HollyToday is the continuation of my 6 Days of Christmas for Managing Digital Communications! For the next 4 Days I’ll be recommending what I feel are the most valuable tools or concepts for social media and digital campaigns.

On this first day of Christmas I recommend to you: Establish a Terms of Agreement for Users who Post on Social Media Sites

DoD Social Media Hub

Perhaps I’m a little prejudiced since I worked for two different Department of Defense entities (US Army & The Marines), but I think the Department of Defense has the best user agreement for social media around. The reason why I think it’s the best around is because it clearly spells out what they expect of users who use their social media sites. Users can access this Agreement any time, whether on the DoD hub, Facebook Notes, or in the info sections of pages. Your use of any aspect of the websites will constitute your agreement to comply with these rules. If you cannot agree with these rules, they urge you not to use the websites. (View policy here).

Before you get worried, this user agreement does not allow government entities to restrict free speech. It simply tells users what will and will not be tolerated on their online communities. The primary way I’ve seen the user agreement work is with limiting the amount of hate speech and vulgarity that occurs on the site. It also allows the agencies to delete any links to advertisements and endorsements, which are not allowed to appear on government sites because they might show the endorsement of a brand or product or religious/political belief. When I worked with the Marines, one way we adapted the user agreement was to say that discussions on topics not related to the Marine Corps, military, government, military families, etc. are discouraged. We did this by sticking to the idea that our sites “strive to provide our audience with perspective on Marine Corps news and information while maintaining an issue driven, principle based and audience focused conversation online.” Some may not agree with this approach, but we used it because often times we would see people coming on talking about topics that were not relevant, often repeating posting of the same topic, and causing fans to get angry that the site was used for reasons other than showing support and learning about the Marine Corps. After all, it’s your site, you hold the right to say what you would like discussions to focus on.

There’s a couple of reasons why your organization should have a user agreement, the first and foremost being that having a clear policy will let users know what you expect of them while they use your online communities. Having defined rules will help your customer engagement because users will respect you for being clear and forthright about what you will tolerate. Of course, having a user agreement also means you MUST follow it. Users will notice when you slack, and they will expect you to uphold the decorum you set in the beginning. Another reason to have this, is to have something to reference to when users complain about deleted comments. Remind them of what they agreed to when they started using your sites. Lastly, I think having a defined user agreement that you uphold will limit the amount of hate speech, cyber bullying, and cyber attacks that appear on your sites. I believe that as professionals who are shaping and creating these landscapes, it is part of our responsibility to create online communities which value respect and do not tolerate activity that has damaged lives in the past.

Just remember, your online communities represent your brand and organization. It is your responsibility to step in where needed and monitor your site, as well as update your audiences frequently about what your user agreement is. Remember to keep your user agreement visible, host it on your website, post it in your info, and create special blog posts about your agreement or notes if you use Facebook. Respect free speech and open communications, but remember that what you allow on your site can be even more detrimental to your image than not having a presence.

HollySo Merry Christmas to all! I know the Northeast U.S. is getting plastered by snow right now, so stay warm and toasty!