Social Media Guidelines. Got any?

Agile Planning

After the first steps in Social Media, most organizations realize it’s time to get organized. Instead of every staff doing their own thing on the social web, organizations strive to speak with one coherent voice while preserving authenticity. This is where Social Media Guidelines (SMG) come in.

The SMG provide a framework that serves to provide direction for all social media activities. (And what on the web isn’t social these days?) They protect the company from rogue Facebookers, and they protect employees from their boss’ wrath.

Below I’ll list a few Social Media Guidelines that I find well-written, plus from a diverse set of organizations from non-profit to corporate to military. Please not that instead of “guidelines” they could also be called “social media policy”, “social computing guidelines”, “rules of engagement” or something completely different. What we’re looking at here is a document that helps define the rules for all activities regarding social media.

The list below is what I sent to a non-profit that had contacted me about drafting Social Media Guidelines – it seemed like the list might be useful for others as well:

  1. Laurel Papworth’s List of 40 Social Media Staff Guidelines. One of the classic compilations. Plenty of food for thought here.
  2. Intel Social Media Guidelines: A classic. Well written, knowledgeable, focusing on the practicalities.
  3. IBM Social Computing Guidelines: What’s great here is that there is an executive summary outlining the basic rules of engagement, but also a lengthier, in-depth discussion right below.
  4. American Red Cross Social Media Guidelines: Very detailed presentation that goes beyond just Social Media Guidelines. It’s more like a tutorial for your staff. Great stuff.
  5. Social Media Policy des österreichischen Roten Kreuz: The Austrian Red Cross have both their guidelines as well as some more background on their website. Brownie points for also covering the potential issue of private vs business engagement as well as political statements. The only one in the list that’s in German.
  6. Rochester Institute of Technology: What RIT provides here isn’t really a guideline, but rather an overview of which group inside the organization uses which social media channel. The Alumni Association? On Facebook and Twitter. The department of Software Engineering? You won’t find them on Twitter, but they’re on Facebook and YouTube. And so on. Very, very useful both internally and for external partners.
  7. LA Times Social Media Guidelines : The LA Times Social Media Guidelines provide guidance not just for external communication but also for their own reporters and how they deal with information acquired through Social Media channels.
  8. New Zealand State Services Commission: Principles for Interaction with Social Media: This document is basically a reminder that state servants have to act responsibly when engaging in Social Media just like in their offline workdays. Obviously state servants play a special role, and special rules apply. Don’t ask what your country can do for you in Social Media, but what you can do for your country’s engagement in Social Media!
  9. US Air Force: Social Media Triage: This diagram shows how the US Air Force reacts to blog comments and other social media feedback. (I stumbled over the diagram in this great presentation by Altimeter first.) A simple, yet effective diagram that can guide your staff through the process of reacting to external reactions. Very well done, like so much of the USAF’s online activities.
  10. Social Media Richtlinien: An example of Social Media Guidelines in German, from Short and sweet.

Copy & paste or write your own – just make sure they reflect your organization’s core values and you don’t over-regulate. Instead of trying to think of everything up front make sure to re-visit the guidelines regularly and, if necessary, tweak them. It’s not rocket science. It really isn’t.

Image: Agile Planning, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial (2.0) image from 7855449@N02’s photostream


Because the sector I’m in in The Day Job (pharma) is a heavily regulated one, social media is a difficult topic. eg. Companies can try and use social media for brand awareness but not for selling products (all side effects etc must be noted in any advertising, which doesn’t fit on a tweet or google ad). The regulating authorites (eg. FDA, EMA, BfARM etc) do keep an eye on it and a lot of companies have received fines and cease-and-desist notifications for overstepping these bounds.

The FDA is working on a policy (a bit of an intro here: but it’s proving to be tough. Have you had any interaction with regulated sectors, or have any opinions/ideas on it?

The point you are raising is great, and I have to admit I didn’t factor that in. I haven’t worked with clients in a space that is as heavily regulated as health & pharma, and I fully agree that this really complicates things.

I’d love to hear more about your experiences in this space. Off the top of my head I’d assume that it would be possible to get to a basic level of engagement before touching on those regulations (stay away from answering direct product questions etc), but if that’s practical is an open question.

One example of a sector that is very heavily regulated indeed but quite active in social media is the military, the US military in particular. The US Air Force is an example that’s used in many a social media presentation as a best practice for the clear rules and processes in a complex environment. (See this fairly recent link: Air Force Writes Book On Social Media Protocol.)

I’d love to hear more from those out there who dabble in social media for their employers in industries that are very regulated. If you can, please share your experiences here, or directly with me. Thanks!

Hi Peter,

thanks for having us on the list of your 10 examples. Feels good, that someone out there is actually reading what we put together to help everyone in the company.

best regards, paul

btw: If you want to stop by for a coffee sometime, feel free to drop me a line.

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