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Social Media Participation 101 - 11/3/2009 -

Does your association have social computing guidelines in place to explain how your organization expects staff to interact with others when they visit online communities? Here are a good set of "rules” to help get you started.

By Carla Kalogeridis

MAYBE YOU WOULDN'T WORRY ABOUT HOW MUCH TIME YOUR STAFF SPENDS USING SOCIAL MEDIA, if you had some guidelines in place to explain how your association expects staff to interact with others when they visit online communities.

David Meerman Scott, an online thought leader and best-selling author of the New Rules of Marketing & PRand the new book, World Wide Rave, says associations can benchmark their guidelines to some that have been created in the corporate world. "I really like the way that IBM has worked with its employee bloggers to advance the company's goals and corporate reputation as well the personal goals of the individual employee bloggers,” Scott writes on his own blog, Web Ink Now.

Even more interesting, Scott adds, is that IBM puts its blogging guidelines (as well as its overall social computing guidelines, e.g. blogs, wikis, social networks, virtual worlds, user-generated videos, file sharing, and social media) on its home page for any interested party to read—not hidden away in the human resource or legal department. The guidelines aim to provide helpful, practical advice, but also seek to protect the company and its employees who want to explore and participate in social media.

Here is a summary of the IBM social computing guidelines, adapted to the association world:

  1. Association employees are personally responsible for the content they publish on blogs, wikis or any other form of user-generated media. Be mindful that what you publish will be public for a long time—protect your privacy.
  2. Identify yourself and speak in the first person. Give your name—and when relevant, your role at the association—when you discuss the association or association-related matters. You must make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of the association.
  3. Use a disclaimer. If you publish content to any website outside of the association's website and it has something to do with work you do or subjects associated with this organization, use a disclaimer such as: 'The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent the association's positions, strategies or opinions.'
  4. Respect copyright, fair use, and financial disclosure laws. It is critical that you respect the laws governing copyright and fair use of copyrighted material, including the association's own copyrights and brands. Never quote more than short excerpts of someone else's work. And it is good general blogging practice to link to others' work.
  5. Don't provide confidential or proprietary information belonging to the association, its members, or any other individual or entity. Ask permission to publish or report on conversations that are meant to be private or internal to the association.
  6. Don't cite or reference specific members, supplier partners, or the association's vendors without their approval. When you do make a reference, where possible, link back to the source.
  7. Respect your audience. Don't use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in the association's workplace.
  8. Be aware of your connection with this association in online social networks. If you identify yourself as an employee of this association, ensure that your profile and related content is consistent with how you wish to present yourself to colleagues and clients.
  9. Be who you are. Don't participate anonymously, using pseudonyms or false screen names. The association believes in transparency and honesty. Nothing gains you more notice in the online social media environment than honesty—or dishonesty.
  10. Don't pick fights. Be the first to correct your own mistakes, and don't alter previous posts without indicating that you have done so.
  11. Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective. The association's brand is best represented by its people, and what you publish may reflect on the association's brand.
  12. Only those officially designated by the association have the authorization to speak on behalf of the association. The association supports open dialogue and the exchange of ideas. However, when the association wishes to communicate publicly as an organization, it has well-established means to do so.
  13. The association staff should not use social media for covert marketing or public relations. If staff members of the association's communications, marketing, sales or other functions engaged in advocacy for the association have the authorization to participate in social media, they should identify themselves as such.
  14. Know the association's business conduct guidelines. If wondering whether you ought to publish something online, chances are the association's business conduct guidelines will resolve it. If after checking the business conduct guidelines you are still unsure, it is best to refrain and seek the advice of management. Ultimately, however, you have sole responsibility for what you post to a blog or publish in any form of online social media.
  15. Be thoughtful about how you present yourself in online social networks. The lines between public and private, personal and professional are blurred in online social networks. By virtue of identifying yourself within a social network as a staff member of this association, you are now connected to your colleagues, managers, and even the association's members. You should ensure that content associated with you is consistent with your work at the association.
  16. Don't forget your day job. Make sure that your online activities do not interfere with your job, completing your work, or commitments to the association's members.

In an exclusive interview coming up in the January/February 2010 issue of Association Publishing, David Meerman Scott says, "The general rule is that if your members and readers are active in Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites, then your association should be, too….The danger is that if your members are there and you aren't, then your organization and its publications will be seen as not following and participating in the biggest trends in the media and communications industries.”

Carla Kalogeridisis editorial director of Association Media & Publishing. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaKalo.


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