My colleague, Debra Lukehart, and I recently presented a webinar on drafting and rolling out institutional social media policies. The question-and-answer
session at the conclusion of the presentation included a query about how prescriptive a policy can be before it turns off a campus community to its intended purpose. Conversely, I recently had an email conversation with a peer who isn’t sure policies or guidelines are necessary for his campus.
These two extreme approaches have made me question my belief that a practical approach is warranted. Instead, a Goldilocks solution is best. Your policy shouldn’t be too hard or too soft—it should have a “just right” fit occuring between the two extremes.
Social media exists along the thin line between our public and personal discourse. For this reason, policies or guidelines are necessary to remind members of our communities that they serve as brand ambassadors. What they say and post can have long-term consequences for an institution and for themselves.
Make it too prescriptive, though, and you eliminate the transparency and openness that are the hallmarks of social media. Focusing solely on thou shalls and thou shall nots suggest you don’t trust your faculty, staff or students to represent your institution well.
Two campuses recently banned student-athletes from using specific words in their social media posts. The words included offensive terms, drug and alcohol-related terminology and the names of sports agents. Reactions to the bans ran the gamut of supportive to thinking the practice was silly. But, what may seem draconian could save students and coaches from posts that might tarnish their futures.
However, I’m not sure that a common sense approach to presenting information to our community wouldn’t accomplish the same goals. A bit of honey could make the “just right” porridge that much easier to swallow.
So, what does a Goldilocks approach to social media policies or guidelines prescribe overall?
- Assume that common sense is common, but that acceptable behavior needs to be defined along the fringes of our interactions.
- Allow your community to participate in policing of bad behavior. This reflects the original intent of social media and takes you out of the policing role.
- Roll out your guidelines widely and pair the policy with resources and information—nobody likes limitations, but they go over much better if paired with something positive.
- Insist on honesty and transparency, which is usually exactly what the community wants to share.
Feel free to share your experiences drafting or implementing your social media policies or guidelines below or your thoughts on the practice of banning specific words or content. After all, this is meant to be social!