by Pen Lister, on May 14, 2013

Staying Safe with Social Media

Snapshot: Are you aware of your responsibilities to your employer, your students and yourself when using social media? This good practice guide can help.

Social media rules can be confusing
Social media rules can be confusing | Credit: joeROOSTER/freeimages
Social media rules can be confusing
Social media rules can be confusing | Credit: joeROOSTER/freeimages

Social Media is just for fun, right?

We all say things we don't mean, or shouldn't have shared, or might have said to the wrong person, it's just human. But in social media (or online generally) this can take on a whole new significance. A new set of problems are created if an incorrect or inappropriate thing is written online. If you say something that is personally slanderous, or you mislead someone with inaccurate information while representing your employer, there can be serious ramifications.

So what could happen? The effects can range from seemingly harmless to pretty serious.

  • Your friend can 'unfriend you' on Facebook - not nice, but bearable!
  • You incur the wrath of the recipient of your inappropriate comments, again, not nice, but this time, they start spreading unhelpful or even slanderous accusations about you. This can end up as an online slanging match, available to everyone else to see, and remains 'in perpetuity' (i.e. forever).
  • You mislead a student or fellow member of staff by giving out wrong information about something, which if it leads to serious consquences for the recipient, could end you up in serious hot water, both legally, and with your employer.
  • You share tweets or status messages which bring your employer's reputation into disrepute - you might think what you're saying isn't directly relevant or that you have a right to say it, but your boss might not agree. You can end up in complex legal battles or even losing your job!
  • And what about making yourself look a fool? This applies to everyone, and can mean a lot of different things. Results can be as silly as people having a good laugh at your expense, to not getting a job you really want, or again, losing the job you currently have. (Or worse, personal stuff like your partner having serious issues with you...)

How do we play safe, and still make good use of social networks?

It's all about what you say, and who you're saying it about, and why you're saying it. If all you're doing is sharing endless pictures of your baby growing up, that won't ever cause too much of a problem (until your baby grows up and tells you they feel their privacy has been infringed!). The worst that can happen is people start ignoring you because you're boring. But when we begin to use social media for work purposes, things get more complicated.


If your place of employment starts to make use of social media to share news updates or other business information, it's all good - usually no one gets into trouble for saying that a lecture has been cancelled, or moved, or changed in some way. But when feedback or student comment is dealt with in a public space, anyone charged with facilitation must be wary of what they say, and how they say it. Many things become important, like tone of voice, cultural sensitivities, gender bias, perceived authority, accuracy of detail, and so forth. And, after saying all that, the last thing you want to do if it's your job to facilitate social media conversations is become tediously business like, endlessly procrastinating before you respond. The whole point of social media is informality, and immediacy, as well as two way dialogue, not just a monologue of unengaging news 'updates'.

Yeah, like, I'm every student's best mate? Right?

No, not like that at all. It's important to remember you are representing a university, not a youth club or your Friday night drinking buddies, but that you are friendly, informal and helpful, and most of all, on their side. This last one is crucial, as if you seek any kind of confrontation or one-upmanship, you will lose, badly. So, it's all about truthfulness, being civil, open and very helpful. It is also very important to constantly monitor what is happening in your channels, if you have an active presence. Responding quickly, easily and without fuss is essential, and it is always better to nip potentially difficult conversations in the bud, rather than letting them spiral out of control without 'chaperoning' them.

Social Media Guidelines

At the time of writing this article, work is being done in our institution on social media policy, and probably like many other universities, those kinds of documents are always in a state of flux. To make things simpler for the time being, I put together a few pointers on best practice, based on resources I've gathered over the past couple of years while being involved in our social media at London Met. I reserve the right to update the document! The document covers best practice as well as likely areas for further policy development that you either might like to consider helping to develop for your faculty, or contributing to a wider set of documents that might become available strategically. Some of the document was generated in part by the Policy for the People policy tool, available at

NB This PDF download refers to London Metropolitan University, but could be used for any educational institution.


Further Reading and Resources

Neil Selwyn: Social Media in Higher Education 2012

Bryan Alexander: Social Networking in Higher Education, (The Tower and the Cloud, 2008)

Further Reading and Resources