Jennifer Amanda Jones, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Nonprofit Leaderships and Management, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida
Some nonprofits have avoided social media just so they wouldn’t have to address the risks. Others have jumped on social media, but ignored the risks. Still more have created social media policies which were overly restrictive and out of touch with the nature of social media.
It’s a delicate balance, one we all have to strike.
If you are struggling to wrap your brain around social media risk management, here are three questions to get you started:
#1: We use social media all the time. . . is it really so risky?
The concerns raised by social media can have serious legal ramifications for nonprofit organizations. Here are a few examples of risks:
- Confidentiality violations. When it comes to social media, we often don’t think before we post. It is easy for board and community members to absentmindedly post a story or share a picture they took from a site visit. Even staff and volunteers trained in confidentiality (HIPAA, FERPA, etc.) may not think through how those laws might apply online.
I once saw a board member post a comment on a nonprofit’s Facebook page. This comment asked people to support the nonprofit’s upcoming fundraiser. In this comment, the board member shared a story about a child the agency had helped – the kind of child the event was raising funds to support. The agency did not have permission to share this child’s story. The board member violated the child’s confidentiality.
- Youth and Privacy. Youth today have grown up in a culture that encourages them to respond freely online. They may be comfortable posting information that perhaps should be kept confidential. This may include their whereabouts, sexual activities, weekend activities, and more. Nonprofits that use social media to connect with youth may have a difficult time protecting youths’ privacy, especially when the youth themselves don’t act in their own best interest.
I have seen nonprofits struggle to protect the privacy of their youth clients. In one instance, a teenage girl posted on the nonprofit’s MySpace account that she thought she might be pregnant. She was asking for help but, unfortunately, that cry for help was public – anyone could see it.
- Geotagging. Cell phone cameras capture information about our exact whereabouts and record it digitally on the photos we take. This process is called geotagging. For some nonprofits, this can be dangerous. Domestic violence shelters, for example, might not make their whereabouts public. If a staff, donor or client takes a photo of the shelter (inside or out) and posts that photo on a social media site, then anybody can access the exact address of the shelter. Geotagging can also be dangerous when staff or clients take photos inside of client homes on a case management visit, for example.
#2: Okay – so what are MY organization’s benefits and risks?
Let’s make a list. There are numerous benefits to social media for nonprofits. Some of the benefits include increased volunteerism, increased donations, increased advocacy, and increased client outreach. However, there are also numerous risks associated with social media. These include risks posed to the organization, employees, and clients. Many of these risks are familiar in that we deal with them in off-line settings. Others are ones that might surprise us, such as labor relations. Here is a list of some benefits and risks.
|Increase philanthropyIncrease donor engagement
Increase client outreach
Increase community awareness
Increase staff engagement
More will be revealed!
|Client confidentialityClient safety
More will be revealed!
Your specific benefits and risks change depending upon your goals. Start by asking yourself, what are our goals on social media? Are you trying to increase community awareness, donations, and volunteerism? Are you outreaching to clients or conducting long-term program evaluation? Nonprofits that outreach to high-risk or at-risk clients will most likely have a higher risk factor than others, such as theater companies, for example, which might focus more on donor and/or guest engagement.
Regardless, there is one thing we know for sure: More will be revealed! As social media develops, so too will the benefits and risks involved. We learn as we go. This brings us to the last question.
#3: Can we manage the risk AND maximize our benefits?
Of course you can! Nonprofits across the world are doing a great job of managing risk and maximizing their opportunities. Here are some examples at the national level:
- Red Cross
- Charity Water
- Humane Society
And we even have a few local examples:
- Voices for Children
- The San Diego Opera
- The San Diego Zoo
The key to managing risk is continuous reassessment. The social media landscape is in a constant state of flux. You can write social media policies today (and you should!) but if you don’t review them in a few months, they might be out of date. Like any risk management strategy, the process is iterative.
1) Determine your social media goals
2) Identify your major risk areas
3) Write social media policies
4) Develop a culture of continuous education and evaluation
5) Revise policies and educate staff regularly
You may be saying, “Drat! Just as I climb the hump and actually get my organization situated on social media, there’s this new hurdle of risk management.” Well, don’t worry. It’s not as bad as you think. In fact, it’s something that might just make a huge improvement in ways you didn’t expect.
Join the conversation!
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