When Facebook was down last week due to technical problems, numerous news stories such as “FACEBOOK IS DOWN: Can Life Go On?” in the SF Gate and “Facebook Down, Like Buttons Vanish, Internet Implodes” in TechCrunch sprouted almost instantaneously all over the internet. Comedic as they were, they also served a dose of reality that social media has captured an ever-present place in many of our lives. When Facebook crashed, social media did not stop. Users immediately turned to other social media sites such as Twitter (Craig Kanalley, Huffington Post Blog, “Facebook Down Tweets: The Snappiest Twitter Reactions” and blogs (Kym McNicholas, Forbes Blog, “Facebook Is Down. I’m Forced To Blog”), even if it was only to discuss the crash of Facebook.

Social media seems that it is here to stay and it poses both a blessing and a curse for organizations that use it. Social media has great potential to share information and to engage users. Facebook for example has the ability to connect over 300 million users worldwide. But this also means that a statement you wish you could take back or the disclosure of sensitive information has the same potential to reach millions of people with a single click. Can a nonprofit avoid the social media trend? Probably. But should it? Probably not.

Social Media Icons

As social media guru, Beth Kanter, noted in her 2009 article “4 Ways Social Media is Changing the Non-Profit World” nonprofits have embraced social media at a rapid pace in the last few years. Kanter explains that social media has the ability to deepen relationships and engagement, enable individuals and small groups to self-organize around nonprofit causes, facilitate collaboration and crowdsourcing, and even help change an organization’s culture in flattening hierarchical structures, speeding up decision-making, and improving programs and services.

Therefore, for a nonprofit with the resources and capacity to use social media, the question often becomes not if it will engage in social media but how best to do so.  A main component of that question is how to properly manage the dual-edged sword of social media when it comes to individuals making representations that are or appear to be from the organization or that directly implicate the organization. It is not always an easy question to answer because the solution often lies in an intersection of different laws from employment to the First Amendment to privacy. Luckily, there is a growing online collection of social media policy tips and resources for nonprofits. Below are some helpful links:

Keep in mind, as Kanter advises, “if an organization simply cuts and pastes a social media policy without the internal culture change, it won't be effective. There needs to be discussion.  Not only about the potential concerns and how to respond, but how the organization or its internal culture can embrace social media.”