Social media channels are an efficient tool for distributing the public information that local governments generate. They also are a powerful forum for public debate on the issues of the day. Members should always take care to ensure anything they post online does not reflect poorly on the organization or the local government management profession.
Both at the individual and organizational level, defining with clarity an appropriate strategy for use of social media is often a challenge. Tenets 3 and 9 of the ICMA Code of Ethics help provide a framework for members to consider in how to engage on social media without compromising their ethics or integrity.
Applicable Tenets and Guideline
Tenet 3. Demonstrate by word and action the highest standards of ethical conduct and integrity in all public, professional, and personal relationships in order that the member may merit the trust and respect of the elected and appointed officials, employees, and the public.
Guideline on Public Confidence. Members should conduct themselves so as to maintain public confidence in their position and profession, the integrity of their local government, and in their responsibility to uphold the public trust.
Tenet 9. Keep the community informed on local government affairs. Encourage and facilitate active engagement and constructive communication between community members and all local government officials.
Considering these Tenets, the following advice is offered to members:
- How do you advance the cause of keeping the community informed, encourage communication, ensure engagement, and eliminate barriers in the governance process?
- Are your communications equal in tone regardless of whether it is an easy or difficult conversation? Do you “play favorites”?
- Is the organization’s social media policy embedded within a personnel manual? Does this merit a stand-alone policy?
- How is elected official social media use governed or handled?
- Does your community have a public information officer (PIO) or a position that functions as a PIO? Is this position better equipped to respond when needed and take initiative to post to your organization’s social media account?
- Are your employees aware of a member’s commitment to ethics and why this is important along with good customer service principles?
- At the federal level, there is the Freedom of Information Act. What state or local laws exist to ensure social media communications are captured and provided in results for requests?
- Be civil and clear whether you are expressing your personal opinion or speaking on behalf of the organization.
- Regardless of privacy settings, social media can be very public. If you pause before responding to someone offline, think twice about making the comment online where it can live on permanently.
- There are so many types of social media. Perhaps you have individuals you connect with on professional platforms that should not be in your circle on platforms you use on a more casual basis.