ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - 10:00am
posted by
Colleen Dunbar,

Project Specialist,
ASU Lodestar Center

Should you change your nonprofit’s Facebook profile image to show support of a hot political issue? What do you do if someone comments with a racial slur on a photo of your volunteer? How do you react if you find your page to be the victim of the ever-dreaded troll?

As they say, “With any social media profile, comes great responsibility.” (Just kidding, no one really says that. But they should!)

If you have ever found yourself in one of these situations, then you know that making a wrong or inconsistent decision can have disastrous results. And those disastrous results are very, very public. Having a social media policy in place will help you answer these questions, and inform you or your social media manager on what to do in similar situations. And it’s extremely easy to create.

What’s in a social media policy?

Every nonprofit’s policy is going to be different, because every nonprofit has different needs, different audiences, different missions, and different campaign goals. But to give you an example of what a social media policy consists of, here’s a sample of the ASU Lodestar Center’s:

    • Who can post: We determined which employee is ultimately responsible for all of our social media profiles and which other employees are allowed to post on behalf of the Center.


    • What to post: Here we included five questions that the poster should ask him or herself before publishing (ex. If my grandmother and my boss saw this post, what would they think?). Also in this section are the types of content that should be posted on Center profiles, and which of our values this content matches up with.


  • What not to post: While we tried to make this policy more positive, and more “here are all the things we want you to do,” it was of course also very important to outline the content that should never be posted on behalf of the Center.


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    • Photo & video etiquette: In this section, we made decisions on whether to tag employees, volunteers, clients, etc. in our social media posts, and when it is necessary to get permission before publishing photos or videos of our constituents.


    • Crediting other sources: As it is common practice on social media to re-post images and articles from other sources, we included links to copyright and Creative Commons instructions to better inform our employees on these legal restrictions and discussed some best-practices.


    • Tone: It was important to determine the tone of our social media interactions. Our Center decided to strive for a professional image on all of our social media channels, but your nonprofit may be different and may want to have a more laid-back approach. The important thing is to remain consistent with your tone.


  • Handling controversy: This quite possibly the most important part of any social media policy. It was critical for our social media policy to have provisions for handling negative and controversial situations. Should you take down a comment that discusses a negative experience that someone had with your organization? What if an individual uses profanity or writes a racial slur? What if you get comments that are dishonest or misleading? It is important for all organizations to have written guidelines on how their social media manager should react in these and similar situations. This will help your organization to avoid future controversy and maintain its positive image in the community.

How to write your policy

Idealware has a fantastic workbook that will help you write your social media policy by taking you through the different sections step-by-step. It gives examples throughout, and gives multiple recommendations of how you could respond to the questions. And did I mention that it’s specifically for nonprofits?

After you’ve answered all of the questions, you simply type everything up into comprehensive paragraphs (don’t worry, Idealware has a template for that, too), and then you’re done! We took about an hour to fill out the workbook, and then another hour to finalize it.

It is crucial that you consistently apply whatever rules you create – I can’t stress this enough. Inconsistent or sporadic social media management is often the cause of scandal and bad press. Since so much constituent interaction is done on social media these days, having these policies in place will make it easier to brave any social media storms that may come your way, including standing up to those silly internet trolls. It’s never too early or too late to have these policies in place!

Colleen Dunbar is a project specialist in the ASU Lodestar Center's marketing/communications department, and is the president and founder of the ASU Nonprofit Professionals Alumni Club. She is currently completing her master of arts degree in communications studies at Arizona State University. Originally hailing from Vancouver, Canada, Colleen is striving to make a difference and give back to her community through a career in nonprofit public relations. Connect with Colleen on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Read Kayla McKinney's, "Jungle of Trolls: Coping with Social Media Disasters, Controversies, and Blunders."


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