Major news organisations have begun to embrace social media as part of their operations, acknowledging its potential as both a newsgathering tool and news outlet. But more and more news organisations are also setting boundaries for the use of social media, hoping in this way to prevent any missteps that could undermine their staffers' - or worse, the organisation's - reputation.
As a revered media giant, the BBC's social media efforts are under particular scrutiny. The British broadcaster released yesterday its updated social media guidelines.
In sum, the guidelines are in line with BBC's earlier social media policies and, according to the guidelines, can be summarised as 'don't do anything stupid'. "Most of the points do seem like common sense, but by formalizing these, BBC is minimizing the chances of a major social media faux-pas taking place", said TNW UK.
According to the BBC's The Editors blog, the guidelines consist more of "suggestions, reminders, best practice and housekeeping" than restrictive rules. The blog notes the crucial role social media "plays in breaking down barriers to engagement, opening up newsgathering networks, and as an outlet for journalism".
Perhaps the guidelines' most helpful aspect is the fact that it has different suggestions for personal and professional use. Employees are told to make it clear that views expressed in their personal accounts are not those of the BBC.
In this way, employees are relatively free to use social media, not having to think that they would be seen as representatives of the organisation primarily. Compared to this, the use of professional accounts (the number of which the BBC intents to keep limited) are much more carefully regulated, the main point being that they are regarded as official BBC News output and should be consistent with this. The BBC has particularly strict guidelines for accounts that are carried out officially in the name of the organisation.
Although BBC staffers are free to have personal social media profiles, they are not free to post anything they like on them: for example, the guidelines say not to state political preferences or anything that compromises impartiality. Although this could be seen as limiting journalists' freedom of personal expression, disclosing political preference has always been suspect at news organisations, and guidelines such as this are nothing new in this sense.
E.W. Scripps's social media policy, as reported by Poynter, also makes the separation into personal and professional accounts. This division presumably makes it possible to avoid strict guidelines that are seen at some news organisations. For instance, eMedia Vitals criticised Bloomberg's social media policy for this reason, and GigaOM's Mathew Ingram denounced the policies of the American Society of News Editors, calling them "draconian".
Earlier it was reported that the Associated Press had educated its staff on the use of social media, telling them that "AP staffers should not make postings there that amount to personal opinions on contentious public issues". Time's Techland described AP as basically telling "staff that they couldn't share their personal opinions online for fear that it might reflect badly on the AP".
Such strict control over employees' use of social media contrasts with encouragement to start experimenting with it and engaging with online readers. Moreover, it risks stifling employees' will to take up social media as part of their work routine. Giving journalists relatively free hands by setting up personal accounts would presumably be a more encouraging approach.
For more on the discussion, the Atlantic Wire discussed BBC's social media guide.