As digital platforms expand to include (and blur) both public and private discourse social media policy can help establish some ground rules. Municipalities are brushing up against an unavoidable problem: managing their public image in digital spaces. This expansion affects agencies across city government in varying ways:
- Law enforcement officials must actively gain the trust of the public.
- The legal branches must be able to protect confidential information.
- The legislative offices must maintain the polish of approval to accomplish goals on the legislative agenda.
However, a city must trust its government to serve its citizens, and one way to cultivate trust is to maintain a reputable image.
Today, public trust is increasingly negotiated and questioned online far faster and with greater frequency than ever. Social media platforms have become the digital town square where public opinion forms, fundamentally changing how a municipality engages in discourse with its citizenry.
To that end, the nature of the job has changed; it is imperative that personnel in workplaces, municipal or private, understand the implications of their actions in public digital spaces. Just as it is a standard practice to expect city employees to be exemplary citizens within their communities, it is perfectly reasonable to extend those expectations into digital spaces as well. One of the simplest ways to set clear expectations is by having 1) a clear, definable social media policy and 2) mechanisms in place to uphold those policies. Here’s what we mean:
Creating a healthy workplace begins with good policy
For municipalities, each agency’s policy is not only a list of “do’s and don’ts”; it’s an ethical document that demonstrates an agency’s values. Policy has the power to address and influence an agency’s culture, and agency culture, in turn, can affect the public–for better or for worse. A social media policy is successful when grounded by its code of ethics. It resonates with an agency’s mission–for example, to engage with the public safely and deliver the best service possible. Employees function best when they understand why a policy exists and how they benefit from it. Understanding that a social media policy protects an individual employee and preserves the whole workplace’s integrity is essential to integrate a social media clause into agency policy successfully. This organic approach can be an invaluable assist in preventing toxic behavior that poisons workplace culture and alienates public trust.
Consistency + Policy + Documentation = Actionable
A municipality knows better than most that policy is most successful when actively enforced. When it comes to creating a social media policy, consistency is everything. It strengthens the efficacy of the process and helps maintain an internal culture of integrity and accountability that is integral to a functioning agency.
What makes a policy actionable? First, consistency plus policy and documentation equal an actionable process. An actionable policy for an agency defines the nature of social media posts, clearly states what is not permissible, and outlines consequences and disciplinary procedures for infractions. Is it ever appropriate to post photos taken while on the job? What about politically or racially charged language, as seen in firings over social media?
Documentation may be the trickiest part of this process. For a social media policy to function efficiently, an agency must ensure that dozens, hundreds, or thousands of employees maintain department standards in digital spaces. As a steady stream of social media firing stories (see here and here) create PR disasters for local municipalities across the country, how can an agency afford to stay ahead of the game? Enter social media screening, an efficient way to leverage web and social data to maintain department policy throughout the employee lifecycle. By utilizing a social media screening service, an agency can quickly screen candidates as a prerequisite for employment and oversee current personnel’s public social data for intolerance, violence, or other acts that violate agency policy.
Create a social media policy to ensure enforcement
Enforcing a social media policy via a screening service requires infrastructure to be a viable, compliant process. An agency must first have a permissible purpose and require disclosures and authorization as required by the FCRA. Similarly, an agency must also plan for adverse action, consumer disputes, reinvestigations, and reasonable policies and procedures concerning accuracy. As a CRA, Social Intelligence works with public agencies directly and through our partnerships to provide support and direct handling of this process. A social media policy can be a powerful mechanism for building public trust, managing perception, and even cleaning up workplace culture with the right tools.
By meeting employees where they are engaging, municipalities have a rare opportunity to engage with their constituencies on a large scale by implementing simple, straightforward, broad policy. Just like a single individual’s social media following can influence hundreds or thousands, maintaining a city’s professional image at the individual level can have a simple, practical ripple effect in how the public perceives a municipality wholesale.