Many nonprofits are counting on social media more than ever to boost fundraising and build awareness. These tools have proven increasingly effective in recent years, but you need to keep in mind the very real risks to reputation that come with social media.
Employees, board members, volunteers and even unaffiliated third parties can cause significant and long-lasting damage if you don’t take appropriate steps to prevent it. Here are some measures to implement now if you haven’t already.
1. Develop a social media policy
The line between employees’ personal and work lives was already blurry, and the shift to remote work has only exacerbated this effect. This raises the risk of inappropriate (and perhaps inadvertent) posts on personal and organizational accounts. The risk is particularly high, ironically, for those employees who are most passionate about your organization and regularly promote it on their own accounts.
The best defense is a formal social media policy. The policy should set clear boundaries about the types of material that are and aren’t permissible on both kinds of accounts. For example, you should prohibit employees from posting non-public information they’ve learned on the job. Training on the policy is advisable.
While employees generally are the primary target audience for a social media policy, you should share it with board members and other volunteers. Emphasize that they could possibly harm your organization with their personal accounts. For example, if a board member’s profile information highlights his or her connection to your nonprofit, “politically incorrect” posts could reflect poorly on it.
2. Monitor, monitor, monitor
Social media is 24/7, and things can escalate quickly. So it’s critical that you devote the necessary resources to monitor your accounts and others for potentially dicey posts.
With organizational accounts, check the posts and the comments to those posts — both can go viral and create a tsunami of trouble. That said, you don’t want to get drawn into an exchange with a troll who’s posting in bad faith and simply trying to stir things up. Give your social media staff guidelines to help them determine when to engage and when to let it go. You also can establish a zero-tolerance policy for offensive comments — or disable comments altogether.
You should subscribe to a “social listening” tool, such as Sprout Social or Brandwatch, that will alert you when the name of your organization is trending on social media. These tools help you follow what people are saying about you and respond to them directly when appropriate.
3. Develop a response plan
Slip-ups, or worse, can occur despite comprehensive policies and training. Those nonprofits with a formal response plan in place will weather such events far better than those scrambling in the moment. The plan should assign responsibilities and include contact information for multiple possible spokespersons. It should identify a specific trigger when it’s time to involve the CEO or other top-level individuals. And include a list of potential responses, such as issuing a press release, sitting for interviews or bringing in a crisis management expert.
After the situation has resolved, remember to sit down and review your plan’s effectiveness. What worked, what didn’t — and how should you tweak the procedures to better respond to future occurrences?
The new normal
You can’t afford not to use social media, but you also can’t afford to suffer the reputational damage it might cause. Taking the steps above will help you reap benefits while mitigating risks.