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A Not for Profit Social Media Policy?

Thursday, 15th May 2014 at 9:46 am
Lina Caneva, Editor
Not for Profits are all experiencing different challenges when it comes to their social media policies, writes PhD researcher Karen Sutherland.

Thursday, 15th May 2014
at 9:46 am
Lina Caneva, Editor



A Not for Profit Social Media Policy?
Thursday, 15th May 2014 at 9:46 am

Not for Profits are all experiencing different challenges when it comes to their social media policies, writes PhD researcher Karen Sutherland.

My current PhD research investigating social media approaches by Not for Profit organisations has brought some very interesting issues to light, one being social media policy.

While my study currently involves a small sample of seven organisations based in Victoria, they range in complexity from the very small to the global. However, one common theme is apparent; all are experiencing different challenges when it comes to their social media policies.

Just as each organisation is vastly different, so has been their approach to social media policy.

The no policy policy

One organisation did not see the need to have a social media policy instead, believing that with such small staff numbers, common sense will prevail; let’s hope it does.

Policy under construction

Three other organisations also did not have a policy in place, but their representatives were relieved to have one in various stages of development. One participant was still consulting with the many department heads within their organisation, a laborious but what was deemed a highly necessary process in order for the policy to capture all of the differing challenges and requirements of each department.

Another organisation’s policy was in its 12th adaptation, again described as a necessary evolution, so that it remained current and relevant to the needs of a growing organisation and the ever-changing nature of social media. One of the organisations was waiting with baited breath for its Board to approve its first ever social media policy and believed that when it was given the green light, it would also indicate to the rest of the organisation, a cultural shift in its acceptance and acknowledgement of social media as a valid communication technology.

The knee jerk policy

Two of the organisations experienced the same dilemma. Both had a social media policy, but it was created approximately four years prior as a kneejerk reaction, because everyone else apparently had one. However, once it was created it was never updated again. Due to this, it only covered guidelines for staff use of social media during working hours and nothing about how employees should represent their organisation online, let alone guidelines for those within the organisation that are in charge of social media.

A gold star for policy innovation

Most interestingly was the largest organisation in my study, a global NFP, which had been extremely proactive and innovative in developing its social media guidelines and policies for staff. This organisation had written its full policy in accordance with its organisational requirements, but thoroughly understood their workforce’s tendency to experience TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read).

To ensure that staff got the message in relation to what was required of them in terms of social media conduct, it pulled out the main points and developed an animated video of around two minutes in length, distributed it through its internal communication channels, while also making it publicly available on You-Tube.

It actually used social media to inform staff about social media, which was easily one of the most innovative ways to get its policy and guidelines across.

Social media policies – enforcing them can be tricky

However, while this organisation is making great gains in its social media policy development and communication of it to employees, it is also experiencing a challenge; the size of the organisation means it is extremely tricky for it to enforce the policy.

Unauthorised Facebook pages for different areas of the organisation are usually not discovered until something goes wrong, and once the issue is rectified and senior management is notified, the organisation is too under-resourced to deem it a priority, and nothing changes in terms of governance.

These findings raise four main questions that any organisation should ask before developing a social media policy:

  1. Does this policy cover all relevant aspects of social media conduct by employees within your organisation?

  2. How can you acquire the resources, the processes and the commitment from senior management to uphold this policy if it is breached?

  3. What is the best way of communicating this to internal stakeholders?

  4. How often will you update this policy to ensure that it stays relevant and current to your organisation and to the evolution of social media technologies?

Answering these questions honestly will assist in developing or amending a social media policy so that it remains a relevant and understandable framework for those working within your organisation.

About the author: Melbourne Researcher Karen Sutherland has completed more than 18 months into a doctoral thesis at Monash University where she is exploring how Not for Profit organisations are using social media compared with what their donors, supporters and volunteers actually want.

The research is expected be completed early in 2015. Karen Sutherland can be contacted via email to


Lina Caneva  |  Editor |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and Editor of Pro Bono Australia News since it was founded in 2000.


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