Social Media Guidelines… Do You Need Them?

Many higher education institutions are embracing social media to benefit all aspects of the institutional goals, ranging from student learning to recruitment to operational efficiency.

Many other institutions and leaders at those institutions also want to embrace social media, but just as much as they want to embrace it, they are hesitant or afraid of the negative ramifications that social media could bring.

What if your school had a student or faculty blogging section?  What if a particular student or faculty member had a negative experience at your school and the wrote about it in your blog?

What if you allowed comments (for that truly is what makes social media – the ability to have two-way communication) and some threatening or slanderous comments were posted?

How would your school officially respond?  That’s where social media guidelines or policies become beneficial.  Those leaders who want to use social media tools and are equally hesitant of using them, could have their concerns put to rest or at least subdued with guidelines in place to provide clarity and direction on how the social media will be implemented and set terms of use that will help mitigate the risks.

I don’t believe that a school’s social media guidelines should be used to govern student’s use of social media outside the realm of the school’s infrastructure (i.e. Facebook, Flickr, etc.).  And the same goes for school staff, expect when they are acting in an official capacity – then I do believe that social media guidelines should govern a staff member’s action on social media sites.

Read a story in the Calgary Sun about a University of Calgary student that was put on probation because of some comments in Facebook.

I don’t profess to know anything about the legal system and the authority that a higher education institution should have over student’s actions outside the boundaries of the school or school’s online presence.  But I believe having as a part of the social media guidelines a section on handling similar situations would help the school be proactive and have direction in dealing with these situations instead of being reactive – because we all know that quite often reactive decisions are not always thought through.

Bottom line – you school should have a social media guidelines/policy document. The extent as to what reach your document has will be up to your institution.  Developing a social media guidelines document, may just be what your school’s senior leaders need to feel more comfortable about going down the social media journey.