Online & Social Media Guidelines for Staff and Volunteers
SCAN of Northern Virginia believes that social media tools, when used appropriately, can be a powerful tool to increase awareness, support and a sense of community for those of us engaged in supporting vulnerable families and advocating for abused and neglected children. SCAN has no better advocates than its employees and volunteers! Communication in online spaces such as blogs, social networking sites, wikis, forums and photo and video sharing sites contributes to awareness about SCAN’s cause, mission, and programs. Online interactions can also enhance the reputation of SCAN and our programs, can inspire and recruit needed supporters and volunteers, and can retain the engagement and energy of existing stakeholders. These guidelines are intended to help staff and volunteers talk about your involvement in SCAN’s work in an open and transparent way, while telling our story responsibly. Our ability to serve children and families depends on the trust and support of the public, so it is critical that we tell our story well and handle confidential information entrusted to us responsibly. Please note that this policy was built on the work of the National CASA Association, the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. SCAN thanks these organizations for disclosing their policies publicly so that all of us can learn from them. In addition, this document should be viewed as a living document that will continue to evolve as technology evolves and we welcome questions and suggestions that can help us clarify this policy in the future.
Online Communications Guidelines
Your online communications should be transparent, ethical and accurate. SCAN expects employees and volunteers to respect SCAN’s core values, Code of Conduct and these online guidelines. Some basic do’s and don’ts are:
Respect Copyright Laws
Add Value to the Conversation
Respect Work Commitments Use Common Sense.
|Don’t Reveal Confidential Information
Don’t Make Official Endorsements
If you discuss SCAN’s programs or mission, then you have a duty to disclose your role within the organization (staff, volunteer, board member). For instance, if you want to be a SCAN advocate on Facebook, please include your affiliation on your profile in the About -> Work & Education section. If you are a volunteer, click Life Event -> Work & Education -> Volunteer Work to share your affiliation with SCAN on your Facebook Timeline.
Write in the first person. Be aware that the tone you use online can be interpreted in different ways by your readers. Be conversational – write like you’d talk to your neighbor. Be yourself. Stick to your area of expertise and write about what you know. If you make a mistake, admit it quickly and clearly.
Even though your posts may be primarily personal opinion, do your research well and check that your facts are accurate. Make sure any news you report has been verified. If you re-tweet, share or otherwise link to someone else’s content, give that person credit. Make sure you have permission to post any copyrighted or confidential information (e.g., images). Check links before you re-tweet or re-post something to make sure the link works. Be careful about posting or linking to items that may contain viruses.
Be careful about posting SCAN financial or service delivery numbers until they are triple checked and approved. SCAN values transparency and wants to avoid publishing conflicting reports.
Unless your communication has been officially authorized by SCAN leadership, make it clear that the views you are expressing are yours alone and not necessarily those of SCAN.
Encourage healthy debate but don’t inflame others just for the sake of controversy. Remember that anything posted online can eventually become more public than originally intended and is never truly deleted.
Consider anything you post online as track-able, traceable and permanent.
Be careful about jeopardizing relationships with families, donors, volunteers, partners or other stakeholders. Refrain from any communication intended to embarrass SCAN, a specific program, another organization/agency or a specific person. Defamation of character can lead to lawsuits against the author of the statement and will reflect negatively on SCAN’s cause. In choosing your words and your content, it’s a good practice to imagine that your supervisor and your family are reading everything you post.
If you have suggestions for improvements at SCAN, please state them constructively or better yet, go through the proper channels to air your concerns and share your suggestions. If you witness illegal, unsafe or unethical conduct by a SCAN employee or volunteer, we would prefer that you not discuss it in an online communication or posting. Instead, for example, you can call SCAN’s Executive Director or Board President. Reporting such issues in an online platform may do more harm than good; worse yet, problems may not get to the attention of the people who can correct them.
Show proper consideration of others’ privacy and respect for others’ opinions. Choose your words carefully when addressing topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory (such as politics and religion).
Don’t Reveal Confidential Information
Sharing stories that illustrate the value of SCAN’s work is often the most powerful way to engage the public in our cause and promote empathy for the children we serve. However, adherence to the confidentiality restrictions you committed to when you joined our cause is essential in order to respect children’s and families’ rights to privacy. If you do comment online about SCAN, by all means talk about your good work and make meaningful connections with your readers, but you must accomplish this while respecting the privacy and confidentiality of clients and communities.
Adult clients or former SCAN beneficiaries may choose to tell their own stories and how SCAN’s services helped them. If they choose to do this, they should be in control of their own story, agree to how it will be used, and be provided the opportunity to approve any edits made to their story before it is shared publicly. Otherwise, it is unacceptable to discuss online any identifiable details of a child or family being served by SCAN. Never identify a client by name and never discuss confidential details that could enable someone else to recognize the client. It is acceptable to discuss general details and to use non-identifying pseudonyms so long as the information provided does not violate any confidentiality agreements that may be in place with the client or make it easy for someone to identify the client. Protect the dignity of families, children and partner agencies even if they are not specifically named.
Volunteers and staff should not link to personal pages (or become online “friends”) of families or children they serve in their capacity with SCAN’s CASA program. Staff and volunteers are encouraged to consider their own personal boundaries, preferences, and safety when deciding whether to give out their e-mail address or cell phone number. Volunteers are welcome to use the SCAN office phone number if they prefer, and staff members can set their office phone number to forward to their cell phone when they will be out rather than having to give out their cell phone number. Some volunteers set up a separate e-mail specifically for their CASA communications, and some volunteers use Google voice to disguise their phone number. Staff and volunteers are encouraged to discuss their options with their supervisor if they have concerns.
Take care when sending confidential information via email or over the Internet. Do not send confidential information over an open wi-fi (such as an internet café).
Photos are a powerful way to tell our story and are encouraged. However, photos and videos that reveal identifiable details of children and families participating as clients in SCAN programs may only be posted if SCAN has a signed release form. Explain the context of pictures and videos you share.
Be careful about citing or identifying volunteers and other stakeholders without their approval. Encourage volunteers and partners to “tag” or self-identify when they are involved with an activity being discussed online rather than making that decision for them.
Don’t Make Official Endorsements
“Liking” a page on Facebook or providing a link to a community partner or company is an acceptable way of encouraging engagement and dialogue. These actions should not be construed as endorsement of a particular individual, company, service or product. Employees should not express a SCAN endorsement of any company, product or service. Under no circumstances, should SCAN be viewed as endorsing a political candidate, specific legislation, or religious belief. (See SCAN’s Policy on Political Activity for further guidance.)
Respect Copyright Laws
Show proper respect for the laws governing copyright and fair use of copyrighted material owned by SCAN or by others. Never post someone else’s work without their express permission (other than short quotes that comply with the “fair use” exceptions).
Add Value to the Conversation
Writing captivating online content is hard work and a commitment. Post content that invites responses. Seek to provide worthwhile information and perspective in your postings. Does your comment help your readers better understand and feel more connected to our cause? Does it build a positive sense of community? If you seek to guest blog on SCAN’s Building Blocks blog, please consult and follow SCAN’s Blogging Guidelines (available on request as a separate document). Make it interesting and have fun!
If you receive a negative comment about a post, evaluate whether it is constructive. If it is constructive, don’t be afraid to respectfully and accurately engage the person who left it in dialogue. Negative comments at least show interest and can open the door to an opportunity to educate and enhance community dialogue. If the comment is not constructive and does not abide by SCAN’s posting policy (available in the “About” section of SCAN’s Facebook page), you can remove it.
The Internet is all about connecting with links, so if you see something interesting, valuable or relevant, link to it! The more you link to relevant material, the more contacts you will make and the more popular your own site will become.
Respect Work Commitments
Please remember that blogging and other social networking activities – unless specifically assigned as part of your employment – are personal and should be done on your own time. All computer, email, telephone and voicemail systems and communications transmitted from or stored in these systems are the property of SCAN. They are not the private property of any employee. All messages that are created, sent, or received by employees using these systems remain SCAN property. SCAN reserves the right to review, audit, and access any messages created, sent, or received over its computer, email, telephone or voicemail systems for any purpose.
You are responsible for what you post and legally liable for anything you write or present online. SCAN reserves the right to monitor employees’ computer and internet usage, including but not limited to internet sites accessed by employees, online activity conducted with your SCAN email address, and online activity that can be traced back to SCAN’s domain. Computer, email, telephone and voicemail systems are not to be used to create any offensive or disruptive messages, including commentary, content or images that are defamatory, pornographic, proprietary, harassing or libelous, or that can create a hostile work environment.
SCAN equipment (telephones, voicemail, computers, etc.) are the property of SCAN, are intended for SCAN business, and are not meant for personal use. Personal use of computers and online activity should be kept to a minimum. No software should be downloaded to the desktop computer without authorization. Be careful when downloading authorized software or updates that you are not “tricked” into including additional unwanted software installations as part of the process.
Use common sense
SCAN is not interested in limiting your ability to participate in personal social networks with a personal email address outside of the workplace. However, what you publish on these sites should not be attributed to SCAN. If you choose to use your work affiliation on a social network, then you should treat all communication on that network as you would in a professional network.
Personal Blogs or Websites
You do not have to list your affiliation with SCAN in your “Bio” or “About” section. However, if you do write a post about SCAN, it is best to be transparent and mention your affiliation at the beginning of the post. If you choose to identify yourself as a SCAN staff/volunteer or discuss matters related to SCAN’s programs on a personal website or blog, many readers will assume you are speaking on behalf of SCAN.
If you decide to jump into the blogosphere or create a personal website, do so with a commitment to post regularly and thoughtfully. If you frequently post about SCAN issues, programs and activities, we’d love to know about your site. SCAN does not intend to “police” your online communications but would link and showcase your individual contribution to our overall mission.
Balancing Your Professional and Personal Life
As social media becomes an increasingly present part of our daily lives, professional and personal boundaries can be hard to maintain. You are not obligated to engage with stakeholders, support campaigns or use these tools to connect with other subject matter in your field. We want you to feel comfortable with representing SCAN online if you choose while maintaining your individuality.
You are in charge of your own presence online. Every employee and volunteer should feel comfortable setting these boundaries at his or her own personal comfort level. Allow your supervisee (whether employee or volunteer) to decide whether to “friend” or “follow” you rather than vice-versa. Consider your privacy settings and what you want your co-workers and supervisor to see. Stay up to date as privacy setting tools change and review yours regularly.