The BDO 2013 social media survey demonstrates the popularity of social media policies within local authorities. As many as 70% of our survey respondents report that their authority has put in place “standards/guidelines for using social media for corporate use”.
Social media policies are primarily designed to support internal council staff to ensure their online content fits in with the authorities’ wider marketing and communications strategy but recent comments from Sophie Brendell, the BBC’s head of digital communications, go a step further and encourage councils to include Councillors as well as officers in their authorities’ policies.
While Ms Brendell’s comments clearly stem from a desire to provide simple guidelines to local politicians which will limit damage to risk and reputation for both the Councillor and the authority, I am not sure that implementing formal social media policies for local politicians is the right approach.
Social media policies can help create a coherent and corporate voice for an individual or an organisation. This might work brilliantly for the office of a Leader or a City Mayor where there are multiple people using the same social media accounts – all of who may have different levels of policy knowledge and social media expertise. However social media policies are not as applicable for individual users. Attempting to reign in the voices of individual local politicians is an entirely different game, and smacks somewhat of censorship.
Social media users tend not to follow individual politicians to get corporate updates on the progress of policy and legislation. You can check political blogs and websites for these bits of information. In reality, residents follow their local representatives to get an insight into the lives and personalities of the people who are making a difference in their community. The best twitter feeds, such as that of Councillor Daisy Benson, succeed in balancing tidbits of fun personal information with more traditional campaigning messages
I would caution against including local politicians in local authority corporate social media policies. The best advice we’ve seen (to all of us really – not exclusively politicians!) is you should apply the same rules to twitter as you do to standing at the bus stop. You would look like a loon if you shouted a four letter word to strangers or ranted inappropriately at a peer and the same applies on twitter.