Posted: 15 / 11 / 2023
Article by: Emma Houghton, Head of London Charity and Compliance
Social media isn’t going away. Rather its influence is increasingly pervasive, presenting both too much of an opportunity and too much of a risk for organisations to ignore. The Charity Commission recently produced guidance for trustees, intended to highlight and mitigate the dangers associated with social media and help them ensure that:
- Social media accounts remain within the legal remit of campaigning/fundraising organisations.
- Social media activity is supportive of the charity’s overall charitable purpose.
- Individuals associated with the charity, including staff, volunteers, and trustees themselves, also remain within the remit of what is not only legal, but sensible and consistent with their charitable objectives.
First and foremost, the guidance recommends that organisations should have a social media policy in place. If you’re not sure where to start with developing your own policy, CharityComms have shared a template here. The policy should be clear on what your social media objectives are, who is responsible for posting content on the charity’s behalf, how it will engage with the public, and a clear process for addressing, removing, and reporting content that doesn’t fit with its objectives and/or is illegal/harmful. The policy should also be clear about what staff, volunteers, and trustees can say on their personal social media accounts.
The guidance acknowledges that social media offers a unique and valuable way to engage with supporters, beneficiaries, and the general public. The guidance encourages trustees to consider how they should respond to potentially damaging content posted on their channels by individuals outside of the organisation, with options including removing content, blocking users, reporting to the platform or even the police. The guidance also asks trustees to consider whether staff responsible for posting on the charity’s behalf or moderating public responses have had sufficient training and support to act within the charity’s best interests, and to deal with problematic and potentially offensive material.
It also makes the following recommendations when developing guidance for individuals officially engaged with a charity and using their personal social media accounts:
- Clarify the potential impact of certain types of content on the charity. Emphasise that even content that is neither relevant to the charity or any of its explicit objectives can still be harmful if it’s distasteful or aggressive.
- Consider whether you would discourage personal accounts from referencing the charity and whether you ask it to be made explicit that the owner of the account is only expressing their views and not those of the charity.
- Explain what the charity’s HR policies are in relation to breaches of the guidance and who they apply to.
As Sedulo Group Head of Charity, the guidance is comprehensive but not prohibitive. As well as developing a social media policy, it’s vital that all staff have training on what is and isn’t acceptable to post on their own or the charity’s social media. The risks and potential consequences of posting damaging content should be clearly communicated and easily accessible, but equally important is ensuring staff feel confident in navigating social media and are provided with the appropriate level of support around engagement that, at its worst, can be personally and professionally harmful.