Lessons from the new official social media guidelines for civil servants

The UK Cabinet Office published Social media guidance for civil servants today and broadly, it looks very progressive. There is also a lot to learn from it for other organisations concerned about social media use by staff. Some of the most interesting points concern trust and restrictions on social media, empowering staff, the role of HR and the purpose of a social media policy, and senior managers as role models for social media use.

“Social media is changing the way government works, and I believe it will have an increasingly important role to play in formulating and delivering government policy” ~ Sir Bob Kerslake, Head of the Civil Service, 4th May 2012

Social media guidance for civil servants explains that technical restrictions on social media access were instated in government offices before the benefits were perceived to outweigh the risks. But, as it acknowledges, ‘social media is likely to become as ubiquitous as email with many more, if not all, staff eventually needing to use it in some form as part of their work.’

Restriction and trust

Many government offices still block access to social media and rich media content sites like YouTube. This document suggests that while some restrictions may still be necessary, they could be ‘relaxed’ to facilitate legitimate use if staff were ‘better educated on the proper use of the internet.’

Brushing aside their patriarchal and offensive phrasing, there’s a really important point here: if any organisation wants their staff to make the most of the resources available to them, they need to know what is and isn’t ok to do and say online. I’ve blogged on this before. As it says later,

Most staff can be trusted to use these technologies appropriately if they are aware of the constraints and risks. [Relaxing restrictions] helps in developing a culture of trust between staff, their immediate managers and senior management.

HR and the purpose of a social media policy

The guidelines suggest extending existing HR policies to apply equally to behaviour online as well as off. It rightly points out that ‘the updating and publication of policies, and the education of staff, about the use of the internet and social media will mitigate risk [of misuse]:

This should not be just about telling staff what the dos and don’ts are; it is better to empower them to use these services safely and responsibly. The policies and associated guidance need to be simple and relevant, and should not just repeat existing rules. They should also seek to empower staff to behave appropriately rather than discourage them from using social media.

The role of senior management

Not taking advantage of the opportunities online communication and networking affords is no longer an option – most, if not all organisations need to think about where social media fit within their operations. If any behaviour or practice is to be encouraged, it makes sense for senior management to lead by example. As this document states, ‘positive role model behaviour from management is an effective way of developing the right culture and behaviours.’

“Social media is becoming an integral part of the everyday work of the civil servant, opening the Civil Service up and allowing us to be more in touch with our staff and the public than ever before.” ~ Sir Bob Kerslake, Head of the Civil Service, 4th May 2012

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