The Ultimate Social Media Policy for Government Agencies

This is going to be a really complex piece about all the various cultural, legal, policy, and other issues surrounding how government employees use social media on the job.

Ok, not really.

Actually, I think it boils down to two simple directives:

  1. DO: use social media tools to serve your mission.
  2. DON’T: Be stupid.

It seems to me everything else follows from those two rules, in the same way that I think overall strategy follows from the simple mantra “mission, tool, metrics, teach.”

Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Don’t use a tool just to be cool: rule 1
  • Use only the tools appropriate to the task at hand: rule 1
  • Follow records management and information security requirements: rule 2
  • Don’t use foul language: rule 2
  • Check with your boss before doing anything online: rule 1 and rule 2

Anyone want to argue I’m missing something major?

Edit July 15: There will, naturally, be a little more detail in specific instructions.  I just think when you start discussing policy, you should get everyone to agree there’s nothing more complicated at hand than these two rules.

Here are some example policies from the Social Media Subcouncil, in our wiki.  Please help us grow this list!


35 Responses to “The Ultimate Social Media Policy for Government Agencies”

  1. 1 Martha McLean July 14, 2009 at 1:27 pm


    Don’t be stupid = Common Sense 101, which seems to have completely disappeared with the increasing discussion around the use of social media in gov’t. This is not new and is covered, ad nauseum in other values and etchics courses and handbooks for public servants.

    If you know something that you shouldn’t share – don’t share it! Whether it’s a cocktail party, family reunion, blog post or other, use your head.

    These are new tools but the rules should not be different.

    Thanks for keeping something that should be simple, simple!


  2. 2 Joe Flood July 14, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Maybe this could be 2a: Don’t embarrass yourself or your agency.

    Social media is social, after all, and public so don’t write or say anything that you wouldn’t mind shared all over the net.

  3. 3 Greg Friese July 14, 2009 at 2:01 pm


    How about a 3rd rule?

    3. Once you start using social media, keep using it. Registering and not using violates rule 1.

  4. 4 Jin July 14, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Definitely agree with Greg’s comment. I’ve seen some companies and gov agencies creating Twitter, Facebook accounts for the sake of jumping on the web2.0 band wagon, but not doing anything with it. This, in fact hurts their reputation than helping.

  5. 5 Kaya July 14, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    I think it’s fantastic; it encapsulates everything that needs to be covered. Now here’s the challenge: How do you get legal’s buy-in to simplifying social media policies into 2 directives?

    • 6 Jeffrey July 15, 2009 at 11:39 am

      Well, you have to acknowledge that procedures under the policy may be a little more involved. But the simple policy statement shouldn’t be such a problem.

      Have you sat down with your attorneys, showed them similarly simple policies at other companies or agencies, and helped them understand what you’re trying to accomplish and why?

      I think it helps anyone new to these issues to understand that others have passed this way before.

      Here’s a great list of policies from the Social Media Subcouncil (I’ll add this above, too):

  6. 7 Cian July 14, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    I agree. Ideally, that’s really all there is to it!

    But, I think policies and guidelines are necessary for a couple reasons:

    – Humans are … apt to make stupid decisions. Better to help us avoid those actions in the first place than to pretend they can never occur.

    – Some people are uninformed and don’t know what they don’t know. To me, this is the biggest issue. It’s real, and we just need to deal with it.

    I think part of it is about framing, too. Framing guidelines as “you can’t do this!” sends a different message from guidelines on “how to excel with social media tools.” Poorly crafted policy is a hindrance. Good policy or guidelines help me do my job well.

    • 8 Jeffrey July 15, 2009 at 11:37 am

      Excellent points! You’re right that we need to teach people who aren’t used to talking to the public the subtleties of how to avoid problems.

      I also like your idea of a positive spin on the guidelines.

  7. 9 Rich July 15, 2009 at 11:03 am

    I’ve been wandering around for ages saying we only need one policy in the council – “Don’t make your boss look stupid”. I think these too directives rival that for catch all simplicity – like it!

  8. 10 Ari Herzog July 15, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Scenario: I work at an agency. I think X will be useful for the agency’s mission and I have it on record that Joe, Jim, and Mary would like the agency to use X. I approach my boss, share their perspectives, and the boss says no. Am I stupid to tell Joe, Jim, and Mary the agency won’t use X? Or am I smart to open an unofficial channel on X?

  9. 11 April August 23, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Simple mantra “mission, tool, metrics, teach.” What do you recommend for Metrics?

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