Social Media Defined

By Jason Kay

All the buzz anymore is about social media this, and social media that. Truth be told, social media has infiltrated our lives in a big way, and by all accounts, it looks like it’s here to stay. It’s important to government employees to keep some social media guidelines in mind, so they don’t end up having it cause problems with fellow employees or with their jobs.

Social Media Defined

Social media includes such things as blogging, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and all the other such sites that are popping up around the cyber world. With over 800 million people alone using Facebook, there’s a good chance that most government employees have signed up there as well. They may even be using several social media opportunities and creating their own websites, with all roads pointing to trouble if they are careless with what they do on these sites.

Many people do not realize the problems that can arise by haphazardly using social media tools, both on and off the job. Just scan some news headlines, and each week there are stories about how some employees have done something that ended up getting them in some hot water and having to answer to the powers that be. Rather than have to do damage control after the fact, employees should focus on following smart social media guidelines from the start.

Social Media Guidelines

Many employers, including the government, have well defined social media guidelines that they want employees to follow. Some even go so far as to have employees engage in social media training on the job, which gives them an even more in-depth look at the importance of following the guidelines.

Here are some social media tips that every government employee should follow:

  • ·         When it comes to the online world, things can be difficult to decipher and feelings and intent can be misunderstood. Often times, people will write something online, and because of the absence of body language and voice inflection, people can easily misunderstand what the person is saying. This can lead to hard feelings, as well problems between employees.
  • ·         Social media is not anonymous. Many people mistakenly believe that the Internet provides anonymity, but that’s just not the case. There are ways to track down the information to find the source from where comments originated.
  • ·         It’s important to always use good judgment when using social media tools. This goes for whether you are acting as an individual or on behalf of the government. As such, keep things in mind like any photos posted and comments made. In other words, you may want to skip the pictures of you partying down on a Saturday night while wearing a bikini and covering yourself with whipped cream.
  • ·         Make sure that you read, and understand, your department’s social media guidelines and policies. If you have questions, or if there is something unclear, ask questions so there are no issues that arise later on from the uncertainty.
  • ·         Although freedom of speech exists and some people may feel they can make comments about their employer, boss, or co-workers, it doesn’t mean there won’t be any repercussions. In all likelihood, there will be some problems that arise if you do engage in writing negative or hurtful things. Even if they cannot outright let you go for what you said, it could mean you will get passed up for possible promotions or there may just be bad feelings with co-workers.
  • ·         It’s important to always know copyright laws. Once you know what you can use, borrow, and need to pay for, always be sure to follow it in order to keep yourself out of trouble. Copyright laws cover both images used online, as well as verbiage.
  • ·         Another issue that many people like employees to keep in mind is that they should maintain confidentiality about their work and fellow employees. This means they should not post photos of the people without their permission.
  • ·         Always take responsibility for what it is that you put online through the use of social media. If you used poor judgment and put something on there that you shouldn’t have, own up to it and apologize. You should also do what you can to remove it.
  • ·         If you are using social media for work purposes, you will most likely have additional rules you will need to follow. These may include everything from how your boss prefers things be written, to image usage, and how often they would like things posted. Be sure to know and follow these protocols. If you feel there is a problem with one of them, or have an idea for something better, be sure to discuss it with those in charge.
  • ·         Always be transparent when you are using social media, especially if you are doing so for your job. Let people know who you are and where you work. If you are responding to something outside of work that people may confuse for a work related position, add a short disclaimer that states your opinion is no reflection upon or is not associated with your job.

Harnessing the Power

Social media tools have become so popular because they can be fun, entertaining, and can bridge the gap between people who haven’t spoken in decades. They can also be effective tools for businesses, helping them to keep in contact with their target audience and employees and to promote their business. Those employees who don’t get hung up in the negatives associated with social media tools and that focus on harnessing the power that it offers, will help strengthen their position within the government, rather than weaken it.

There is no reason to fear social media completely. Again, it is here to stay. But just like there were rules for the playground when you went to recess, there are rules and guidelines that should be followed when engaging in using social media tools. The sooner that people get on board with following them, the less they will need to worry about it having a negative impact on their career or relationships with co-workers.