I recently had a question posed to me by someone who works in mental health: “We’d like to use social media to communicate what we do with the public, but we’re concerned about the privacy of our clients and our staff.”
This isn’t the first time someone has asked me about how organizations that deal with sensitive issues (for example: at-risk youth or individuals in crisis situations) can use social media without risking client information being shared (either by staff or the clients themselves). Since this was the third or fourth time I’d been asked something similar in the last few months, I decided to pick up the phone and call an old friend. Shari Allwood is the Director of SMART Recovery, an organization that helps individuals’ recovery from addictive behaviors. SMART was a client of mine when I first started consulting back in the dark ages, and over the past four years, they’ve incorporated Facebook, Twitter, and a blog (with comments) into their communication strategy. Because SMART works with individuals at all stages of recovery, I figured Shari would be able to give me the skinny on what they do to ensure that the information of individuals who participate in the program stays off their social channels.
“Our solution to the issue is to monitor our channels heavily – we have a team of individuals dedicated to not only running our social media accounts, but also to monitoring them for problems,” Shari says. “While we haven’t had too many problems over the years, we have had instances where monitoring our channels has helped prevent participants from oversharing in a public space. Monitoring Facebook is particularly important, because most people connect with their real names, rather than on Twitter or on a blog, where individuals are likely to use pseudonyms.”
If you are an organization that deals with sensitive issues, and are considering starting a social media channel for communication, here is what we recommend:
1 – Have a social media usage policy for staff & volunteers - While I’ve talked before about social media policies, it is very important for organizations that deal with sensitive issues to have one in place. This includes outlining specifically what can and cannot be said about clients, and, in some instances, providing guidance whether or not staff, volunteers & clients can (or should) connect on social media sites.
2 – Before you start, clearly outline what types of content you will share – For example, if you do share success stories in your offline communications, how will you share them online? Do you share pictures of events? Do you only provide “need to know” information or do you want to share the organization’s viewpoint on key issues in your industry? Identifying the types of content that will be posted on your social media sites can help you overcome some of the risk associated with using social media.
3 – If possible, educate participants – In the case of SMART, there is a message board for participants to join, and SMART educates individuals signing up to not use their real names and recommends against sharing identifying information. Your organization could include some standard disclaimers against posting specific information for individuals.
4 – Have a monitoring plan –Have a team in place to monitor your channels. If you use volunteers, it may be easier to have more than one person keeping their eye on each channel. If you just have staff, try to have more than one individual in charge of monitoring – asking one person to keep their eye on multiple channels all day, every day, is setting them up for missing something when life steps in.
Do you run a social media channel that deals with sensitive issues? How does your organization approach it?