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Social media guidelines: Pros and cons

November 19, 2009

Are social media guidelines really necessary in the newsroom (or in any company)? I’ve seen guidelines done really well and abysmally wrong. Some people don’t need guidelines to know how things are done, some could use a little direction (links withheld out of respect for the fact that some people may  just not care).

Whether or not you need a social media policy probably depends on a lot of things, but I thought I’d break down my thoughts into pros and cons:


“We need a set of social media guidelines.” “We really don’t.”
This way, no one will be confused about what’s OK and what’s not. Appropriate behavior in and out of the office is already covered in the employee handbook—why treat social media differently?
It’s a chance to publicly declare what kind of company we are—forward-thinking or old school. Why don’t we just be one or the other?
People will be discouraged from spending too much time on social networks. There’s no difference between Twitter and a prolonged smoke break.
Without a policy, we’ll lose control of our company’s “message.” Social media isn’t about control. We may as well just ban it if that’s our attitude.


Like I said earlier, I don’t have a firm stance on which of these columns is the “right” one—and I’m not sure there even is a right one. I think either could be a good idea depending on which newsroom we’re talking about.


I will say, however, that if the decision to implement a policy is made, tread lightly. If you really have to put that many restrictions and conditions on your newsroom’s social media use, your employees probably aren’t ready for social media in the first place. A lot of guidelines I see are big lists of what a person can and can’t do; the best ones keep things short and general. Lastly, a big point I see left off guidelines is this one:

  • Spend a couple months familiarizing yourself with a social network before you attach your name or brand to it.

For people who aren’t used to interacting online, giving them a guidebook and sending them on their way can be a disaster. It’s just as bad to have a clueless employee representing your brand (doesn’t know social media etiquette, norms, etc.) as it is to have someone who “breaks the rules.” Am I contradicting myself here? Perhaps a little. But you wouldn’t give someone “InDesign for Dummies” and expect them to be able to lay out the front page, so don’t do the same for social media.

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