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Do We Need a Social Media Policy?

Category: Marketing & Public Relations

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of Museum magazinea benefit of AAM membership.


It’s a good idea. Social media policies fall into two main categories: those that govern the use of social media by employees in general and those that guide the work of staff whose job it is to use social media on behalf of the organization. The first type can help to establish norms and expectations within the organization, particularly for such less experienced employees as volunteers and interns who are learning to adapt personal behaviors to a workplace environment; the second is an important part of any museum’s Web and new media strategy. Social media use has become so pervasive so quickly—and its pace of change is so rapid—that it is important to establish and maintain an ongoing conversation about its proper role in the pursuit of organizational goals as well as in the work life of individual staff members.

What should I include in my organization’s social media policy?

Policies should positively reinforce a museum’s commitment to social media and provide guiding principles for its use in accomplishing the work and mission of the organization. A governance framework should be established that facilitates adequate flexibility, experimentation and risk-taking while providing appropriate safeguards and internal controls. Policies may address a number of typical administrative concerns, such as permission to establish new accounts or represent the museum in an official capacity; mechanisms for internal collaboration and review; standards for monitoring and responding to user feedback; guidelines for preventing the release of unauthorized or sensitive information; and use of museum logos and branding. A helpful inventory of social media policies as well as analysis of best practices can be found at socialmediagovernance.com.

Do we need a dedicated social media staffer?

Opinions are split on this question. What most do agree on is that setting up social media accounts and profiles is relatively easy, but using them effectively to establish and maintain audience relationships takes real time, commitment and ability to keep up with current trends—more than an already-busy staffer can handle as an extra duty. It’s increasingly important to have someone who can take a lead role in coordinating social media efforts and setting strategy in this area for the organization. Whether or not it is a full-time job depends on the size of the museum and level of institutional commitment. The danger is in thinking that establishing such a position takes care of all social media needs for the entire organization, when it should really be seen as a collaborative effort that is embedded in the work of multiple departments.


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Matthew MacArthur, director of new media at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.,

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