
  • Write strategic domestic and public policy responses violation of policies and respond to issues in a timely manner
Check out this short video on social computing guidelines from IBM:

Please remember than good manners are timeless—and remember to play nice.


  1. I thought that your blog was very informative. I also enjoyed the video that you posted regarding social computing. Overall, this was well thought out and a very comprehensive take on "Good manners and best practices when creating policy" for nonprofits, in regard to social media. The Lauby article was also very informative. I took away a number of good tips from your blog. Good work!

    1. Thanks Damon, I appreciate your feedback. I think good manners are timeless and translate well into the fast moving, virtual world of social media. It's like I tell my grandchildren--It's all about ME: Manners and Education. I think we will see more and more use of Social Media, so it is good to have some ground rules and legal advice.

  2. I think you did really good on your blog! It is very helpful for someone who does not know what proper manners are when dealing with a non profit organization. So many people probably do not realize that there are certain things they should do and who they should repect. Thank you for the extra links for more information!

    1. Ckennedy10,
      I appreciate your kind appraisal of my work. I think the legalities are important--some of these I would never have thought of before my research.
      Good luck if you ever are doing this work!


  3. This was a whole new perspective on social media generation. Thanks! With that said, you listed a lot of rules for the communication game. I agree with them, but do you think they differ from the communicative guidelines staff should use offline?

    1. Jessica, thanks for your question. In reality, I think that ettiquette is the same on- and off-line. But sometimes, it is good to have a reminder, don't you think? And the legal ramifications might be a little different.


  4. Hey Nan,
    Great job in posting how to generate traffic through social media. I think this is a great tool that an affective nonprofit organization should vitalize more often. There are many rules regarding using social media, but once an organization knows how to utilize the tool to be efficient, there is no telling what an organization can accomplish.


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