You don’t have to do a whole lot of searching to find stories of public relations nightmares caused by a social media scandal.

All it takes is one slip-up, accidental or intentional. A library employee creates an offensive post on an official account, shares confidential information, or lets their anger get the best of them… and you have a situation on your hands. Libraries have also found themselves the target of social media trolls, who take a thread so far out of control that it catches the attention of the community, the algorithm, and sometimes the press.

Libraries have enough to deal with. You don’t want these potential problems keeping you up at night.

Your library can implement two strong social media policies to help avoid these situations: one that lays out the guidelines for how your staff will use social media to communicate with the public, and the second that sets the rules for how your community interacts with you and others on your official library accounts.

In this post, we’ll make suggestions for what should be included in these two policies.

Internal library social media policy

Are library staff allowed to use social media at work?

Social media access during work hours can be beneficial to your library. A Pew survey found that 20 percent of people use social media to find information that helps them solve problems at work. And you’ll want your staff to feel free to promote their work and advocate for the library, even on their personal accounts.

Your staff social media policy should respect the rights of employees while protecting your library. Here’s what to include in this section.

  • Staff should be open about who they are and where they work when posting about the library.
  • Staff should be clear that their opinions are their own. State that you expect them to use good judgement, and be aware that their posts are permanent, retrievable, and public.
  • Staff should not disclose proprietary information about your library. For instance, they should not publicly disclose service costs, salaries, upcoming service changes, or future initiatives that have not yet been announced.
  • You will also need to address the use of personal devices for staff who post on the library’s official accounts. You may want to purchase a library-owned mobile device where all apps and content will be produced.
  • Finally, clearly state the procedures for when a staff member wants or needs to post something to your library’s official accounts during off-hours.

Which library staff members can post on the library’s official accounts?

  • Specifically outline which staff members will have authorization to create, maintain, and delete official company accounts.
  • You should also define who keeps track of passwords and where will those passwords be saved.
  • Include a process for granting access to new employees.
  • Finally, specify the procedure for securing your library’s social media accounts when a staff member leaves the library’s employment.   

Related read: How to protect your library’s social media accounts to prevent a security breech.

What content will be posted on the library’s social media channels?

  • Clearly state who will be responsible for developing and implementing your organization’s social media strategy.
  • Decide who will be responsible for making sure all posted content is accurate, how mistakes will be corrected, and what the approvals process will be. 
  • Clearly define all relevant laws and regulations that must be followed for official library posts, including copyright, fair use, financial disclosures, and defamation.
  • Make sure your policy prohibits the use of plagiarized content, inappropriate jokes, obscene text and images, and discriminatory remarks on your library’s official accounts.
  • Most library staff are protective of patron privacy. But your policy will still need to include wording that prohibits staff from posting patron information.  

How will engagement be handled?

  • Your policy should make it very clear who will moderate posts and comments. You’ll want to lay out scenarios for responding to customer service messages. For instance, what should a staff member do if someone sends the library a Twitter DM about a problem with their library card? What if someone posts a comment on Instagram complaining about how they were treated by branch staff?
  • Define the circumstances for when staff will be allowed to remove posts or comments.
  • Clearly state who will be responsible for recording and analyzing metrics for your various accounts and whose job it will be to adjust strategy or tactics as determined by that data.

Customer-facing social media policy

Your library should define expectations for followers on social media with a short policy which contains a few clear points. I’ve created a policy below which you are free to copy and customize for your library.

The Library encourages participation on all its social media platforms; however, we ask that users keep postings and comments appropriate for all audiences.

The Library reserves the right to remove any content that is deemed, in its sole view, to be inappropriate in nature. That includes posts that contain:

  • Obscene content or hate speech
  • Personal attacks, insults, or threatening language
  • Private or personal information, including phone numbers and addresses, or requests for personal information
  • Potentially libelous statements
  • Plagiarized material
  • Commercial, political, or religious messages unrelated to the Library or its social media postings
  • Solicitation of funds

The Library also reserves the right to ban or block users who violate this policy. The Library is not responsible for the content posted by others on its social media platforms. User content is the opinion of the specific author and does not necessarily represent the opinions of the Library.   

Did I miss anything? Does your library have a social media policy that you are willing to share? Let us know in the comments below.

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