Blog post

A No-Nonsense Guide for Government Employees on Social Networks

By Andrea Di Maio | June 01, 2009 | 3 Comments

social networks in government

One topic that I discuss a lot with government clients is about what codes of conduct they should develop to regulate the use of social media by civil servants. There are quite  a few examples around the world, but very often consultants as well as government officials point to policies developed by private sector organizations, such as IBM Social Computing Guidelines or Sun Guidelines for Public Discourse, clearly some of the earliest and best publicized. Also my colleagues Anthony Bradley and Nikos Drakos at Gartner wrote an excellent piece about Establishing Policies for Social Application Participation (subscription required), which provides most useful advice to organizations planning their presence on social media.

Many believe that government organizations need to add complexity and further limitations to those examples from the private sector.

But the reverse is true. Government employees already sign into a pretty limiting code of conduct when they get hired. There are rules about how they deal with information, how they deal with the public, how they deal with the press, what they can and cannot say. Social networks are just a different channel, but do not present any new challenge.

I have found two excellent examples of codes of conduct that follow this approach:

In both cases, documents make reference to the relevant Civil Service Codes of Conduct, which determine rights and obligations of government employees, and do not modify those in any way.

Government organizations do not need yet another complex policy on the use of social media, as they can leverage what they have already. Effort is rather required on determining the exact purpose and value of engaging on social media and the rights and obligations of employees when it comes to using their own private networks for official use. But how comes that there is far less effort on these topics?

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  • I received through Facebook a useful contribution with a reference to what the Australian Government did last year: Same principles but just a longer text to remind people about specific aspects.

  • Thank you for your complimentary words on the Principles. There was no reason in our minds why our existing Code of conduct for the State Services did not apply to new media. For this reason we simply tried to address the single new ambiguity that social media raises: what capacity is the contributor is speaking in?

  • Comment received from an Australian official on Facebook:

    We also did some of these for Australian Government Employees – also modelled on the Australian Governments Code of Conduct