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Staying Social: Why Your Library Needs Social Media Policies

by on June 28, 2019

Over the last decade, social media has undoubtedly become one of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective ways to reach library patrons. A 2018 Pew Research study shows that a whopping 69% of American adults use some sort of social media, making it an appealing way to reach a wide audience. As traditional media shifts and truly local news outlets become fewer, social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have established themselves as logical places for public libraries to promote their services. 

Social media is relatively easy to publish to and free or low-cost, making it genuinely accessible to any type of organization. This ease, however, can come at a price — more and more often we hear stories of businesses dealing with fallout from a poorly thought out post.

In 2018, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, as well as companies like Miele and Dolce & Gabbana received backlash for insensitive or offensive posts. We also hear of employees accidentally posting to the wrong account, inadvertently sharing their personal thoughts to their employers’ pages. So, how can libraries avoid these difficult situations? The first defense is a strong social media policy. 

Social media policies frequently guide employees on the following:

  • Who maintains the library’s social media accounts. Will your library have a specific public relations or marketing department for social media-related tasks? Is it up to each department to promote its own services? Is posting restricted to higher-level administrators? How are absences covered?
  • What should be posted. Is there a specific brand voice your library is striving for? For example, some organizations thrive using informal, colloquial language, while others are taken seriously through more authoritative language. Should graphics follow a specific color scheme, and should routine types of posts such as program announcements follow a consistent format? A written brand strategy can also be helpful in addressing these questions.
  • How to address problems. A specific crisis response protocol is important to establish before a controversial issue arises. For example, how will your library handle negative patron comments, or a post that inadvertently offends users? What will happen if one of your library’s accounts gets hacked? Try to plan ahead in case your library is ever tasked with the question of whether or not to remove user comments or photos.
  • Security guidelines. Should two-factor authentication be enabled on the library’s accounts? Who has access to login information? Should passwords be changed regularly, and how are accounts secured when employees leave?

While employers are somewhat limited in the restrictions they may place on employees’ personal social media profiles that are maintained outside work hours, many policies request that staff explicitly state that their opinions are their own and may not necessarily reflect the official stance of their organization. For specific guidance concerning employees’ use of social media, it is always best to consult with a trusted attorney.

Other procedures to consider that may not necessarily be part of a formal policy can include the frequency and scheduling of posts, which may vary by network, and whether posts are planned ahead of time. Will your library dedicate specific days to certain types of posts? For instance, some popular routine postings include #BookfaceFriday or #ThrowbackThursday. 

Looking for some examples of strong social media policies? Check out these library and nonlibrary guidelines. Note that some organizations place their social media terms within a larger communications or internet policy. 

Some organizations have implemented public-facing policies governing user behavior on official social media accounts:

For additional help creating your own social media policy, two great resources are WebJunction and ALA.

Does your library have a social media policy, or are you thinking of creating one? Sound off or share yours in the comments! 

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