Social media is a wonderful tool for the nonprofit industry. Social networks can make stories go viral, spread the word about your mission, and help you hit your fundraising goals.
Yet navigating the realm of social media is like walking on a thin pane of glass — you just never know when everything can fall through.
It would be impossible to count the number of notorious social media blunders in recent years. Remember when Uber tweeted they were turning off surge pricing at JFK airport in 2017, which the public interpreted as supporting the Muslim travel ban? Or when DiGiorno tried to capitalize off the #WhyIStayed movement to sell pizza, a hashtag meant to raise awareness on domestic violence? Or when Delta tried congratulating Ghana for making it to the World Cup … by tweeting a photo of a giraffe in Kenya?
Yikes. These social media mistakes aren't just cringeworthy — they create a public uproar that can alienate your supporter base and threaten the livelihood of your organization.
Social media managers are only human, and mistakes happen. But to prevent a public disaster, you need to have a social media policy for nonprofits in place. Below, we explain 7 issues to consider when drafting your social media policy.
7 issues to address in your social media policy for nonprofits
As you utilize channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to spread your message, it’s wise to have policies in place. These guidelines set boundaries, expectations, and roles within your organization, preventing a major oops! incident on social media.
1. How will your nonprofit values tie into social media use? 💓
Social media is a communication tool. It's a way to converse with supporters, stakeholders, and board members outside a formal meeting or fundraising campaign.
While the language used on social media channels is more casual compared to other mediums, the messaging shouldn't drift from your values.
Before you write a sentence in your social media policy, review your organization’s mission and values. This will set the tone for what is (and is not) acceptable to post, how you communicate with supporters, and how you respond to negative comments.
Some sample questions to ask:
- Is humor appropriate? If so, when?
- How do you handle constructive feedback? Do you ever ignore or delete rude comments/replies?
- How do you handle posts during a public crisis or somber event?
2. What are the boundaries between the organization and personal accounts? 👯
This may be the trickiest section when writing your social media guidelines. Your employees are a reflection of your organization, and what they post on social could have ramifications on your cause. (Note: Some organizations find it helpful to write two policies — one regarding the organization's use of social media, the other regarding employees' personal accounts.)
Boundaries between personal and organizational accounts need to be firm. Let staff members know certain behavior will not be tolerated by the human resources department, such as:
- Harassing or discriminating against individuals or group of people
- Using any form of hate speech
- Sharing privileged information, such as copyrighted documents
Disclaimer: You need to be extremely careful about telling employees what they cannot post on social media. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) gives employees the right to address conditions at work — even if they're not unionized. Always have an attorney or in-house counsel review your social media policy regarding personal accounts.
3. Who is in charge of your social media platforms? 🙋
Your nonprofit organization should have a team to handle your social media sites. It should be clear who has access to passwords, who's in charge, and what the editorial process is.
Write team roles and responsibilities directly into your policy, so there's never confusion about the following:
- Who is on the social media team? What is the hierarchy within the team?
- What is the editorial process?
- Where are logins and passwords stored?
4. How will you engage with external organizations? 👋
Social media is not a silo. The purpose of social networks is to connect with vendors, partners, supporters, and other organizations within the nonprofit sector. Your social media policy needs to reflect exactly how you'll connect with them, including:
- How should staff handle friend requests from supporters on their personal Facebook pages or connections on their LinkedIn?
- How do you ensure photos, logos, and other materials from external organizations aren't shared without permission?
- What do you do if an employee from an external organization makes a negative comment about you on their personal account?
5. How do you handle negative comments? 😡
Negative, rude, and unsolicited feedback comes with having a social media presence. Your team needs to decide how you handle negative comments online, and where you draw the line between constructive and unproductive feedback.
Your nonprofit social media policy should contain a section explaining how you escalate negative comments. Before you create a PR frenzy, address these questions:
- When, where, and why would you ever delete a negative or rude comment?
- How do you reply to constructive feedback? How can you take the conversation offline?
- If a negative comment gets repeated in your online community, how will you contain or address the situation?
6. What do you do when there's a mistake? 😱
As said before, mistakes happen. What separates good social media marketing from a PR nightmare is how you handle — and learn from — those mistakes.
Your social media plan should outline how to handle unfortunate posts.
This includes typos, controversial press coverage, or a poorly worded (and misinterpreted) post. To plan for these events — and gracefully find your way out of them — ask the following:
- What do you do when a mistake has been made?
- How do you respond to unexpected situations, questions from the press, or public outcry?
- What's the process for deleting, retracting, and posting an apology?
7. Is there ever a time when you shouldn't post? 🙅
Sometimes, silence is better than opening your mouth and worsening the situation. Your social media strategy and policy should contain a clause stating when posting is not appropriate.
If you do not have all the facts, are not an expert on a social movement (re: the Dominos fiasco), or are watching a disastrous event unfold, you might want to keep all fingers off the "post" button. These times include:
- How do you handle social movements and advocacy not directly related to your cause? When should you bring in an expert from another organization?
- How do you handle events where lives were lost or are in danger?
- If a supporter comments on your silence while your team debates any of the above, how will you reply?
Social media policy for nonprofits is absolutely necessary
Social media campaigns bring a lot of good to the nonprofit sector. Through social networking, this Harvard grad raised $34K to combat racial injustice, and Nashville raised $103K in one day after a deadly tornado.
With social media content comes a lot of responsibility.
You owe it to your mission, cause, and supporters to stick to your values when posting online. To do this, you need a social media policy to set boundaries between personal and professional accounts, define an escalation clause, and handle negative comments online.
With a concrete policy in place, you can leverage social networks to spread the word on your good cause. Givebutter uses one-click social sharing to help share on social media. To launch your next campaign, sign up for your free account.
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.