Guidelines: Why We Need Them

I work for a nonprofit organization. It’s a trendy thing to do nowadays. Odds are, you know someone who works for or volunteers with a nonprofit—there are many organizations around you that you may not even realize are nonprofits. While many people think of little grassroots community groups struggling to raise money while not earning a salary when they hear the term “nonprofit,” our own list of local organizations ranges from that grassroots end of the spectrum all the way up to long-established multi-million dollar household names like Visit Pittsburgh, UPMC, the Caring Place along with the Mario Lemieux Foundation, and the Pittsburgh Zoo.

In other words, with the way our world functions today, it is increasingly important for nonprofit organizations, and we who help run them, to know how to properly market ourselves to the public on social media.

But there is another component to working in the private sector and operating social media: when you work at a nonprofit, YOU are the organization. There aren’t marketable goods like athletic shoes or the latest car design to hide your personal actions behind. The “customers” of your nonprofit are “buying” your beliefs, your behavior, your passions, your efforts. If you slip up on your own personal social media account, even if it is apart from your organization’s page, then you have tarnished the entire public image of your organization, and the public will question the beliefs of the whole system.

This is a good way to think about the content listed by Blanchard in Chapter 7, “Establishing Social Media Guidelines for the Organization,” of Social Media ROI. Organizations are not simply concerned with how their employees use their phones or computers during company time. They are concerned with how employees are conducting themselves online even in the middle of the night, due to the fact that those employees are tied to the organization and may very likely have the organization listed on their profile. If we think about personal use of social media in connection to the professional world (using nonprofit organization employees as a prime example of the close personal-professional overlap), we see how necessary it is to choose our online posting behavior carefully.

Blanchard gives us a detailed list of content to be discussed in an organization’s social media policy to employees. This goes for for-profit businesses as well as nonprofit organizations. Of the ten components, the first point is extremely important: the employee has every right to a personal social media account and has every protection of privacy. The organization cannot spy on you illegally through your personal social media. Of course, the second point allows the organization to set boundaries for use while on the clock during company time.

The guidelines for external use in the policy aim “not to impose an organization’s will on its employee’s personal use of social media. [Its] purpose is first to remind employees that the lines can easily be blurred between their official role for the company and the personal opinions they may express online outside of business hours and, second, to help them best negotiate this sometimes tricky area without getting themselves or their employers in trouble” (Blanchard 123). This is where it is so important to understand that when you are connected to an organization, you represent them 24/7, not just 9-5. In the same vein, if employees are going to discuss their organization online, they must disclose that they work for them. Failure to comply with this guideline can lead into ugly legal battles.

And, speaking of legal battles, employees should know about anti-defamation guidelines to avoid legal battles with offended outside parties. Employees need to be thoroughly educated on the terms “libel,” “slander,” and “defamation” so as not to make false statements about others. At the same time, they cannot share private information relating to the organization over social media.

social media how rude

To avoid conflicts like this altogether, an organization’s policy should include a section where employees simply agree to be kind to one another online and to pledge not to engage in online bullying.

The end of the document should include a list of resources for employees and a note to external partners about agreeing to these policies.

When you think about the numerous ways in which one individual’s behavior can affect the public image of an organization, it becomes that much more important for each of us to display ourselves appropriately on social media, the most public of all platforms

social media love job


Blanchard, Olivier. Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization. Indianapolis: Que Pub., 2011. Print.

How Rude. Digital image. HRpockets. N.p., n.d. Web. <;.

I Love My Job. Digital image. We Heart It. N.p., n.d. Web. <;.


7 thoughts on “Guidelines: Why We Need Them

  1. I found the point that employees have the right to a personal social media account and privacy to it to be really interesting. I currently have an internship at the study abroad office at Pitt and was told all potential applicants during the application process were searched on social media before accepted. I think that professional and personal lives should be separate and shouldn’t be mixed.


  2. I agree with the notion of a person always representing the company they work for. It looks very bad for a company and for an employee when they badmouth the place they work for. It’s fine to have opinions and express them online, but being tasteful and considerate is something everyone should consider, working for a company or not. You represent not only your own brand but also the brand of organizations you are involved with, whether that be the company you work for or school you attend.


  3. I agree that employees need to know anti-defamation guidelines since the company I worked at in the summer suffered from slander and libel before I began interning. We had multiple training involving social media involving smart tweeting and facebook posting. The training was not effective since I become afraid to tweet or post anything about the company, even though my entire day revolved around it. The Employee Digital Citizenship contract (mentioned in Blanchard on page 92) was not even mentioned in our training, which would explain why that one employee got fired when complaining about his coworkers online and his company. I feel companies need to expand on official vs personal communication guidelines during the training exercises in a positive and welcoming attitude.


  4. I think your post is extremely important for students in our class to read and understand. Especially now, as we are all seniors applying for full-time jobs, our social media presence is more important than ever. I have recently changed my privacy settings to ensure that employers cannot see any information I would not like them to see. I also stop and think “would I be okay with my employer seeing this?” before I post anything to my accounts. I agree that what you post online is important both during and outside of work hours. You represent a company 24/7, in the office and in public. Well-defined guidelines will be a mutual benefit to both the organization at large and the individual.


  5. I think you post is really interesting because I feel as though people don’t think about how important the employees are to the non-profit organizations image. I got the chance to work for a NPO and the people there showed a great commitment to dedicating their work and personal lives towards building the brand of the organization. It was important for all of the employees to use their own personal social media accounts to interact with the organization and with other people interested in the organization. And as you said it is really important for the employees there to be careful with what they say on social media, because they are so closely connected to the vision of the NPO.


  6. Great post! I’m majoring in Nonprofit Management and Public Administration, so this idea really resonates with a lot of my classes. For example, in a Human Resources class I have this semester, we are editing employee handbooks to include sections on social media policies. It is important that employees understand how to carry the brand of their agency into their personal lives online. If someone is slandering their employer, the public will take a negative viewpoint on the agency as well.


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