This post is the third in a 4-part series on social media policies. In this part, we’re looking at user agreements and moderation guidelines for an organization’s official presence in social spaces like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. (Remember, I’m not a lawyer. I’m just laying out what I’ve learned from smart people like Barbara Dunn from Howe & Hutton. You should talk to your lawyer about the contents of this post before you act on it.)
What are official outposts?
Having covered unofficial outposts, let’s take a look at official outposts. This is the stuff your organization officially endorses. We’re not talking about your own website or blog or white-label social network–those will be covered in a later post. Rather, we’re talking about third-party social websites where your organization participates, setting up an umbrella where your stakeholders gather under your name. Some example umbrellas…
- a LinkedIn group
- a Facebook group, cause or page
- a Twitter account
- a niche social network in your industry
Why the distinction between unofficial and official?
When you take on the responsibility of owning an outpost–I say owning, but really you’re just subletting a space that is owned by Facebook, for example–the players and the risks change. Expectations are raised. You need to be prepared.
Who are the people your policies will affect?
Besides your employees and top volunteers, your policies will also affect citizens who have an interest in your community. I called them visitors before, but they’re something more than visitors, don’t you think?
What risks are you trying to mitigate?
The big ones are antitrust, defamation, and copyright infringement. Although, in a public outpost, concerns about branding, misinformation, and embarrassment can still come up. As the owner or manager of your group, page, or profile, you do have a bit more control over how you deal with all of this. Specifically, you can moderate and delete items that pose a concern.
Do you need policies for official outposts?
I should start by saying that the vast majority of groups using official outposts are operating quite comfortably without any special policies or procedures for the people who connect there. Most deal with the few problems that come up on a case-by-case basis. These organizations are showing a great deal of trust in their citizens, and they’re building social capital in return.
But if you know that you have the type of group that needs special moderation, or if your leadership is especially risk-averse, there are options that a good lawyer can help you implement. The question is, can you set boundaries constructively? (Yes, it’s possible.) Or will your rules and policies drive your citizens away? (Also possible.)
- Know the space. Facebook has a user agreement. So does LinkedIn and Twitter. It’s important to understand the agreements users (including your organization) have already accepted. The user agreements have been known to change, so you might want to keep track of them.
- Write your own. You can create a user agreement that will apply under your umbrella. Among other things, this is your chance to set expectations, to remind group members about antitrust and defamation laws, and to set grounds for removing someone from the group. There are no built-in ways to implement a user agreement on any of the major social networking sites, but you can always add a sentence like “By joining this group, you agree to abide by our community’s rules, which were created to protect you,” with a good landing page that lays out the specifics of the user agreement. If nothing else, you’ll have a policy that you can point to, should questions arise.
- Empower your employees. They need to know what kinds of posts need moderation. This is a good idea for every association operating in a social space. How do your employees respond to negative feedback? How do they respond to someone with a promotional post? How do they respond to an argument that gets heated? How do they respond if a legal issue comes up? Intel even puts their moderation guidelines right into their social media guidelines for employees. It’s one simple paragraph–practically policy haiku.
- Share the guidelines with your citizens. This way, you’re letting them know that you’re listening, that you value their feedback, and that you’re working to make the space safe for them to interact within the boundaries of the community and the law.
Questions: Do you think publishing a user agreement or moderation guidelines on your LinkedIn Group of Facebook page is a good idea? Will it help or hurt your efforts to build community? Have any of you tried it?
I’m looking for examples and would love to add them to this post!