Sector Comment: Bates Wells Braithwaite on Social Media Policy

PARN’s winter conference, Social Media: Finding your Voice, was held on 26 November. Selman Ansari of Bates Wells & Braithwaite delivered an insightful presentation to coincide with his contribution to our newest publication, Under Control: Social Media at Professional Bodies Below is an excerpt of his article on social media policy.


Read on for Selman’s take on the perils of social media use at professional bodies…


Whilst there is no accepted definition of ‘social media’, it is a term generally used to describe internet-based platforms used to disseminate messages through text, imagery and links to other content. This rather prosaic description does not do justice to the possibilities that internet-enabled social media allows for. Through applications such as Facebook and Twitter, individuals can not only speak to multiple persons but can direct their attention to other material on the internet.


Over the past decade social media has been transformed from a specialist or minority pursuit to an essential means of communication. From people conducting their social and personal lives to organisations communicating their message, social media has become central to the way many people communicate and vital for modern organisations.


Social media has no safety net


However, social media can be used for the personal as well as the professional and has its own unique facets that give rise to potential problems for professional bodies. Some of the facets that make social media prone to wrongful use are its instant nature, the facility to produce elaborate messages easily (allowing for very serious statements, information or images to be re-sent at the click of a button), and its extremely poor security guarantees. Given that professional bodies have a common purpose of promoting standards in a specific professional community, it is extremely important that they understand some of the technical, professional and legal considerations arising from social media use by regulated professionals.


A professional body should be empowered to take action in cases of “inappropriate use” of social media. This might be a rather obvious statement but once the technical and legal aspects of how and in what circumstances action can be taken, it becomes clear that there are a number of nuances to such empowerment that should be worked out well in advance of situations arising.


What exactly is inappropriate?


The starting point in working out how to empower professional bodies is to consider a basic question: what is inappropriate use of social media? The obvious would include abuse and posting sexual, racist, grossly offensive or illegal material. It is likely that this type of usage will be rare. The more common scenarios are more difficult to categorise definitively as inappropriate: comments about work and recipients of services (e.g. patients, clients and users), posting views (either political or work related) and criticism of a profession and/or its governance. There is then another category which leaves a question mark over to whether there is any inappropriate use at all. Such use may include endorsing products, befriending users of services that the professional offers and providing professional comment. These categories may or may not be inappropriate depending on the profession and the particular circumstances.


To read the rest of Selman’s piece on social media policy, pick up Under Control: Social Media at Professional Bodies, available to buy from our shop.



Does inappropriate use of social media cause problems in your organisation? Should professional bodies do more to control use of social media within their organisation?  Let us know in the comments.

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