Social media guidance for our staff and members

People are often interested how we use social media as an organisation.  Here are the guidelines for staff and members. 

1. Introduction

2. Using social media outside work

3. Using social media for communication at work

4. Guidance to employees

5. Guidance for councillors: social media and meetings

6. Protocol for social media use

7. Guidance for managers

1. Introduction

Social media is a term for websites based on user participation and user-generated content.

This includes social networking sites and other sites that are centred on user interaction.

Social media can be categorised into six types: blogs; wikis; social networks; forums; podcasts; and content communities.

Our Code of Conduct provides the foundation for our guidelines for social media. The same rules that apply to your actions in general, as found in the Code of Conduct, apply to your conduct online.

We respect the legal rights of employees and, by and large, what you do on your own time is your concern. However, actions in or outside of work that affect your work performance, the work of others, or the council’s interests are a suitable focus for council policy.

 The lines between public and private, personal and professional are hazy in online social networks. This guidance covers the responsibilities of employees both inside and outside of work.

2. Using social media outside work

The personal image you project in social media may adversely reflect on the image of the authority. We recommend you:

  • Show yourself in your best light

By identifying yourself as a council employee within a social network, you are now connected to your colleagues, managers and often residents and the rest of the world. You should ensure that content associated with you is consistent with your work at the council. ·

  • Think twice

You should use mature discretion in all personal communications in social media.

When using social media for personal purposes, you must not imply you are speaking for the council.

Avoid use of the council e-mail address, logos or other council identification. Make it clear that what you say is representative of your personal views only. Where possible, include a standard disclaimer, such as: “Views here are my own and may not represent my employer”.

  • Know your obligations.

You must comply with other council policies when using social media. For example, you should be careful not to breach council confidentiality and proprietary information policies. ·

  • Show respect to all

You should be respectful of the authority and your fellow employees. Derogatory comments are always wrong.

3. Using social media for communication at work

We encourage open conversation with residents and businesses. We believe in dialogue between staff and between council staff and our residents and the rest of the world.

Such dialogue is crucial in our effort to engage with people and to support our values of openness, fairness, flexibility and teamwork.

We expect you to exercise personal responsibility whenever you participate in social media.

This includes not breaching anybody’s trust. Be sure that you are presenting accurate information and ensure nobody is misled.

Each tool and medium has proper and inappropriate uses. While we encourage all employees to join in conversations, it is important to understand what is recommended, expected and required when you discuss council-related topics.

Don’t use any social media tool without proper consideration and, in some cases, a business case. The web and communications team can offer support and advice.

4. Guidance to employees

You should:

(a) Not use any social media tool for council business unless you have received appropriate training.

(b) Abide by the Code of Conduct. If you have any uncertainty about publishing something online, this document may help. If you still don’t know if something you want to publish is appropriate, it is best to hold back and seek the advice of your line manager and the communications team. Also bear in mind our information management guidelines.

(c) Declare yourself. Some bloggers and social media users work anonymously, using pseudonyms. We discourage this in blogs or other forms of online participation that relate to the council.

We believe in transparency and honesty. If you are talking about your work, we encourage you to use your real name, be clear who you are, and identify that you work for the council.

If you have a vested interest in something you are talking about, ensure you have made this clear. What you publish will be around for a long time so consider the content carefully and also be sensible about disclosing personal details.

Write using your own voice; don’t be afraid to show your personality and talk from your own perspective.

(d) Follow copyright and data protection laws. For the council’s protection as well as your own, it is critical that you stay within the legal framework and be aware that libel, defamation, copyright and data protection laws apply.

Ask permission to publish or report on conversations that were private or internal to the council. Be aware that content on social media websites may be subject to Freedom of Information requests.

(e) Add value. Our reputation is made up in a large part by the behaviour of staff and everything you publish reflects on how we are perceived.

Social media should be used in a way that adds value to our business.

If it helps you, your co-workers, our residents or our partners to perform well and solve problems; if it enhances services, processes and policies; if it creates a sense of community; or if it helps to promote our aims, then it is adding value.

Though not directly council-related, background information you choose to share about yourself, such as information about your family or personal interests, may be useful in helping establish a relationship between you and your readers, but it is your decision to share this information. By revealing certain details you might be more vulnerable to identity theft.

(f) Not be defensive. When you see inaccuracies published about the council you may use your blog – or join someone else’s – to politely and sensitively point out the situation as you see it.

You must also advise the communications department that you have identified information that is inaccurate or could damage the reputation of the organisation.

Be the first to correct your own mistakes and don’t alter previous posts without indicating that you have done so.

(g) Be prepared for a two-way conversation. And be aware that people are entitled to their views. You must make sure that what you say is factual and avoid unnecessary or unproductive arguments.

(h) Handle offensive comments swiftly and with sensitivity. If a conversation turns and becomes offensive in terms of language or sentiment, make sure you inform your audience exactly why you have removed the comment.

A few sentences should do, along the lines of: “This comment was removed because moderators found the content offensive. I will respond to your comments but please respect the views of everybody who comes here.”

(i) React to your own mistakes and use your judgment. If you make a mistake, be up front about your error and correct it quickly.

In a blog, if you choose to modify an earlier post, make it clear that you have done so.

Remember that there are consequences to what you publish.

If you’re about to publish something that makes you uncomfortable, review the suggestions in this document. If you’re still uncertain, discuss it with your manager or with the communications team.

Ultimately, however, you have sole responsibility for what you post to your blog or publish in any form of online social media.

(j) Not forget the day job. You should make sure that your online activities do not interfere with your job or commitments to residents.

(K) Before you write anything, always refer to the social media content and etiquette: general guidance on how to post and respond.

5. Guidance for councillors: social media and meetings

We encourage councillors to keep residents informed of Monmouthshire issues and the use of social media can help with this, especially during official council meetings.

Twitter is a quick and direct way of feeding concise updates about a meeting – these principles for members are aimed at the use of Twitter but are equally applicable to other forms of social media.

Much of the behaviour expected of members using social media is covered in the Members’ Code of Conduct.

Below are some extra guidelines for councillors to consider for the use of social media during meetings.

  • Handheld devices and laptops are permitted (indeed encouraged) for use during meetings. The use of such devices is intended to improve communication during meetings – not to interrupt or distract anyone taking part. Ensure the volume on all electronic devices is turned to ‘mute’.
  • Councillors’ tweets/blogs during council meetings should refer to the discussions which are taking place at the meeting – tweeting/blogging about other subjects will show the public and other attendees at the meeting that you are not engaging properly in the meeting. ·
  • Councillors have a responsibility to take council business seriously and it is not appropriate for members to use social media to tease or insult other members. Monmouthshire residents expect debate and to be informed about council business, not witness petty arguments.

6. Monmouthshire County Council Protocol for Social Media use

1. If you already use social networks or blogs for personal use and you have indicated in any way that you work here, you should add a disclaimer that states that opinions on this site are your own.

2. If you want to start a social network or blog for council purposes such as participation, engagement and consultation about the council, you should tell your manager and consult with the communications department. This will ensure you gain the necessary information to do so effectively.

3. It is a good idea to produce a business case including details of:

  • What you wish to communicate or learn and your target audience.
  • Your aims for the social network or blog and why you think a social network or blog is the right platform for communicating your messages.
  • What other channels of communication you will use to support your use of social networks.
  • How many times a day you intend to update/check the social network or blog.
  • ·Which other officers will have access to edit the social network or blog when you are unable to update it due to sickness/annual leave.
  • How you intend to keep records of the data that you post onto your social media site or blog.
  • Your commitment to updating the social network or blog to clearly state when you no longer work for the authority or handing over the site to the person who takes over your role.
  • Your commitment to reviewing the social network or blog and providing your manager and the communications team with data to ensure the social network or blog is being used effectively.
  • Content should be reviewed regularly.

4. Remember that if you break the law using social media (for example by posting something defamatory), you will be personally responsible.

5. If a journalist contacts you about posts you’ve made using social media you should talk to your manager before responding and our communications team should be consulted.

6. All information you post using social media is subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

You also must stick to to the following principles, that are part of the our information strategy:

  • We are all responsible for keeping records.
  • All information created as part of your job role constitutes a council record and is evidence of the council’s work, and may be needed for reference by others in future.
  • All information is subject to a retention period, specifying how long it must be kept.

Guidance for Managers

1.Under these guidelines managers in each area will decide what is appropriate. They should not adopt an unnecessarily restrictive approach.

Managers should ensure that any special instructions are reasonable and explained clearly to staff.

2. Managers should bear in mind concerns about impartiality, confidentiality, conflicts of interest or commercial sensitivity.

In some cases individuals may be dealing with matters which are so sensitive that rules may have to be set on what they can and cannot talk about using social media.

(Guidance last reviewed: April 2013)




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