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Social media: There's a policy for that

social media logos

Having a social media policy is an increasingly necessary item for local governments as the social media landscape and tools evolve. There are two schools of thought when writing a social media policy. An organization can implement one policy that broadly addresses current social media tools or multiple policies each focused on an individual type of social media.

A social media policy goes beyond “play nice” and “don’t post anything that would embarrass your mom.” The policy must tackle how the city uses social media in addition to a code of conduct for employees on and off the job. Key elements to consider:


Social media are Internet- and mobile-based tools for sharing information in a two-way environment. While it is impossible to plan for tomorrow’s hottest new way to connect, a list of social media types covered by the policy can provide a basic understanding of what the policy addresses. These types can include social networking sites, blogs, microblogs, video and photo sharing sites, Wikis and RSS feeds.

Account management

Local governments using social media as a communication tool should specify within the policy who can create accounts and manage content. This will help ensure the content posted carries the desired message of the city as well as help prevent unauthorized accounts from being created.

Code of conduct

Social media is the “Wild West” of technology. There are online tools that can monitor for offensive material, but users ultimately determine the content. A code of conduct should clearly states the city’s expectations of employees’ online behavior. The policy should stipulate postings should respect copyright, privacy, fair use, financial disclosure and all other applicable laws. Content associated with your organization needs to be consistent with your city’s values, goals and professional standards.

Personal and professional use

With online social networks, the line between personal and professional often becomes blurry. If an employee identifies himself as employed by the city on his social media account (this could include using a city email account on a personal social media site) his online actions create perceptions about not only himself, but also the city. The best rule of thumb is that online actions are “in public” and must adhere to the city’s code of conduct.

For cities allowing employees to use personal social media accounts during the workday, use the policy to outline acceptable uses. Social media is timely by nature and stamps the exact date and time items, personal and professional, are posted.

Learn more about social media policies and review model policies.