Last week, I had the honor of doing a mini workshop at the annual BoardSource Conference called “Governing the Networked Nonprofit in An Age of Social Media” where I had an opportunity to share some ideas on social media culture, transparency, and simplicity from the Networked Nonprofit, co-authored with Allison Fine. I did a book raffle at the end of the session and Tara Veliz and Alex Hildesvend were the lucky winners.
With almost 100 people in the room, I started the session asking folks to shout out the first two words that came to mind when they thought about social media. As expected, I heard two themes – words that describe the power and benefits of social media and those that articulate very real concerns.
Privacy, security, and liability came up more frequently than in other sessions I’ve done which is not surprising that this group represented board members and CEOs of nonprofits and foundations. And, they’re issues not to be taken lightly. What surprised me though, was the share pair report out exercise, “What are the conversation starters about concerns that your organization needs to have to build a social media policy?” I was surprised that most of the topics were tactical and how to questions. Perhaps I didn’t ask the question well.
I started the social culture discussion with a story describing an Twitter and board meeting experiment I did back in 2008. This was a board for a private girls school just beginning to discuss social media in their marketing and communications. Part of the meeting featured the students themselves sharing how they used these tools. I did some live demonstrations including Twitter and Flickr. I posted a photo of them on Flickr and asked people on Twitter to share why they thought it was a valuable. We got 100 comments 5 minutes from nonprofit and other professionals sharing why they thought it was valuable. It was dramatic.
This lead me to ask:
Will board meetings of the future allow us to reach out to professional networks and get real-time advice and input for decision-making?
The last chapter of the Networked Nonprofit is on networked governance. We thought this would be an easy part of the book to write – all we’d have to do is find examples of how boards online, opening up decision-making to outside influences. There were no examples – so the last chapter of the book is speculative, based on the best thinking of the people who have looked at networked governance. I dreamed up some scenarios of boards and social media in practice based on my experience in 2008.
Later in the workshop, some very important policy discussion issues came up from the group. These are very real and serious issues that need to be discussed as part of policy development, training, and strategy development. On the later, the question of audience and objective and whether social media is the right channel needs to be clearly articulated. This a tricky tightrope for social social agencies that provide programs in domestic violence or work with youth. There is a fine line between the need to engage in social media to some degree and staying to true to a mission. It needs to be a very slow, intentional discussion.
Here were some of the questions:
These are concerns about the privacy, safety, and legal liability.
#1 We work for a domestic violence shelter and we are terrified to have a Facebook Page because we fear that someone might post someone’s photo and put a client in danger. (That someone includes perps or staff making a mistake)
#2 We have a suicide prevention program where people call and we’re terrified that someone will post a note on our Facebook page saying they are going to take their own life – and they post this in the middle of a night on a weekend. Do we need to be monitoring our FB page 24/7 (we don’t have the capacity to do that!)
#3 We are a youth summer program. I work directly with youth and it more efficient for me to keep in touch with kids via FB page versus getting them on the phone or email. What type of policy is needed related to me having contact with them on FB?
I don’t have answers to these questions, but if the organizations want to use social media they definitely need solid social media policies which doesn’t happen quickly. Strategy is important as well – since social media would obviously be directed at external audiences like donors or activists, not for service delivery. Although there are risks, the more community building that happens perhaps increases the chances that the community can help with monitoring. The happens in other online communities around negative comments, but here we are talking about more serious risks (physical harm to someone)
In the example of a suicide prevention program, there are automated monitoring tools that might be deployed, although these are up and coming tools. I’m not sure that an automated technology solution alone is enough. It also made me wonder about how you could parallel what happens in other channels, like the phone. Are phone volunteers trained and certified? Is there 24 hour coverage? Could this be done on Facebook or other public social media channels? I’m not suggested this as an immediate solution, but should be part of the discussion.
Also, I think the discussion needs to look at the opportunity costs of not participating – which could be the right strategy.
As I said, I don’t have the answers here. I’m very curious to hear from folks who work in agencies where service delivery has these very real and sensitive issues around privacy, protection, and liability. Here are my questions:
- Have you used social media as part of your communications or program delivery? How? How did you plan for privacy, security, and minimize risks?
- Did you look at the opportunity cost of not using social media? What did you learn?
- How has your agency addressed these issues in your social media policy?
- Any other insights, ideas, or tips to share?
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