The dearth of social media policy development

There is no doubt that social media is changing the way we communicate with one another, at work, at home and on the road. It is also changing our information practices and behaviors. I just finished collaborating with two librarians on a paper about a social media topic for libraries–social cataloging–that was drafted on a wiki (an early draft of which is here). I bookmark sites I find interesting or want to revisit with delicious frequently, and occasionally with vigor. Twitter has changed the way people communicate with their friends, and their colleagues (pdf). Google Wave is threatening to overthrow email as we know it, and has potential to even seep into other lines of professional work as complex as clinical practice. Many get our news from @ccnbrk or @guardiannews or @nytimes.

Why is it then that so few institutions have drafted acceptable use policies for their employees or students? We have heard the stories of tweets gone wrong, from jurors tweeting from the courtroom, to students threatening one another, to employers denying interviewees an opportunity because of some raunchy pictures on facebook.

Of course no amount of policy or rule drafting is going to solve everyone’s problems, nor can it control individual users determined to overshare, act out, or blow the whistle, and should not be written to stifle social media use. In the sports world, policy documents have come into place from the NFL and NBA that focus largely on banning certain behavior, instead of encouraging appropriate use. This is reactive policy, seemingly drafted in response to inappropriate social media behavior, and highlights the need for policies and procedures to be in place before something truly harmful happens. What policies can and should establish is a set of positive and encouraging guidelines on how to use social media to the maximum benefits for oneself and for the institution(s) with which one is are associated.

Again, encouraging policy and appropriate use can’t and won’t control users at the individual level, but at least it establishes examples of appropriate use that can help illuminate appropriate and positive social media use (especially for those users unfamiliar with the concept of social media to begin with), and also provides a fallback for an institution that finds themselves in a sticky situation with someone who is, for example, facebooking nasty things about their boss. Right now, it is possible to argue “Where does it say I can’t call my boss a wanker online?” That is, of course, common sense to you and me, but not everyone is as rational and smart as us, you see.

Libraries are in the same boat. We have users and staff and librarians and faculty and students all out there in the wide world of the web, with hardly anything but Elyssa Kroski’s recent School Library Journal article on social media policy. In it, she cites seven existing library policies. Seven. And from libraries that I’ve hardly heard of. There has been enough discussion of Library 2.0 in the literature for it to now be on the radar that best practices and appropriate use need to be at the forefront of any library’s online initiatives. So much of the hard work and stumbling blocks of social media use have been codified already, it is time to move on and write the page on how to make your library’s social media presence clear and unified.


7 thoughts on “The dearth of social media policy development

  1. Everytime I sign on to my computer at work I have to agree to a Responsible Use policy as does every student, staff and faculty member who works here. That goes for the computers in the labs, libraries and offices, and if you’re accessing the wireless network as well.


    1. You’re right, but that is pretty broad internet use policy. “Don’t look at porn, don’t commit hate crimes, etc.,” right? It doesn’t, as I would like to see, provide familiarity, encouragement and positive use examples for tools that users may (or may not) be unfamiliar with as social media. Appropriate internet behavior is indeed important, but it is also something that is more widely understood. Social media, because of their relative recent emergence, present another challenge entirely in my opinion.

      Telling employees and students broadly to not use the work network to download movies is one thing; fostering an understanding of what is appropriate for posting on an organizational Facebook page, or what you should and maybe shouldn’t tweet about after work (or at the Christmas party), is another.


  2. I’ve been meaning to respond to this for a bit. I wanted to point out a set of key messages (not a policy, exactly) that SFU has put out about social networking. Its focus is more on privacy concerns, but they’re really related.


  3. I completely agree that there is a lack of policy existing in libraries regarding social media. I am sure the liobrary I work at has not even thought about a policy related to this. We are very concerned with copyright policies, policies regarding what is appropriate behaviour inside a library, but policies related to appropriate behaviour of social media tools seems to be forgotten. So often our policies come across as “you can’t do this”, or “you shouldn’t be doing that”, but why can’t policies be worded in a way that say “we encourage….” Why are we so set in negative ways? Maybe it is easier to create policies that say what our staff and patrons cannot and should not be doing, rather than creating policies that require more thought in order to word them in the positive. As social media makes its way into all aspects of libraries in the future, maybe these policies will be more widely created, hopefully they will be worded in the positive.


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