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Joanne Fritz

Three Stages of Social Media Policies: Where Is Your Nonprofit?

By December 11, 2011

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Is writing a social media policy on your to-do list for 2012? Or maybe you want push it to the next level of sophistication.

If so, you might want to consider the evolutionary stages of social media policy as described in The Social Media Management Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Get Social Media Working in Your Business, by Nick Smith, Robert Wollan, and Catherine Zhou.

This 2011 Wiley-published book contains the collected wisdom of experts in the social media space. Although it primarily deals with business applications, its insights can be used for nonprofits just as well. Chris Boudreaux authored the chapter (among others) on social media policies, and it is packed with useful insights and commentary on the status of these policies.

For instance, Boudreaux writes that a 2009 study of publicly available policies found that about one-third were unique to the particular organization or helped employees achieve the organization's goals through social media. Most policies used boiler-plate language that was similar to or repetitive of the social media policies of other organizations.

It can be hoped that, by now, more organizations, including nonprofits, have honed their social media policies to fit their particular situations and ambitions. Boudreaux, however, has concluded that most organizations move through these three stages as their social media policies evolve:

  • The mitigation stage. Boudreaux says that most organizations rush to get their first social media policy in place. They check out the policies of other entities and use a lot of catch phrases such as "link to sources" and "be authentic." These policies tend to focus on protection from risk. There is an emphasis on prohibitions, protection of trademarks, and disclosures - the legal aspects of social media. The policies tend to be generic.

  • The information stage. After dealing with risk, organizations start to shape their social media policies to advance their unique goals, and fit their culture and business processes. Boudreaux suggests that social media be incorporated into training for managers, laying out the legal boundaries in regard to their employees' social media activity. Also, policies at this stage typically make it easy for employees to find the information they need to successfully implement social media and to protect themselves as they use it.

  • The differentiation stage. This stage occurs once the organization really understands social media, and how to employ it to advantage. It then can develop fuller and more thoughtful guidelines that empower employees and teach them how to differentiate their business in the market. These policies, Boudreaux says, "...help employees do things differently from competitors and often turn employees into ambassadors...."

How far along has your organization's social media policy evolved?

This portal for all things social media, by the experts in this book, can help - plus these resources that are geared specifically to nonprofits:


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