In part 1 we discussed the reasons why your department needs a social media policy. In part 2 we will explore how to develop this policy and discuss some of the important items you should always include in your policy.
Social media for the fire service is a venture that needs to be entered into strategically, with forethought and a business plan which should include sound policies and procedures for support. This will help you direct the right messages you want about your organization. It is vitally important to be proactive when it comes to your organization and social media and never reactionary.
There will be more questions raised during the development of this policy than you probably have ever had when crafting your other SOPs. It is best to consult with your organization’s law department or company attorney when you develop all your policies and procedures. If you don’t already do this it might be wise to start with this one.
One reason why you should obtain legal advice is because of existing case law involving social media and the workplace, including the fire service. It is in itself minimal but it is out there and it can be very easy to unknowingly violate law when developing this policy.
Aside from legal concerns a few important items you should remember to include during design.
First your policy should make mention that personnel shall refrain from posting any material on their personal social media sites or any other social media site, that could interfere or compromise an investigation, either departmental or external. A good example would be a member posting that the cause of the house fire they just worked was a result of arson. This in no way helps the ongoing investigation.
Secondly a section on HIPPA must also be included in the policy. Violations of HIPPA are in most cases accidental because personnel don’t fully understand their role in this law. Fire/EMS personnel must remember that they cannot publicly discuss and post messages about a person’s medical issues.
Aside from this law consider this. What if that family is reading that post BEFORE they are notified of their family member’s accident? Do you want to be the one they hear it from? What if you are wrong?
Lastly your new SOP must also include some type of progressive discipline for violations of the social media policy. This should be specifically categorized in your SOP or referred to in a separate SOP for discipline. Your leadership and membership both must understand that there will be a break in period for everyone to digest this SOP material. This must be taken into consideration when handing out disciplinary actions.
You may want to consider having someone familiar with social media and the fire service speak to your organization to help educate them on the what, why, and the how of social media activity. This will go a long way to help your membership understand this new policy.
Next time on Firefightertoolbox.com we will discuss your own organizations use of social media.