Sometimes we fluff up

Aug 4, 2011

Today one of our council twitter accounts made the news for tweeting an inappropriate comment on a serious incident in one of our Monmouthshire towns.

We’re all pretty mortified. It was insensitive and the person who tweeted quickly realised it was not on and deleted it (we tend to advise not deleting but in this case we felt that no further offence should be caused by leaving it there). The colleague who tweeted it apologised on Twitter. This wasn’t a strike against the use of social media though, it was a human error made worse by being so public.

I’ll post our policy at the bottom of this post, but I think that you can never account for someone having a blank moment, a brief error of judgement. All we can do if we want to continue providing information in an accessible, user-friendly way is keep reminding staff to think twice (no three times!) before they post and to remember we are here to serve, inform and talk to our residents and partners.

And of course, to be nice and identify when they’ve made a mistake.


*Thanks to those who influenced and let us pinch bits of their guidance *

Monmouthshire County Council Social Media Policy for staff and members


1. Introduction

2. Using social media outside work

3. Using social media for communication at work

4. Guidance to employees

5. Guidance for councillors: social media and meetings

6. Protocol for social media use

7. Guidance for managers

1. Introduction Social media is a term for websites based on user participation and user-generated content. They include social networking sites and other sites that are centred on user interaction. Social media can be categorised into six types: blogs; wikis; social networks; forums; podcasts; and content communities The Monmouthshire County Council Electronic Communications Policy and Code of Conduct provide the foundation for the council’s policies and guidelines for social media. The same rules that apply to your actions in general, as found in the Code of Conduct, apply to your conduct online. The council respects the legal rights of employees and, by and large, what you do on your own time is your concern. However, actions in or outside of work that affect your work performance, the work of others, or the council’s interests are a suitable focus for council policy. The lines between public and private, personal and professional are hazy in online social networks. This policy covers the responsibilities of employees both inside and outside of work. 2. Using social media outside work The personal image you project in social media may adversely reflect on the image of the authority. We recommend you: · Show yourself in your best light. By identifying yourself as a council employee within a social network, you are now connected to your colleagues, managers and even council citizens. You should ensure that content associated with you is consistent with your work at the council. · Think twice. You should use mature discretion in all personal communications in social media. · Use a disclaimer. When using social media for personal purposes, you must not imply you are speaking for the council. Avoid use of the council e-mail address, logos or other council identification. Make it clear that what you say is representative of your personal views only. Where possible, you should include a standard disclaimer, such as: “Statements and opinions here are my own and don’t necessarily represent the council’s policies or opinions”. · Know your obligations. You must comply with other council policies when using social media. For example, you should be careful not to breach council confidentiality and proprietary information policies. · Show respect to all. You should be respectful of the authority and your fellow employees. Derogatory comments are always wrong. 3. Using social media for communication at work The council encourages open and two-way conversation with citizens. The council believes in dialogue between staff and between the council and our citizens, partner agencies, members of the many communities in which it participates and the general public. Such dialogue is crucial in its effort to engage with citizens and to support its values of openness, fairness, flexibility and teamwork. The council expects you to exercise personal responsibility whenever you participate in social media. This includes not breaching the trust of those with whom you are engaging. You should be sure that you are presenting accurate information and ensuring nobody is misled. Social media enables people to express opinions and share information as part of a globally distributed conversation. Each tool and medium has proper and inappropriate uses. While the council encourages all of its employees to join in conversations, it is important to understand what is recommended, expected and required when you discuss council-related topics. Employees should not use any social media tool for Monmouthshire County Council business without the appropriate authorisation, which is: (a) Internally focused – a request should be made to the corporate communications team (b) Externally focused, i.e. communications on behalf of Monmouthshire County Council, council services or a partnership of which the council is a member – a business case should be made using application form and guidance to the communications team who will consider and refer to directorate management teams with their approval and supporting advice. 4. Guidance to employees You should: (a) not use any social media tool for council business unless you have received appropriate training. Employees should be registered on the approved business social media user list held by the communications team; (b) abide by the Electronic Communications Policy and Code of Conduct. If you have any uncertainty about publishing something online, this document may help. If you still don’t know if something you want to publish is appropriate, it is best to hold back and seek the advice of your line manager and the communications team. Also bear in mind the council’s Information Management guidelines. (c) declare yourself. Some bloggers and social media users work anonymously, using pseudonyms. The council discourages this in blogs, wikis or other forms of online participation that relate to the council. We believe in transparency and honesty. If you are talking about your work for the council, we encourage you to use your real name, be clear who you are, and identify that you work for the council. If you have a vested interest in something you are talking about, ensure you have made this clear. What you publish will be around for a long time so consider the content carefully and also be sensible about disclosing personal details. Write using your own voice; don’t be afraid to show your personality and talk from your own perspective. (d) follow copyright and data protection laws. For the council’s protection as well as your own, it is critical that you stay within the legal framework and be aware that libel, defamation, copyright and data protection laws apply. Ask permission to publish or report on conversations that were private or internal to the council. Be aware that content on social media websites may be subject to Freedom of Information requests. (e) add value. The council’s reputation is made up in a large part by the behaviour of its staff and everything you publish reflects on how MCC is perceived. Social media should be used in a way that adds value to the council’s business. If it helps you, your co-workers, our citizens or our partners to perform well and solve problems; if it enhances the council’s services, processes and policies; if it creates a sense of community; or if it helps to promote the council’s aims values, then it is adding value. Though not directly council-related, background information you choose to share about yourself, such as information about your family or personal interests, may be useful in helping establish a relationship between you and your readers, but it is your decision to share this information. By revealing certain details you might be more vulnerable to identity theft. (f) not be defensive. When you see inaccuracies articulated about the council by citizens, journalists or by other bloggers, you may use your blog – or join someone else’s – to politely and sensitively point out the situation as you see it. You must also advise the communications department that you have identified information that is inaccurate or could damage the reputation of the organisation. Be the first to correct your own mistakes and don’t alter previous posts without indicating that you have done so. (g) be prepared for a two-way conversation. And be aware that people are entitled to their views. You must make sure that what you say is factual and avoid unnecessary or unproductive arguments. (h) handle offensive comments swiftly and with sensitivity. If a conversation turns and becomes offensive in terms of language or sentiment, make sure you inform your audience exactly why you have removed the comment. A few sentences should suffice, along the lines of: “This comment was removed because moderators found the content offensive. I will respond to your comments but please respect the views of everybody who comes here.” (i) react to your own mistakes and use your judgment. If you make a mistake, be up front about your error and correct it quickly. In a blog, if you choose to modify an earlier post, make it clear that you have done so. Remember that there are consequences to what you publish. If you’re about to publish something that makes you uncomfortable, review the suggestions in this document. If you’re still uncertain, discuss it with your manager or with the Communications team. Ultimately, however, you have sole responsibility for what you post to your blog or publish in any form of online social media. (j) not forget the day job. You should make sure that your online activities do not interfere with your job or commitments to citizens. (K) before you write anything, always refer to the Social media content and etiquette: general guidance on how to post and respond 5. Guidance for councillors: social media and meetings The council encourages councillors to keep residents informed of Monmouthshire issues and the use of social media can help with this, especially during official council meetings. Twitter is a quick and direct way of feeding concise updates about a meeting – these principles for members are aimed at the use of Twitter but are equally applicable to other forms of social media. Much of the behaviour expected of members using social media is covered in the Members’ Code of Conduct and is covered in this policy. Below are some extra guidelines for councillors to consider for the use of social media during meetings. · Handheld devices and laptops are permitted (indeed encouraged) for use during meetings to allow environmentally friendly and effective communication. The use of such devices is intended to improve communication during meetings – not to interrupt or distract anyone taking part. Ensure the volume on all electronic devices is turned to ‘mute’. · Councillors’ tweets/blogs during council meetings should refer to the discussions which are taking place at the meeting – tweeting/blogging about other subjects will show the public and other attendees at the meeting that you are not engaging properly in the meeting. · Councillors have a responsibility to take council business seriously and it is not appropriate for members to use social media to tease or insult other members. Monmouthshire residents expect debate and to be informed about council business, not witness petty arguments. · Please use and encourage your followers to use the hashtag #MCCmeeting to create what is known as a ‘backchannel’ to the meeting. Essentially this means that every tweet you send during the meeting will include the term #MCCmeeting in it. This allows anyone in the world to easily filter on that search term and tune into (and get involved in) the conversation about that meeting. 6. Monmouthshire County Council Protocol for Social Media use 1. If you already use social networks or blogs for personal use and you have indicated in any way that you work at MCC you should add a disclaimer that states that opinions on this site are your own. 2. If you want to start a social network or blog for council purposes such as participation, engagement and consultation about the council, you should tell your manager and consult with the Communications department. This will ensure you gain the necessary information to present a business case to the MCC Communications team. 3. Your business case should include details of: § What you wish to communicate and your target audience. § Your aims for the social network or blog and why you think a social network or blog is the right platform for communicating your messages. § What other channels of communication you will use to support your use of social networks. § How many times a day you intend to update/check the social network or blog. § Which other officers will have access to edit the social network or blog when you are unable to update it due to sickness/annual leave. § How you intend to keep records of the data that you post onto your social media site or blog. § Your commitment to updating the social network or blog to clearly state when you no longer work for the authority or handing over the site to the person who takes over your role. § Your commitment to reviewing the social network or blog and providing your manager and the communications team with data on a bi-annual basis to ensure the social network or blog is being used effectively. Content should be reviewed regularly. An application form and guidance is available on the Point. 4. Remember that if you break the law using social media (for example by posting something defamatory), you will be personally responsible. 5. If someone from the media or press contacts you about posts you’ve made using social media you should talk to your manager before responding and the MCC Communications office should be consulted. 6. All information you post using social media is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. You also must adhere to the following principles, that are part of the Council’s Information Strategy: · We are all responsible for keeping records. · All information created as part of your job role constitutes a council record and is evidence of the council’s work, and may be needed for reference by others in future. · All information is subject to a retention period, specifying how long it must be kept. Guidance for Managers 1. Under these guidelines managers in each area will decide what is appropriate. They should not adopt an unnecessarily restrictive approach. Managers should ensure that any special instructions are reasonable and explained clearly to staff. 2. Managers should bear in mind concerns about impartiality, confidentiality, conflicts of interest or commercial sensitivity. In some cases individuals may be dealing with matters which are so sensitive that rules may have to be set on what they can and cannot talk about using social media.

1 Comment

  1. hyrabkedos1981

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Hel Reynolds

Hel Reynolds

Author of this post

Hel is social media trainer and boss of Comms Creatives. She has been working in comms since 2005, and has been brushing up her expertise in social media for brands since the good old days of MySpace. She also draws the Comms Cartoons, and is usually attached to a mug of coffee.

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