social media for work: just add common sense

There's scores, aren't there? Scores of people getting saying stupid things on social media, isn't there? Actually, no. And yes, there is a common sense approach to take so you don't end up in trouble.

by Gemma Melling

I was interested to read the story about the number of police officers who have been disciplined in relation to the misuse of social media.

These stories crop up ever so often, either about the police, councils or other public bodies. I’ve seen a number of FOIs that hope to uncover some secret scandal about hundreds of public officials unable to control themselves as soon as they’re left in charge of a twitter account.

The truth is, some people say or do stupid or even offensive things sometimes. And where there is serious offence caused of course, it should be investigated – the same way as it would if it occurred offline. But these kinds of issues existed long before social media was invented – Facebook didn’t make this happen.

I was really pleased to then read this follow up piece in PR Week, which included the response from Amanda Coleman, Greater Manchester Police’s Director of Corporate Comms. It was particularly interesting to read this bit:

Amanda Coleman told PRWeek that just three of the 88 incidents investigated involved official police accounts and off-duty use was the main issue.

It’s true that social media has blurred the lines between our professional and individual personas. And I would agree that the standards we’re asked to maintain in our work life should carry on into our personal lives, especially if we’re making public statements on the internet. I think that’s common sense and good advice for anyone to follow.
Of course, we’re all human and we all make mistakes. If an organisation encourages its employees to use social media in their work and wants to enjoy the positive benefits that having actively engaged employees online can bring, they need to adopt a supportive and understanding culture. Otherwise staff won’t want to ‘take the risk’ and won’t be willing to be the online advocates you would wish them to be.
If people use their common sense and their professionalism, then, like Amanda says, there shouldn’t be too many issues. And, if we trust staff to be a representative of the organisation in person then we should be able to do the same online.

“The problems that arise are often in people’s personal use, where people will say and do things as they would while having a conversation down the pub. We have very few issues with staff trained to use social media at work.”

Often when I’m training people to use social media for work one of the things they ask is: “What if I say the wrong thing?” I just ask them whether they trust themselves to speak face to face with members of the public (of course they do) and then ask them why they would be saying something online that they wouldn’t say in person.

Gemma Melling is communications officer (media) at Knowsley Council and blogs here where this post was first published.