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Does a Campus Need a Social Media Policy?

It depends.  There has been a lot of discussion recently about whether or not college and university campuses need social media policies.  While there do not appear to be any legal mandates for doing so, many institutions of higher education are exploring approaches for managing appropriate social media use by their students, staff, and faculty.  The EDUCAUSE Policy and Analysis team suggests the following framework as institutions consider what they should do.

What is the problem you are trying to solve?  Any policy development exercise should begin by asking the question of WHY any type of intervention is needed.  Is it because of embarrassing content or inappropriate behavior by students or employees?  Is it to manage institutional branding and marketing concerns?  Is it to manage risks associated with legal or compliance mandates such as protecting private or regulated information?  Is it to standardize technology options to ensure interoperability and effectiveness?  Understanding (and ideally limiting) the scope of concern should be your first step.

What types of interventions are available?  A formal, written policy may not be the best approach but is often the expectation communicated by senior administrators.  Many have suggested that what is needed is community education and awareness.  Others have recommended that you inventory existing policies, including acceptable use policies, to see if they apply or can be modified.  WHAT we have observed as the most useful interventions are informal mechanisms such as developing guidelines or informational articles that increase awareness and the understanding of consequences.

Who is the source of the concern?  Different audiences (students, staff, faculty, alumni, etc.) may require different interventions.  After all, some behavior is outside of the institution’s direct control and may be an awareness exercise in and of itself for those who raise concerns about social media use.  You should prioritize WHO you decide to address through any policy development effort or awareness exercise and involve them in the process.  That is why the Higher Education Information Security Council introduced the Video and Poster Contest where students develop educational media, that included several winners focused on social media use.

How do we achieve the desired ends?  Written procedures or practices can help to achieve a larger policy goal.  Forums and discussions are effective means for communicating policies, procedures, or guidance to stakeholders or the affected communities.  Enforcement may also be necessary.  HOW you operationalize the desired change or set expectations for behavior may require the most ongoing effort, especially if you seek to sustain the desired result over time.

The process of answering the questions of Why, What, Who, and How may lead you to adopting policies and procedures, issuing guidance, or conducting awareness.  Like most campus policy dilemmas, there is no one single approach that will work for everyone.  That is why the EDUCAUSE Policy and Analysis team seeks to work with its members to better understand the issues, collect sample policies or guidance documents, or develop toolkits or resources in consultation with the community when the need arises.  EDUCAUSE is building a Resource Page on Social Media Policies and welcomes your comments or suggestions.

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As a former student and owner of I made a social media policy for my employees, social media and tweets can not only put students in danger but it keeps them out of trouble.