Why Every Association Needs a Social Media Policy

24th July 2018

Social media is one of the most effective tools that associations have to communicate directly with their communities; yet many organisations shy away from social media. This may be due to a lack of interest from leadership, limited resources or simply the perception of too much risk associated with social media, particularly for medical associations. Many of these factors can be addressed, at least in part, through the development of a social media policy.

A social media policy is an internal document with guidelines and rules for the use of social media by an organisation. It must be consistent with the organisation’s business strategy and its marketing plans. It can also be a powerful tool to get buy-in from management as it shows a duty of care that helps to build a business case for social media.

One of the most important things that a social media policy does is set expectations for everyone. It sets the rules for those who are assigned to communicate on behalf of the organisation and offers guidance to everyone else. It empowers teams and individuals to be confident that their actions on social media are aligned with the organisation.


A social media policy ideally involves the whole organisation and is often created and managed by the marketing team. It should be co-created by various departments including marketing, community management, customer service, human resources, legal and any others that seem relevant. Ultimately it must be approved at top level and should be reviewed regularly, especially when there are changes in laws, internal restructuring or changes in key personnel.

A social media policy does not have to be a complex document. Some of the clearest policies simply ask that employees use their best judgement, but most policies go into more detail. An overview of the social media strategy, an up-to-date marketing plan including brand guidelines and how it links to the overall business strategy is a great place to start.

The social media policy should include details on how each social media platform is set up, who has access and who is responsible for posting and monitoring on behalf of the organisation. It should also clarify how others are expected to use social media at work and outline how employees or members should refer to their relationship with the organisation on their personal profiles. Many organisations ask staff to make clear on their social media profiles that the views are their own and may not represent those of the organisation.

In the event of a crisis

A social media policy must address data protection and security, copyright regulations and give direction on how to manage external content. There should also be a social media crisis plan with guidelines on how to deal with offensive or discriminatory content and a link to the full crisis plan for the organisation. Additionally, the policy must make clear any disciplinary actions to be taken in case of breach of the policy.

When something goes wrong on social media, such as a post which is considered offensive or inappropriate it almost always needs immediate attention, yet it may not be considered a full crisis. In this situation it is important that everyone acts according to the organisation’s social media policy because how it is dealt with reflects on the whole organisation.

The first step is to acknowledge the issue, understand the reasons why it happened and, if appropriate, remove the post. Direct communication with those involved, in private if possible, is crucial. Depending on the nature of the issue, there may also be a need to communicate externally. Once the issue has been dealt with, assess whether it went against the existing social media policy, and if disciplinary action is needed. The final step is to update the policy so as to help prevent future issues.

Golden rule

A social media policy only becomes real when it is actively integrated into the day-to-day actions of the team. Not everyone will require training, but everyone should at least be aware of the social media policy. Those who deal directly with social media, even if only through their personal social media accounts, should review the policy.

If an organisation is not active on social media it should articulate the strategic reasons for this in a simple version of a social media policy and review it periodically. It’s important to acknowledge that, even if there are no official accounts, employees or members may be active on social media and can be perceived as speaking on behalf of the organisation. There may also be social media activity around an organisation or an event, even if the organisation itself is not directly involved.

Creating a social media policy is simply a way to officialise an organisation’s stance on social media and set the expectations for everyone. There are limits to what can be asked of employees and members. While the most risk averse organisations may want to push for tight controls over all social media this is often counterproductive as it can cause friction with staff and members. An approach that offers guidance and support to everyone on social media is often a better option.

“Don’t share anything online that you would not like to see on the cover of a newspaper”,that is a golden rule of social media. Following this will keep almost all organisations out of trouble and able to take advantage of social media great potential for direct communication and engagement.

This article was contributed by Miguel Neves, founder of Social Media Chefs, a digital engagement consultancy that uses the language of food to help organisations develop their social media strategy /

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