Social Media Policies In The Journalism World

Social Media Policies In The Journalism World

May 8, 2012

The social media world has exploded the past few years, which has left many businesses scrambling to construct a social media policy for its employees.

For media outlets, social media is a great way to reach the consumer and make their reporters more relatable. Journalists usually post about stories that they might be following or reporting on, but also do hold a social life outside of the office and they might also interact with friends and post topics that are not related to their journalistic field.

Derrick Docket, the Director of New Media and Technology for the Missouri Valley Conference, believes that most followers should know what to expect when following a journalist.

“Most people use common sense and know who they are following and what to expect. I’ve always been of the mindset that its ok to have a personality on social networks…that’s why they are called “social.” I think a key is to not over-do it and to make sure that you aren’t offending anyone in the process. One of my twitter rules has always been “if you can’t say it out loud or to someone face-to-face, then you probably shouldn’t tweet it.”

The Des Moines Register’s Tommy Birch echoes Docket’s comments on how to find the balance on what to post.

“It’s tough at times understanding the proper balance,” commented Birch. “On one hand, you want to be able to engage with readers on a personal basis. On the other hand, you need to make sure it is always on a professional level and typically pertaining to work. Over time, I think I’ve developed the proper balance. The basic rule of thumb for me is, if I have any doubt if it is appropriate or not, I don’t Tweet it.”

Birch, a sports journalist for the Register, explained a scenario where he had to debate on posting about a subject he was covering.

“John Walters, a respected journalist and friend from WOI, recently announced that he was leaving his post as the sports director at the station,” said Birch. “John is a close friend and someone I’ve had the honor to work side-by-side with. Because I knew him and the announcement came as a surprise, I was asked by my editor to call John and write a very quick story. Throughout the night, I noticed lots of fellow reporters Tweeting to John congratulating him on the job. As a friend, I wanted to address it as well. As a journalist, I knew that it would not look appropriate to readers if I was writing a story and Tweeting personal thoughts to John. In the end, I opted not to.”

However, many media outlets have not established a formal social media policy. Neither the MVC or the Des Moines Register have set up a formal social media policy for their employees to follow. Many, including Birch, say the best policy is to use common sense.

“A number of us have our Twitter accounts plugged in the paper, encouraging readers to follow us,” said Birch. “In that case, we need to be extremely careful about what we are tossing out there. It’s a wide rage of people that are following us, from kids to adults. The slightest thing can offend a reader and while we’re not just representing ourselves, we’re also Tweeting on behalf of the Des Moines Register.”

A camaraderie exists between journalists, as everyone interviewed said they are not afraid to tell a co-worker to tone down their social media posts.

“We’re all on a team,” said Birch. “In this day in age, everyone is always watching what we’re doing, what we’re writing, what we’re Tweeting, and what we’re posting. What we have to remember is that we’re not just representing ourselves, but the company. If the company is shown in a negative light, that could effect whether or not people are interested in our product.”

Paul Kirk, the athletic communications director at Drake University, says Drake athletics has looked at establishing a social media policy for Drake athletes and employees, but is hesitant due to some potential dangers.

“The most difficult part is not drafting a formal social media policy, but deciding whether to do one at all,” commented Kirk. “The sands are shifting so rapidly that it’s sometimes more dangerous to put specific parameters on paper that you must then be held to.”

Docket also believes that the social media world is one that is constantly evolving and journalists have to be conscious of the changes.

“As social media evolves, we must change the ways that we use it,” commented Docket. “Twitter is a way to deliver timely messages and updates to users. Facebook is a way to connect with fans and consumers and to develop relationships. Other social networks are becoming popular each day. And with all of this, there continue to be mistakes made all the time. It’s easy to let emotions take over and it might sound like a basic line of thinking, but it pays to take a step back and to think before you post that message that causes you to think twice.”