Do You Have a Social Media Policy? – Smart Nonprofit Tweeting

And Other Social Media Policy Thoughts

Thanks to guest writer, Valerie Venezia, VP of Membership and Marketing, New York Council of Nonprofits, Inc.  While Tweeting, I found their organization policy on social media and asked her to write about the process for this blog. Links to Valerie, the policy and her twitter profile are included in the post. Thanks Valerie!

I’ll never forget the email that started it all. It was from our senior staff attorney. (We are blessed with three of them…) I don’t know about you, but I never want to get those. The more I can dodge the minefield of lawyerly engagement (other than a “Hi, How are you?” in the hall) the better. But this email I could not avoid. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you can liken it to a “Howler.”

Nicely put, he wanted to know if I realized that within one click of our nonprofit’s website our members (and other visitors) could get to a Twitter profile with the unsavory language he was now demonstrating for me in his email.

Yes, I had crashed the proverbial flying car into the Whomping Willow. 

My first reactions were defensive. My mind produced highly logical arguments like “no one would hold us responsible for that,” or “people can get to unsavory language within a click of any website,” or my personal favorite “you just don’t understand Twitter.”  Well, duh. No, he didn’t. But that also meant that
a) neither did the vast majority of our audience and
b) it was my fault he didn’t.
I was our social media “evangelist” – and I couldn’t avoid our lawyers forever. It was time to engage, educate and maybe even adjust my own thinking about Twitter and social media.

After we both apologized and had that uncomfortable verbal “hug” we got down to business. The bottom line that we could both agree on was that protecting our nonprofit organization was of the utmost importance. A large part of my job is to get the “word” out about our organization and to get people to ACT (join, donate, come to events, etc.) Part of our marketing strategy is using certain social media tools. The inherent nature of these tools is that they are “open” and, for the most part, they give the control of the message over to the user. That’s why they are powerful. That’s why they can be great for nonprofits. And that’s why they can be scary too.

We agreed on a few other things. The Twitter account that we were using for our organization had actually started as my “own.” Though my life does revolve around my job, I did follow some unrelated individuals and organizations. (Do our members need to click through and see I follow Stephen Colbert? Maybe. Maybe not. But we decided not.) There’s a difference between personal branding around the knowledge, expertise and connections you have in your professional life, and your personal brand of pop culture idiosyncrasies. Some organizations may not see it this way – perhaps you feel that this makes your organization or staff more well rounded and “human” in the eyes of your audience and therefore more relatable. For our organization, we felt it was best to keep that separate – while still trying to maintain a personal “feel” on our organizational Twitter feed. Each organization will have to make this choice for itself. But it is a choice and the discussion and decision should be made by the appropriate people – and not just the one person on staff who may be enthusiastic enough to keep up on their social media duties.

After asking a few colleagues and realizing no one else had one, and because the need for it was immediate, we came up with a simple, yet effective “Twitter Policy.” Even in its simplicity it addressed our key concerns. By placing it on the homepage under the “follow us” link it:
a) makes people aware that we have a policy for this different type of medium;
b) that we have put thought into our social media presence;
c) that we have tried to proactively protect our organization from liability and
d) hopefully it makes them think about doing the same for their own nonprofit.

Up next on our radar: policies for our blog and Facebook presence as well as a policy for staff using social media in connection with their professional positions here (i.e. posting pictures from official organization events on their own Facebook pages, or personal blogging about their job.) Not that they can’t do these things (hey, if IBM can, we can.) But, again, protection of the organization is priority. We are going to constantly balance that priority against the need to communicate and connect with nonprofits and those that care about them. The days have long since passed when nonprofits could ignore the possibilities of social media. The concept is not a fad, though the tools may change.

If you haven’t already, gather the tools that already exist and think about your own social media policies. Stop the lawyer in the hall and have a conversation about it. Be proactive in protecting the nonprofit organization you work for. The more you recognize the risks, the more you can maximize the rewards of social media.

If you have any questions or would like to connect to Valerie you can find her on Twitter @nycouncilnps or email her at You can reach their staff attorney in this story (who said he thinks of himself more as the “Dementor” type) by contacting David Watson, Esq. at You can reach them both via phone at 1 (800) 515-5012.

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6 thoughts on “Do You Have a Social Media Policy? – Smart Nonprofit Tweeting

  1. I heard your presentation at TweetCamp — it was very helpful. As someone who works at a non-profit without a social media policy, I’m going to take this article to work to prompt a discussion. Thank you!

    1. Kari,
      It was terrific being at TweetCamp with you. I am glad you gained lots of information and find this information useful. Happy Tweeting and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

  2. Thank you for writing this. Is it ok with you if I post it on my own business blog with a link back to you? I specialize in Non-profits and think this is great information..

    thank you!

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