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Social Media Policy

Social media guidelines: 5 essential elements for success

Discover what makes for good social media guidelines


How your organisation uses and controls social media strongly depends on its “personality”. But research by Thomas More University College Mechelen (Memori) in Belgium has identified 5 common elements found in the best examples of successful policies.

  1. Explain

Be clear about why guidelines are required and who they are for (all employees, only officials communicating via official channels, political spokespersons). Also explain what you want social media (and the guidelines) to achieve.

Ideally, your social media policies and guidelines should help employees to use social media correctly and effectively. Sometimes you may need to add extra guidelines for specific user groups.

  1. Be clear

Although the personal use of social media in the workplace can be restricted, research shows that staff members are more committed and productive in organisations that allow the use of social media. And even if you block Facebook and Twitter, people can always use their smartphones!

You may want to compromise with partial restrictions:

  • Let staff access social groups of similar employees (e.g. everyone in the communications department)

  • Block access to certain social media (Facebook, Netlog, etc.) but allow it for others (e.g. Wikis, LinkedIn, etc.)

  • Restrict use to certain periods of time (e.g. from 12 to 2pm and after 5pm)

  • Permit use only during lunch breaks

  1. Strategy

Don’t set up a municipal social media presence because you want to follow the latest trend. You must use these channels for a specific purpose: to support the workings of your organisation. Know your specific objectives. Do you want social media to promote and market your city and its activities? Do you want to communicate better in a crisis? Do you want to enter into dialogue and discussion with a target group?

  1. Deploy

  • Explain how employees will be able to use social media as part of their everyday work

  • Show how they can select the best channels for any external communication

  • Describe how social media channels will be monitored (perhaps centrally, or at a departmental level) and how this information will be used

Find a balance between devolved responsibility and central accountability.

  1. Guide

Effective use of social media requires users to exercise good judgement. Cumbersome workflows and approval processes prevent the natural spontaneity which is at the heart of social media.

Guidelines and policies should provide employees with a mental checklist they should work through before making any content live. Training helps them to interpret the guidelines in everyday and tricky situations.

As employees have to be trusted to use social media well, they need to be empowered to make decisions, but know when to seek advice of colleagues or refer situations to higher management.

“Exercise good judgement”


Next steps

Fancy Facebook? Analyse your municipality’s digital maturity and readiness for social media

Further reading

  • Article: Social Media Policy

  • Facebook guidelines - Karlstad

  • Facebook guidelines - Groningen


Marijke Lemal, Head of Research, Thomas More Media & Business School, Belgium. Email:

Thomas More University College in Mechelen, Belgium, is an academic partner in the Opening Up project. Thomas More researchers are able to offer broad perspectives on social media and open data.