DRAFT V0.1 – social media and online participation policy and guidelines

UPDATED -April 2010 – Revised version of Social Media Policy and Guidance now published


As part of the formal consultation and feedback that i am doing internally, i thought it woudl be helpful to share and invoke comments from anyone with regard a draft policy/guidelines for social media and online participation.

There are some links to internal intranet pages which are obviously not available via this blog

This is a draft version v0.1 and i would welcome any comments. I have intentionally tried to keep this short and focused as i want it to be readable by all staff and not a traditional long winded policy.


‘Social media’ is the term commonly given to websites and online tools which allow users to interact with each other in some way – by sharing information, opinions, knowledge and interests. As the name implies, social media involves the building of communities or networks, encouraging participation and engagement.


These principles apply to your online participation and sets out the standards of behaviour expected as an employee of the Council. Remember, you should participate in the same way as you would with other media or public forums such as giving presentations.

  1. Be professional; remember that you are an ambassador for your organisation. Wherever possible, disclose your position as a representative of your directorate, department or team.
  2. Be responsible, be honest at all times and when you gain insight; share it with others where appropriate.
  3. Be credible, be accurate, fair, and thorough and make sure you are doing the right thing.

Always remember that participation online results in your comments being permanently available and open to being republished in other media.

Never give out personal details like home address and phone numbers.

Also be aware that you may attract media interest in you as an individual, so proceed with care whether you are participating in a business or a personal capacity. If you have any doubts, take advice from your line manager.

Stay within the legal framework and be aware that libel, defamation, copyright and data protection laws apply.

You are accountable, you should not disclose information, make commitments or engage in activities on behalf of the Council unless you are authorised to do so. This authority may already be delegated or may be explicitly granted depending on you circumstances.

General Guidelines

Blogs are perhaps the most well known example of social media, but the term encompasses other platforms. Examples include podcasts, ‘wikis’ (such as Wikipedia), message boards, social bookmarking websites (such as del.icio.us), social networking websites (such as facebookbebo, MySpace) and content sharing websites (such as flickr, YouTube).

‘Social media’ can be referenced in a variety of ways, often depending on which sector is discussing it. Other terms which may be used in a similar context include ‘social software’, ‘social computing’ and ‘Web 2.0’. For convenience we use ‘social media’ throughout.

The growing popularity of social media has attracted the attention of companies and individuals who believe that these platforms open up new opportunities for communication. The opportunities are indeed there, as are the pitfalls. The following guidelines are there to provide you with information to make responsible decisions and to get the best out of the tools available.

Whether or not a DCC employee chooses to create or participate in a blog, wiki, online social network or any other form of online publishing or discussion is his or her own decision. However, emerging online collaboration platforms are fundamentally changing the way DCC employee’s work and engage with each other, customers and our partners.

People have been dismissed because of their online activities. While such cases may be rare, it is important as an employee to be aware that posting information about your company can not be isolated from your working life. Any information published online can be accessed around the world within seconds and will be publicly available for all to see.

As an employee, you should take the following into consideration when using social media:

  1. Know and follow DCC’s Employee Code of Conduct.
  2. Understand your responsibilities identified in the Social Media and Online Participation Principles and Policy
  3. Don’t forget your day job. You must ensure that your online activities do not interfere with your job, your colleagues or commitments to customers.
  4. DCC Employee’s 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.
  5. Identify yourself-name and, when relevant, role at DCC-when you discuss DCC or DCC related matters.  And write in the first person. You must make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of DCC.
  6. If you publish content to any website outside of DCC and it has something to do with work you do or services associated with DCC, use a disclaimer such as this: “The views expressed here are my own and don’t necessarily represent the views of the County Council.”
  7. Respect copyright, fair use and financial disclosure laws.
  8. Ask and seek permission to publish or report on conversations that are meant to be private or internal to DCC. Don’t cite or reference customers, partners or suppliers without their approval. When you do make a reference, where possible link back to the source.
  9. Respect your audience. Don’t use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in the workplace. You should also show proper consideration for others’ privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory-such as politics and religion.
    See acceptable behaviour policy and equality and diversity policy
  10. Be aware of your association with DCC in online spaces. If you identify yourself as a DCC employee, ensure your profile and related content is consistent with how you wish to present yourself with colleagues and customers.
  11. 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.
  12. Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective. DCC’s brand is best represented by its people and what you publish may reflect on DCC’s brand.

Guidelines for Blogging/Bloggers

  1. If you already have a personal blog or website which indicates in any way that you work at DCC you should tell your manager.
  2. If you want to start blogging, and your blog/website will say that you work for DCC you should tell your manager.
  3. If your blog makes it clear that you work for DCC, it should include a simple and visible disclaimer such as “The views expressed here are my own and don’t necessarily represent the views of the County Council.””.
  4. Find out who else is blogging or publishing on the topic, and cite them.
  5. Don’t reveal confidential information. This might include aspects of DCC policy or details of internal DCC discussions. Again, consult your manager if you are unclear about what might be confidential.
  6. You should not use your blogs to attack or abuse colleagues. You should respect the privacy and the feelings of others. Remember that if you break the law on your blog (for example by posting something defamatory), you will be personally responsible.
  7. If you think something on your blog or website gives rise to concerns about a conflict of interest and in particular concerns about impartiality or confidentiality this must be discussed with your manager.
  8. If someone offers to pay you for blogging this could constitute a conflict of interest and you must consult your manager.
  9. If someone from the media or press contacts you about posts on your blog that relate to the DCC you should talk to your manager before responding. The relevant DCC press office must be consulted.
  10. You are allowed to update your personal blog from a DCC computer at work, under the DCC Social Media and Online Participation Policy.

Guidelines 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 on blogging 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 on their personal blog.
  3. Those involved in press must take particular care to ensure that they do not undermine the integrity or impartiality of DCC or its output on their blogs. For example those involved in factual areas should not advocate a particular position on high profile controversial subjects relevant to their areas.

Guidelines for Social Networks, Discussions forums, wikis etc

  1. Use the privacy settings available – 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 entirely your choice whether to share this information.
  2. Ask permission before posting someone’s picture in a social network or a conversation that was meant to be private
  3. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, but do so respectfully. This includes not only the obvious (no ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, etc.) but also proper consideration of privacy and of topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory-such as politics and religion
  4. Under no circumstance should offensive comments be made about DCC colleagues on the Internet.  This may amount to cyber-bullying and could be deemed a disciplinary offence.
  5. It is not advisable to invite customers to become your friends in social networking sites for business purposes. There maybe a conflict of interest and security and privacy issues (see notes)
  6. Use your best judgment. Remember that there are always consequences to what you publish. If you’re about to publish something that makes you even the slightest bit uncomfortable, review the suggestions above and think about why that is
  7. Ensure that your entries, articles or comments are neutral in tone, factual and verifiable. In addition, there are usually guidelines in sites such as wikipedia on adding links. Read the guidelines carefully before submitting or editing an article.
  8. If staff members edit online encyclopedias at work the source of the correction will be recorded as a DCC IP address.  The intervention may therefore look as if it comes from DCC itself.  DCC staff should therefore act in a manner that does not bring DCC into disrepute and should not post derogatory or offensive comments on any online encyclopedias
  9. When correcting errors about DCC, we should be transparent about who we are.  We should never remove criticism of DCC.  Instead, we should respond to legitimate criticism.  We should not remove derogatory or offensive comments but must report them to the relevant administrators for them to take action.
  10. Before editing an online encyclopedia entry about DCC, or any entry which might be deemed a conflict of interest, DCC staff should consult the house rules of the site concerned and, if necessary, ask permission from the relevant wikieditor.  They may also need to seek advice from their line manager.

NOTES: If you wish to use these platforms for business purposes such as participation, engagement and consultation with young people please refer to the supplementary policy and guidance

Guidelines for Video and Media sharing

  1. Ensure that all video and media (including presentations) are safe to share and do not contain any confidential or derogatory information.
  2. If the content is official and corporate DCC content then it must be labeled and tagged as such and must not be affiliated with an individual.
  3. Individual work must be labeled and tagged as such and where appropriate a disclaimer used.

Guidelines for email and instant messaging etc

The following is in addition to the email standards specified in the Customer Service and Communicating Clearly Standards (plain English)

This section describes how to structure and format outgoing emails. This serves to:

  • ensure quality of email across different email clients
  • prevent the abuse of email applications by 3rd-party spammers, which might result in DCC email being blacklisted (as an open relay)
  • prevent abuse of the DCC email system to send offensive emails
  • prevent emails which purport to come from (impersonate) DCC staff

1.       All email headers MUST contain a valid DCC ‘From’ header email address, through which problems can be resolved. A ‘Reply-To’ header may be used if you wish to have genuine user replies delivered to a different email address.

2.       Every email MUST include a ‘Subject’ header appropriate to its purpose and content; and clearly indicate the email is from the DCC.

If sending email in HTML format:

1.       You SHOULD test the rendering of HTML email in the most popular email clients.

2.       You MUST have the correct headers (MIME types), at the very least, including:

a.       Content-Type: text/html

b.      MIME-Version: 1.0


16 thoughts on “DRAFT V0.1 – social media and online participation policy and guidelines

  1. Hey Carl

    WoW! THis is looking good. Like Jeremy I have only scanned at the moment but I will have a slower look to give more feedback once I have a moment.

  2. Very comprehensive – I’ve more than skimmed, but not read word for word. I think there are some improvements possible to remove duplications and tidy up.

    If it’s a policy that everyone has to read and agree to then I think it probably needs radically cutting. Not sure how much of the definition of what blog is and examples should be in a policy document (if you do want something in this doc then move first 3 paras of general guidelines into intro) I would prefer linking off to elsewhere, so can easily be changed or added to (perhaps leaving just a basic list in this doc?).

    The principles section I like as it’s concise and clear, but all those points are then covered again in the general guidelines list.

    I can see pros and cons for having separate guidance for the different types, it does seem to introduce unnecessary duplication.

    Does email really belong in this document? surely ‘corporate’ email would only be sent through the council’s infrastructure on approved software. Also title mentions instant messaging but there don’t seem to be any references to it.

    Hope these initial thoughts are useful.

  3. Nice work Carl,

    I’ve been drafting a set here in Oz for my agency, but the thoroughness of your draft leaves it for dead.

    Will you be sharing the final?

    I’d love to use it as a model (with necessary adaptions to strine)

    Some comments:
    You should link it to the participation guidelines for the UK government. You’ve clearly drawn from these – linking to them provides additional weight to the importance of your guidelines.

    Email should possibly be separated out into a different policy. It’s a different type of medium – and has a different audience (everyone uses it, while only certain people will use social media).

    Use less words – particularly in numbered text.

    General guidelines starts off talking about blogs. This is a little off-topic – focus on the guidelines, and place blog info in a ‘definitions’ or similar section.

    The part about dismissal, etc should also be moved out of general guidelines – maybe into an intro section (Why you should read this policy (ergo if you do not you could lose your job))



  4. Thanks Craig, yes i will be sharing the final version. I agree with you about email, i think there is a clear difference and i don’t want this policy and guidelines to be held back because of the email aspect.

    Agree should make more links to existing stuff where appropriate and this gives wider context and relavance.


  5. Thank you for this! I have been researching for a manual like this all morning and yours is essentially what was needed.

    If you have completed another version, I would love to view it! Thanks again!

  6. Thank you for sharing this comprehensive guide. We are moving toward promoting our social media activities but need to have the ducks in a row.

    I disagree with Seb Crump about defining blogs, etc.; establishing a baseline is important when setting policy. Every one needs to be on the same page. I would bet many of the staff here do not really know what a blog is – apart from all of the scary stuff they hear in the news

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