7 Tips for #SocialMedia guidelines and Government

Five years ago I wrote a list of social media guidelines for the Enterprise which has been read 100,000+ times. And even today creating social media guidelines for staff are a challenge. I often ask my students to get into teams and come up with some guidelines. They never have the same as another team, and get quite cross with each others’ value systems. I, of course, amuse myself no end. 😛

 rules-300x300This article references the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secret guidelines requiring staff to report on fellow workers who post anonymously an opinion on a political situation. There is also a rather unclear statement around when you can and cannot critique Government officials. I have not gone into the repercussions – staff will blow up online and no one will know as there were no warning signs, or that contractor organisations and eventually small business will follow these draconian practices. That’s a given. I’ve stuck with Tips 🙂

Public, Acknowledged Guidelines

If you actually READ the Australian Public Service Commission public social media guidelinesOpens in a new tab., at first pass they don’t seem too onerous:

It is quite acceptable for APS employees to take part in the political life of their communities. The APS Values stipulate that the APS is, among other things, ‘apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner’, but this does not mean that APS employees must be apolitical in their private affairs. Rather, it means that employees should avoid behaving in a way that suggests they cannot act apolitically or impartially in their work.

tipAlways a good idea to have them public so that if a staff member contravenes the values, mission statement and ethics of the organisation (will be different for a Gov than say a radio station with shock jocks) the public can understand that the employee is not the organisation and vice versa.

Secret InHouse Guidelines

But they aren’t the real guidelines- you need to read the secret Social Media Policy of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet reported in the Canberra Times. Let’s look at them in depth (in the following points) All quotes from the Canberra TimesOpens in a new tab..

tipNot such a good idea. Secret means wrong, underhanded. Governments with secret agendas are no longer honoring representational democracy and have moved into mandate democracy (you voted for me, now eff off).

Dob In A Mate

The NEW secret social media guidelines, that the Canberra Times mysteriously got their hands on (showing guidelines actually achieve eff all), are a world apart:

If an employee becomes aware of another employee who is engaging in conduct that may breach this policy there is an expectation that the employee will report the conduct to the Department. This means that if you receive or become aware of a social media communication by another PM&C employee that is not consistent with this policy, you should advise that person accordingly and inform your supervisor.

That’s pretty outrageous.  Let’s say you did dob a mate in, and the Gov did nothing, what does that do for team work in the future? Work Christmas parties would be fun, right? A general “I found this online” across all situations (staff and non staff) would have less of the feeling of Nazi Germany and more of a brand ambassador program, no?


tipPerhaps “please report any situations” rather than an outright “report a colleague” directive. Turn your staff into Brand Ambassadors, but staff willing to report back to you (with a clear escalation process and complete-the-circle reply) rather than them jumping  into argybargy online defending one view or another.

Impartiality and Human Beings

Customers, voters, clients, stakeholders, human beings connect to catharsis, passion, commitment, vision, leadership. None of those can be done impartially. Impartial means “couldn’t give a shit” (Australian slang or a technical term for impartial – you choose). Do you really want people working for government that couldn’t give a shit? Or you prefer those  vanilla, lifeless humans as long as they were ‘impartial’?

All employees will need to make these judgements for themselves. Before posting material on matters of public policy, ask yourself whether a Prime Minister, from either political party, having read the material, would feel confident that any advice from you was impartial and balanced.

tipConsider whether you want staff working for you that are passionate about the industry or those that fall into the “couldn’t give a shit” category. If you choose “passionate” it’s worth remembering that social media means chatting with friends and family for most people. Perhaps an education program to help them understand the Invisible Audience wouldn’t go astray?

Censoring the World

Have a look at this line for what you can’t do:

– unreasonable criticism of an agency’s clients and other stakeholders;

Any criticism is unreasonable. If it was reasonable, it wouldn’t be criticism. I don’t mean your mum telling you to wear the pink lipstick instead of the red. That’s a helpful critique (thanks mum!) I mean the word criticism here is “disagree in principle”. Or, if you like, you reason with someone until you realise they won’t agree with you then they are disagreeable and unreasonable. Weasel words.

By the way who do you think the Office of the Prime Minister stakeholders would be? I’d start with Education, Environment, Immigration, Mining and then move onto ALL the Australian people. Oh and Indonesia, China, Afganistan. Basically don’t critique anything anywhere, anytime

Be clear on personal vs professional. Be clear on levels of censorship. Don’t use weasel words like “unreasonable”. Be clear on “have an opinion on a topic” vs “trashtalking a person”. Lot’s here.

Impartiality vs Transparency

We don’t really believe that public servants, judges and journalists are impartial. We believe that they are faking not caring so not to be seen as favouring one side or another. Impartiality is hiding something. Transparency is not.


Try envisaging a world where only people who were committed to your brand, product or service, could market it. Those that didn’t care, or refused to be reveal authentically their leanings were not welcome. Interesting world. Debate is priceless. Secrecy is overrated.

Eternity and timelines

There is now a tendency to go through people’s timelines (the Eternity Generation) and pull status out of context. Imagine you put up “this Mining Tax is hard to understand” today. You don’t work for the public service. Then tomorrow  you do. And the Government changes it’s mind on mining tax a few times, and Government itself changes a few times. Is this a negative critique in 5 years time?

You could just try to have a “we recognise people grow and change” clause but the Press loves to find old material and “out” staff. Check Privacy Commission regularly for updates on hiring/firing on personal opinions.

For your education and amusement … http://www.exchange.telstra.com.au/training/flip.html Telstra guidelines complete with music circa last decade?

Laurel Papworth

Named by Forbes™ Magazine in the Top 50 Social Media Influencers globally, named Head of Industry, Social Media (Marketing Magazine™) and in the Power150 Media bloggers (AdAge™). CERT IV Training and Assessment certified trainer (Diplomas and Certificates etc) Adult Education. Laurel has manager Facebook Pages for Junior Masterchef, Idol, Big Brother etc. and have consulted on private online communities for banks Westpac, not for profits UNHCR & governments in SE Asia. Lecturer, social media, University of Sydney for 10 years and Laurel has 11,000 online students. Laurel Papworth personally connects to 6 million followers online and has taught around 100,000 people in the last 10 years how to be social media managers.

Recent Posts