Simple Rules For Using Social Media

September 16, 2009    By: Matt W. @ 6:00 am   Category: Life

I recently had the opportunity to attend some Social Media training where I work. I thought it was interesting in light of church work. The gist of the training was that if you affiliate yourself with the company online, you are representing the company, and yes you can be fired for representing the company in a bad light. (There are hundreds of examples, but I thought a good one was the example of the two employees that caused Domino’s Pizza stock to collapse after getting a million views of them doing gross things at work on a youtube video). I think the church suffers a similar risk as I, with all my good intentions, am out here shooting my mouth off. On top of this, I also suffer a great risk, as I, in a flight of fancy, forget the very public and unalterable nature of the internet. (Think of the Fedex employee who got fired for tweeting how much he hated where his customer lived). My reputation can be damaged forever based on one blog comment which I can never delete because I don’t own the blog I commented on, and google snatched it up and archived it, etc.

While the church cannot fire its lay ministry for putting the church in a bad light, and I don’t think any of us can afford to hire our own PR firm to filter our public statements, I thought I’d highlight the 1 Do and 3 Don’t Dos from the training I got at work.

1. Do be genuine, authentic, and honest.

2. Do not bash the competition ever.

3. Do not say mean or unkind things to anyone.

4. Do not disclose private information.

Good rules to live by anyway, but especially good rules as we represent the church online (whether we want to or not). I am going to try harder in the future to follow these rules. If you catch me getting out of line, let me know. For the times I have been out of line in the past, I apologize.


  1. Thanks, Matt, for a necessary reminder. I think I do pretty well with 1 and 2, and 4 isn’t usually much of a problem.

    But oh, that number 3!

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — September 16, 2009 @ 6:52 am

  2. It’s okay Ardis, I am perfect on all but the first 4 of these myself.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 16, 2009 @ 7:22 am

  3. Corporations aren’t humans. Humans are occasionally inauthentic, competitive, snarky, and overly open. That is why we like to interact with other humans and why we don’t pal around with corporations. Blogs are places where humans interact.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 16, 2009 @ 9:12 am

  4. Geoff: I’m not sure I can say the reason I like to interact with other humans is because they are inauthentic, competitive, snarky, or overly open. Quite the opposite actually.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 16, 2009 @ 11:27 am

  5. What constitutes private information? Where is that line in LDS blogging?

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 16, 2009 @ 11:40 am

  6. Matt,

    The point is that humans can and sometimes do behave in inauthentic, competitive, snarky, or overly open ways and that is part of being human. Corporations want to do away with that human element as much as possible in corporate communications because it is messy and unpredictable. Corporations would prefer perfectly predictable cogs/gears/pawns/foot-soldiers when it comes to their messaging. People — because of free will — are not perfectly predictable cogs/gears/pawns/foot-soldiers. That is in large part why blogging is enjoyable. We actually talk with one another frankly rather than only saying the perfectly scrubbed/correlated things one hears from corporate press releases.

    So the upshot is that the communications from and church employees end up being much more scrubbed down and corporate sounding than the frank discussions regular people have out here in the hinterlands.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 16, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

  7. Eric: At work Private info is pretty clear. It’s anything that you’d get fined by the SEC for sharing, which is almost everything. In LDS blogging, I’d say that’s naming names from disciplinary councils, talking about the stuff in the temple you’ve covenanted not to, or any other item where you are under agreements of confidentiality (Bishops’ Councils about callings, welfare, etc.)

    Geoff: I’m definitely not calling for every blogger to put on their johnny Robot cap, and neither is the corporation for which I work. The basic pitch is that the corporation is a collective of stakeholders with a unifying objective: to make money. The Church has a unified objective also, to save souls. In so far as we collectively really desire this and agree that the rules outlined improve our chances of accomplishing this, there is no justifiable reason not to follow those rules.

    Personally, I think frank discussion and kindness will win more converts to Christ than bashing Evangelicals, publicly belittling trolls (rather than just cutting them off or responding to them politely), and not publicly telling the world that so-and-so had an affair with so-and-so. (Though it is important that we are honest that affairs between so-and-sos do happen, no need to name names). There is nothing wrong with working together, and working together need not entail white washing the gospel.

    I guess I do see your point that we could be limiting ourselves in that if we allowed fear of seeming heterodox limit our ability to discuss theology, that would be a problem. I am definitely not for shutting down conversation in the name of some unified message where a unified message doesn’t really exist.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 16, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

  8. Thank you, Matt.

    Comment by R. Gary — September 16, 2009 @ 3:29 pm

  9. I’m definitely not calling for every blogger to put on their johnny Robot cap

    I have no doubt about your intentions. But I suspect that most corporations would indeed like all stakeholders to put on the Johnny Robot cap to one degree or another. For that reason I am more than a little suspicious/skeptical of the list you have provided here. Why? Because it came to you from your corporation.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 16, 2009 @ 4:35 pm

  10. Matt’s corporation may very well want that, but there’s a whole bevvy of marketing and pr pros who understand that acting with the Johnny Robot cap on is simply not effective (and becoming less so) and not healthy. Now, not all of them have been able to convince the rest of the organization that this is the way to go, but there’s definitely a cadre of folks who get what online communication is about.

    But also: although it’s my natural mode of expression, I think we also need to be a bit suspicious of the default blogger notion of authenticity.

    Comment by Wm Morris — September 16, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

  11. Wm Morris is right. There has been a major trend in the past view years towards greater openness in corporate communication – notably support in many cases for employee and executive web logs that are remarkably open about the technical challenges facing a company, what they are doing to resolve them, and so one.

    Of course it takes a certain amount of professionalism for these to work. The authors have to know where to draw the line, what is truly confidential and what is not, to a degree what is the “official line” on certain issues, and so on. Of course a company is not going to tolerate public attacks and substantial criticisms from its own employees in such forums.

    I think the case of a very large membership organization is different to a degree. First of all, a typical church member is not an official or *paid* representative of the church, and that is understood by the audience. In addition, the vast majority of church members are not privy to the kind of information that higher level employees are usually privy to.

    Of course there are serious limits – direct attacks or criticism of specific individuals or fundamental administration comes to mind.

    Comment by Mark D. — September 17, 2009 @ 9:28 am

  12. That should be “few years” and “so on” of course. (walks away in embarassment…)

    Comment by Mark D. — September 17, 2009 @ 10:34 am

  13. Mark D. I’d argue that most people would be more interested in the thoughts of a member of a lay organization to tell them how it really is as opposed to an “official or *paid*” rep, especially in light of the fact that members serve missions and are asked to be member missionaries (official reps, as it were). Also, since the LDS church does a really good job of giving it’s membership an ownership quotient (via lay ministry), they can really capitalize on this.

    I do think it is the responsibility of the leadership of any organization to allow it’s social media staff room to be themselves (be their best selves, I guess) and to take responsibility as a leadership body to make sure it’s official message is clear and available and their are no skeletons that need to be hidden.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 17, 2009 @ 11:29 am