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A Sample Government Social Media Policy

Due to the Treasury Board’s current focus on internal social media initiatives, I have recently received an influx of requests to help public servants develop external social media engagement guidelines, particularly ones to do with blogging (lots of requests for this).

Government departments need to stop waiting for an official policy to come from TBS; It won’t anytime soon. Instead, senior leadership from within each department should be implementing their own policies, ideally consistent with other departments.

There is a growing effort on part of certain “social media activists” (internal to government) to standardize these guidelines/policies. The current GCpedia (internal government wiki) has numerous pages outlining “best practices” and sample guidelines that are ready for use.

Assuming you already have a “strategy” in place and proper resources to manage your social media tool(s) of choice, the following is a simple list of 12 guidelines originally developed by IBM and adapted by me to suit the federal government.

  1. Know and follow GOC’s Communication Policy Guidelines and the Value & Ethics Code
  2. GOC employees are personally responsible for the content they publish on blogs, wikis or any other form of user-generated media. Be mindful that what you publish will be public for a long time—protect your privacy.
  3. Identify yourself—name and, when relevant, role at GOC—when you discuss GOC or GOC-related matters. And write in the first person. You must make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of GOC.
  4. If you publish content to any website outside of GOC and it has something to do with work you do or subjects associated with GOC, use a disclaimer such as this: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent GOC’s positions, strategies or opinions.”
  5. Respect copyright, fair use and financial disclosure laws.
  6. Don’t provide others with the GOC’s confidential or proprietary information. Ask permission to publish or report on conversations that are meant to be private or internal to GOC.
  7. Don’t cite or reference clients, partners or suppliers without their approval. When you do make a reference, where possible link back to the source.
  8. Respect your audience. Don’t use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in GOC’s workplace. You should also show proper consideration for others’ privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory—such as politics and religion.
  9. Find out who else is blogging or publishing on the topic, and cite them.
  10. Be aware of your association with GOC in online social networks. If you identify yourself as a GOC employee, ensure your profile and related content is consistent with how you wish to present yourself with colleagues and clients.
  11. Don’t pick fights, be the first to correct your own mistakes, and don’t alter previous posts without indicating that you have done so.
  12. Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective. GOC’s brand is best represented by its people and what you publish may reflect on GOC’s brand.

Common sense right? Sure, but the the tricky part is enforcement, which needs work.

Another excellent related source for you is this GoC blog proposal template developed by Douglas Bastien who is an avid public servant/blogger himself. For other public sector blogging and/or corporate blogging policies, be sure to download this great IBM report: The Blogging Revolution: Government in the Age of Web 2.0.

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  1. Official GoC bloggers can blog in the language of their choice. If someone posts a comment in French, they must be able to provide a French response and vice-versa. What must be in both official languages is the skin of the blog. Otherwise, if the same rules applied as the ones that do to communications materials, instant response would be impossible.

  2. Melanie.Lamoureux

    1st, Thank you Mike for your usual advice and collaboration!
    Here is my question:
    Are these guidelines meant for public servants blogging off-duty for personal/professional purposes, or do they apply to external-facing enterprise blogging?

  3. Hey Melanie, these are suggestions only to be used as an aid in developing a business case for blogging on government time. Senior management will become less hesitant upon seeing something like this officially adhered to. Each department that is engaged in blogging currently modifies/customizes their blogging policy as necessary. Therefore to answer your question, these guidelines can apply to both.

  4. Elisheba Muturi

    These are excellent ideas applicable to all levels of government. I have just been looking at the EPA blogging guidelines and your posting is most timely. I am trying to sell social media as a public education tool in the BC public service but it can be intimidating to create a convincing business case. Should your travels bring you to the west coast, I would be delighted to connect with you.

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