The Washington Post’s attempt to define their Social Media Terms of Engagement

Companies are grappling with how to engage online and yet protect themselves by writing social media terms of engagement that defines them and their employees as the boundaries between personal and corporate contact become increasingly blurred. The Washington Post came up with a social media policy that got a roasting on twitter for one. But they are left with no choice, how do you define who you are online if you have individuals with their own opinions talking about you and linked to you as a company online? Emphasis below is mine.

The Washington Post social media terms of engagement

Newsroom Guidelines for Use of Facebook, Twitter and Other Online Social Networks
Social networks are communications media, and a part of our everyday lives. They can be valuable tools in gathering and disseminating news and information. They also create some potential hazards we need to recognize. When using social networking tools for reporting or for our personal lives, we must remember that Washington Post journalists are always Washington Post journalists. The following guidelines apply to all Post journalists, without limitation to the subject matter of their assignments.

Using Social Networking Tools for Reporting
When using social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, My Space or Twitter for reporting, we must protect our professional integrity. Washington Post journalists should identify themselves as such. We must be accurate in our reporting and transparent about our intentions when participating. We must be concise yet clear when describing who we are and what information we seek.

When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism.

Our online data trails reflect on our professional reputations and those of The Washington Post. Be sure that your pattern of use does not suggest, for example, that you are interested only in people with one particular view of a topic or issue.

Using Social Networking Tools for Personal Reasons
All Washington Post journalists relinquish some of the personal privileges of private citizens. Post journalists must recognize that any content associated with them in an online social network is, for practical purposes, the equivalent of what appears beneath their bylines in the newspaper or on our website.

What you do on social networks should be presumed to be publicly available to anyone, even if you have created a private account. It is possible to use privacy controls online to limit access to sensitive information. But such controls are only a deterrent, not an absolute insulator. Reality is simple: If you don’t want something to be found online, don’t put it there.

Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything—including photographs or video—that could be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility. This same caution should be used when joining, following or friending any person or organization online. Post journalists should not be involved in any social networks related to advocacy or a special interest regarding topics they cover, unless specifically permitted by a supervising editor for reporting and so long as other standards of transparency are maintained while doing any such reporting.

Post journalists should not accept or place tokens, badges or virtual gifts from political or partisan causes on pages or sites, and should monitor information posted on your own personal profile sites by those with whom you are associated online for appropriateness.

Personal pages online are no place for the discussion of internal newsroom issues such as sourcing, reporting of stories, decisions to publish or not to publish, personnel matters and untoward personal or professional matters involving our colleagues. The same is true for opinions or information regarding any business activities of The Washington Post Company. Such pages and sites also should not be used to criticize competitors or those who take issue with our journalism or our journalists.

If you have questions about any of these matters, please check with your supervisor or a senior editor. Note: These guidelines apply to individual accounts on online social networks, when used for reporting and for personal use. Separate guidelines will follow regarding other aspects of Post journalism online.

At least one Washington Post Editor, Raju Narisetti, closed his personal twitter account.

For me, this policy as it stands can’t last but it shows how difficult it is for companies as they feel their way. Any policy will inevitably be tested through social media’s approval or disapproval. However, for me, the bottom line is a company cannot own a person’s voice or opinion and therein lies the dilemma. It occurs to me that it seems I feel quite strongly about the matter…