Social Media: Ethics, Errors and Establishing Guidelines for Municipalities
Social media for municipalities in Pennsylvania is important and few have embraced social media or leveraged it to its full potential. In this series of videos presented to the Government Finance Officers Association of Pennsylvania, public relations and social media expert, Gina Rubel shares her insights on public relations and social media for municipalities in Pennsylvania.
What is social media and why does it matter?
Social media for municipalities in Pennsylvania is important and few have embraced social media or leveraged its full potential. In this program, public relations and social media expert, Gina Rubel presented social media to the Government Finance Officers Association of Pennsylvania.
Among the tips, Gina shared that social media posts for municipalities must be timely and relevant. As you get comfortable using social media, engage with others. This engagement will help you manage and understand what people are thinking. This includes timely responding to comments and conversations.
You don’t need to be everywhere on social media, but you do need to understand where your audience is and where they communicate.
Almost 80% of Americans use Facebook. One useful tool on Facebook is groups. Once your municipality or municipal representative joins a group on social media, you can monitor conversations. These are platforms where your municipal audience participates in conversations about issues that affect them.
For example, the majority of Facebook users are women and Facebook generates nearly 25% of municipal or township website traffic.
In addition to engaging on social media, the municipality should educate staff and elected officials regarding its social media policy.
Other statistics to note regarding social media for municipalities are that 24% of adults are using Twitter and its most popular in urban areas. Twitter is a great source if your municipality wants to connect with and follow the media.
In addition, LinkedIn is most popular with professionals. Twenty-nine percent of adults use LinkedIn. Therefore, LinkedIn can be a great tool for recruitment purposes when engaging on social media for municipalities.
Educate yourself to understand the reasons your municipality is on social media. Set goals on these platforms. And always ensure that the information your municipality is sharing on social media is relevant to the audience on each platform.
In the second part of a six-part video series, Gina Rubel highlights the importance of social media management and understanding the benefits, risks, pitfalls, liabilities, protocols, and best practices for engaging on social media for municipalities. She breaks down the management of social media profiles for municipalities into a five-step strategy.
- Determine your goals
Review the municipalities’ business goals and determine if they can be supported through social media engagement. Communication creates trust and if you can’t communicate, people will think you have something to hide. It is also crucial to understand and differentiate between business and social goals.
- Conduct a social audit
Conduct a social media audit in order to determine the target audience, engaged audience, protocol and budget needed for social media. It’s important to know the audience and who is engaging, or interacting, with the municipality.
- Develop a content strategy
Develop a content strategy to determine the content the municipality should share. Then determine which social networks will reach your target audience. Create social media posts that will engage the audience and meet your goals. It’s important to research how and when your audience engages on social media. Understanding when your target audience is likely to engage and how to communicate with them is important when municipalities engage on social media.
- Implement tactics
The municipality should implement tactics, such as creating an editorial calendar to schedule, track and edit posts. Except for immediate, or “evergreen” content, editorial calendar content can be scheduled in advance. Tools such as Co-Schedule and Hootsuite can be utilized to schedule social media content for municipalities. It’s also important to remember that visuals are important to online success. Social media with images and videos gets 94% more views than social media without visuals. In addition, using hashtags (#) allows the user to search anything relevant to the hashtag.
- Monitor, track and adjust
Monitor, track and adjust the municipalities’ messaging. This will allow the municipality to determine whether or not the audience is engaging and to adjust messages and timing accordingly. Use relevant tools and apps to track engagement, and refine plans based on the data results to focus on what is working best. Once you find what works best in your social media engagement, repeat it.
Social media is one of the best ways to share, educate and inform the audience on topics or issues that are relevant to the municipality, and can even influence what’s happening in the community.
In the third part of a six-part video series, Gina Rubel, founder and owner of Furia Rubel, provides an example of effective use of social media by a municipality. Doylestown Township and the Central Bucks School District utilized social media to quickly inform the public about a safety concern in the Doylestown area.
The Doylestown Township municipality used Facebook to share this breaking news about in real time to spread the word about the developing story providing the community with important updates.
When the township shared Facebooks stories, they were shared and spread through other social media users and pages, which demonstrates how the community was listening on social media and how quickly a conversation grows.
Rubel points out that naysayers will always be present on social media, but there will also be members of the community who are thankful and supportive of the information. Municipalities should consider if they want to respond to naysayers. Rubel cautions that it is often best to avoid having the municipality responding to naysayers because members of the community will ultimately set the record straight.
It’s important for municipalities to develop a social media plan for the effective use of social media. When communicating in real time, there is no time to go up the chain of command and receive approvals for a story.
Municipalities need to be aware of the social media barriers to engagement which include:
- Budget: Municipalities should include the creation of a social media program in their communications budget. This will help develop their online reputation and educate employees on how to engage on social media.
- Buy-in: It is important for municipalities to lead by example and manage their online reputations. The first step is to understand the benefits of social media engagement for municipalities.
- Too Time Consuming: A strategically planned and well-managed social media program can reduce the amount of time it takes and assist municipalities with managing their social media platforms. There are also various social media aggregate tools that can be used to streamline the social media engagement process. Some of them include: CoSchedule, Hootsuite, Sprout Social, Feedly, TweetDeck, and Buffer.
- Lack of Understanding / Training / Policy: Make time to learn how to engage with social media and put protocols in place for ethics, compliance and common-sense usage.
Integration of Social Media into Daily Operations
A study conducted in 2016 revealed that most cities integrate social media into daily operations. However, many do not provide effective social media policies. The survey found that only 19 percent of the cities using social media incorporated a policy, while the other 81 percent did not. Furthermore, 16 percent could not identify who was managing its social media.
One important training element of a municipality’s social media policy is acceptable use by employees. Municipalities need to determine acceptable and common-sense use of social media such as not using profanity in content. Acceptable use is not about personal interests, it’s about public interests. This is an important factor when forming an acceptable use policy. It’s also vital to remember that a municipality should not try to honor everyone’s point of view, but to serve the best interests of the overall public.
When setting up social media, the municipality should have a dedicated email address associated with all of the municipality’s social media accounts. Make sure that the municipality creates the social media accounts with its own information instead of an employee or intern as the municipality’s page will be linked to their personal accounts.
In addition, municipalities should develop an employee access portion of its policy to determine which employees are allowed access to the social media accounts. The employee access clause should include employee monitoring of government-owned devices, so they are aware of limited privacy. Furthermore, a solicitor should regularly review this portion of the policy, along with any by-laws.
Lastly, the policy should clearly spell out the employee code of conduct. In its most simple form, a code of conduct should teach employees that they need to disclose who they are and their relationship to the municipality, protect the public and the municipality when sharing information online, and use common sense. Municipalities must be transparent with their social media presence, protect employees and the government entity, and employ a professional, straightforward approach to social media engagement.
It’s important for municipalities to develop policies and good, ethical habits regarding social media. While a vital tool in this age, social media expert Gina Rubel explains the importance and elements of a social media policy, the pitfalls of social media engagement, and why it’s important to educate municipal employees, elected officials, and volunteers about the policies.
Elements of a Social Media Policy
Elements of a social media policy include:
- Acceptable Use – Acceptable use policies outline a local government’s position on how employees and other officials are expected to use government resources, restrictions on use for personal interests, and consequences for violating the policy. Acceptable use may also encompass the government’s purpose in establishing and maintaining social networking sites.
- Account and Content Management -Account management policies provide guidance on the creation, maintenance, and deletion of social media accounts. The lack of a clearly defined policy on account management may result in a situation where officials do not have control over what types of social media accounts are being established, maintained, or closed by their employees for official government use.
- Citizen Conduct -The social media policy should identify the type of content that is not permitted on the entity’s social media site and is subject to removal. This might include comments that are profane, obscene or have violent content, discriminatory content, threats, solicitation of business, content that violates a copyright or trademark, and any content in violation of federal, state, or local law. The policy should also contain a disclaimer that any comment posted by a member of the public is not the opinion of the local government.
- Employee Access -The employee access portion of the social media policy should include, if applicable, employer monitoring of employee use of government computers. The policy should also caution employees that they have no expectation of privacy while using the internet on any government-owned computer, cell phone, or other internet equipped electronic device. This portion of the social media policy may also include a requirement that the employee or official turn over any post that is subject to the Public Information Act.
- Employee Conduct
- The employment code of conduct includes three rules of engagement: Your presence in social media must be transparent through disclosure.
- Protect your employer and yourself.
- Use common sense and remember that professional, straightforward and appropriate communication is best.
- Legal Compliance – Policies should include compliance language applicable to federal, state, and local laws; regulations and policies. It’s also important to think about intellectual property when researching and using content that you find on the internet. If you use content or images you need to make sure that proper credit is referenced.
- Security -Local governments should work with their IT staff to ensure that the social media policy includes necessary guidelines regarding the security of data and technical infrastructure for new uses, users, and technologies related to social media. The technology concerns addressed in the policy may focus on password security, functionality, authentication of identity, and virus scans.
Defamation – Libel and Slander
Libel and slander are both types of defamation. Libel is an untrue defamatory statement that is made in writing. Slander is an untrue defamatory statement that is spoken orally.
The difference between defamation and slander is that a defamatory statement can be made in any medium. If you defame someone, that person may have a course of action to ensure that his or her reputation is not damaged.
Many social media platforms allow users to set their own privacy settings, which often cover a number of areas including who viewed their profile, who can post comments and other content on the profile, and who can search for their social media page or channel. Although the vast majority of these privacy concerns apply to individual users, public sector users should be equally as conscious. Everyone who uses social media should begin with the assumption that everything posted on a government site is likely a public record.
Privacy issues involving social media are being slowly developed through case-law, and are still considered an open question subject to further explanation. Also, be aware that if a governmental entity requires people to register to use a government social networking site, it must carefully consider what information the registrant must provide (name, address, phone number, email, screen name), who will maintain the information, and whether others participating in the discussion will have access to this information.
Make it a short-term goal to create a thorough social media policy that will protect the municipality and educate municipal employees, elected officials, and volunteers. If you have any questions, please contact Gina Rubel at (215) 340-0480.
There will come a time when your municipality needs to respond to the media as a result of negative press or during a time of crisis. Instead of being silent, trying to hide, or saying, “no comment,” municipalities will get a better response from the media when providing honest, simple answers.
Examples of alternatives to silence or “no comment” when responding to the media in person or over social media are:
- “We are aware of the situation and are working to gather the facts. We will share verified information publicly when we are able.”
- “Thank you for sharing your thoughts. We invite you to attend our public meetings to express your opinions to council.”
- “We appreciate your feedback. Hearing from our constituents is important to us. We invite you to share any further thoughts in a follow up letter or email.”
As a result of today’s technologies, news travels at lightning speed, especially over social media. It is important to draft responses and reactions for all scenarios in your crisis communications plan which should be referred to in your social media policy. Government entities, just like all companies, must be prepared to disseminate a public response without delay.
Good communication can be the difference between a crisis handled well or poorly. Stay ahead of the story through preparation and planning. In addition to having a well thought out crisis management plan and social media policy, be sure your spokesperson have attended media training to assure that they will handle the media in the best interest of the municipality.