Five solid social media practices for DV/SA advocacy programs

In response to recent requests for support on this topic from several of our fabulous coalition members, I’ve created a list of issues to consider regarding organizational social media management.

This list is neither all-encompassing nor prescriptive (except for #5). Rather, this is meant to serve as “food for thought” as you develop your agency’s social media content and practices. Secondly, this list should be relevant as of this writing (August 2017), but the ever-changing nature of online platforms means that some parts of this list may not stand the test of time. Finally, this list was written primarily with Facebook Pages in mind, but the underlying principles can be adapted to virtually any social media platform on which you maintain an organizational presence.

#5: Social media cannot replace a good public website

Despite the buzz over social media in recent years, the Static Web and its tools remain the most powerful for your nonprofit. Even in this era of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, your nonprofit’s website, e-newsletter, and “Donate Now” campaigns still need to be central in the planning and execution of your online communications and fundraising strategies.

–Heather Mansfield, author of Social Media for Social Good: A How-to Guide for Nonprofits

From both marketing and survivor safety/privacy perspectives, social media cannot replace your public website. The best communications strategies utilize a solid public website as a foundation from which to build their social media presence and other digital outreach campaigns. Also, if your agency’s primary web presence is a Facebook page, I guarantee that survivors will contact you through it. Facebook is by definition personally-identifying, so even if a survivor sends a private message to your page asking for resources, their identity and any communications between you and that survivor are stored on Facebook’s servers.

It has become remarkably easy and affordable to build an attractive public website. You can still spend thousands of dollars to have a website custom-designed and -built, but for those of us without deep pockets, here are a few excellent options.

  • Dreamhost (FREE for nonprofits) is a large web hosting company that donates basic web hosting space, an email server, AND one domain name registration to any registered 501c3 nonprofit organization in the United States. Of particular interest is Remixer, their new point-and-click website builder app, which lets you create a beautiful website without having to write a single line of code. If you prefer a more customized look, you can still install WordPress, Drupal, Joomla!, or any other web content management system to build out and populate your website the traditional way.
  • Weebly ($12/month) is reputed to be the easiest to use point-and-click website builder, while still offering many rich features to create a professional-looking website. 

#4: Carefully consider whether to allow visitors to submit public timeline posts, ratings/reviews, or private messages to your Page

Just like most (if not all) of you, I have many other job duties in addition to managing the coalition’s social media presence. In my first year as communications coordinator, I noticed that the overwhelming majority of standalone public posts (i.e. not private messages or public comments on posts published by OCADSV) made by visitors to the coalition’s wall/timeline were either requests for help/resource referrals, complaints about their local advocacy program, or straight-up spam. None of these added intrinsic value for our Facebook community as a whole, and in some cases even potentially jeopardized the privacy and safety of the person who posted it, so I would delete the public post and follow up with each person privately. After recognizing this distinct pattern, we made the decision to disallow public posts to the coalition’s timeline by non-admins. Facebook provides Page admins with three options regarding public posts from visitors to your Page’s wall/timeline: A) allow all public posts, B) require moderator approval for each public post, or C) disallow all posts from non-admins. Each organization has a different policy and social media “voice”, and as such the best option will vary. 

As most of you are probably aware, Facebook allows its users to send “private messages” to other specific users or Page admins that are not otherwise visible to the general public. A significant majority (~70%) of the private messages received through the coalition’s Facebook page are from survivors or their friends/family members seeking help, with the remainder being collaboration requests from external organizations or spam. Several member programs have expressed an interest in providing advocacy and support services through online chat, so it is very important to note here that Facebook Messenger, Twitter Direct Messages (DMs), and other similar tools are NOT COMPLIANT with VAWA/FVPSA/VOCA confidentiality requirements and should never be used for service provision. Accordingly, I recommend that direct service programs either disable their Facebook Page’s messaging feature entirely, or set up an auto-responder and/or messenger greeting (note that appears at the top of your Page’s messaging window) briefly explaining safer ways to access advocacy services. 

#3: Actively monitor public comments on your posts

Facebook and Tumblr (among other platforms) allow page administrators to queue up multiple posts to be auto-published to your Page on a schedule of your choice. Third-party tools like Buffer and Hootsuite offer similar functionality for social media platforms that do not support this natively (e.g. Twitter). Used properly, these tools can significantly reduce the workload for your program’s communications staff. However, this does not eliminate the need to regularly monitor comments left by your followers and other page visitors, responding when appropriate. In addition to simply being a good universal marketing practice, there have been cases of abusers and trolls posting sensitive information on programs’ public Facebook pages, including confidential shelter locations and personally-identifying information about survivors and agency staff. 

#2: Be aware of the photos and other media you post

I wish this went without saying, but be 110% certain that you have written permission from everyone whose image or likeness is posted on your social media pages and website (except for licensed stock photos, of course). Aside from the obvious safety and privacy implications for survivors, keeping good records of who is depicted in your agency’s outreach and marketing materials is important for several reasons:

  • Using trademarked or otherwise proprietary images without written permission exposes your agency to legal liability;
  • If someone’s photo needs to be removed from the agency’s outreach and marketing materials at a later date, maintaining good records will speed up that process.

#1: Post public community guidelines, then enforce them

Repeat after me: YOUR NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION’S SOCIAL MEDIA PAGES ARE NOT A FREE-SPEECH ZONE. Now say it again, but louder this time. 

If someone were to walk into your home and utter transphobic slurs, telling them to leave would be well within your rights. The same principle applies to social networking platforms. Unless you are officially representing a government entity, social networking page admins are permitted to establish community guidelines (provided they are not in direct conflict with the platform’s policies), moderate content posted by users, and remove users who disregard the rules or cause disruption. From a PR standpoint, it can be helpful to have pre-established community guidelines in place as a rationale for moderating problematic content.

The coalition has developed some basic community guidelines, which are posted both in our Facebook page description and on our public website. Please feel free to use or adapt them as needed.

TRIGGER WARNING: On this page, we frequently and openly discuss domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, stalking and other forms of interpersonal violence. Everything we post and share is carefully weighed for its collective benefit vs. potential for re-traumatizing others, and posts that contain particularly graphic or disturbing content will be preceded by a content warning in their description.

COMMUNITY GUIDELINES: Posts or comments that are deemed to be in poor taste and/or contain threats, hate speech, personal attacks, defamation, or spam (i.e. promotion of a product or service without the permission of the coalition) will not be tolerated, and may be hidden or deleted without warning. Repeat violators of this policy may be banned at the discretion of Coalition staff.

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions about any of these topics.

Jonathan Gates, OCADSV Communications and Events Coordinator (link sends e-mail)
(503) 230-1951 x302

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Oregon Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence

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