There's a lot going on in America these days, and its left nerves raw all across the country. In the wake of George Floyd's death, the COVID-19 pandemic, economic uncertainty, and increased political polarization, public personalities are trying to figure out the best way to discuss the issues that are affecting our lives. When it comes to social media, we've seen some public personalities do it well, while others have sparked backlash or even found themselves out of a job. This minefield enough to make even the most brash radio personality think twice.
Four years ago, I wrote this guide to writing a social media policy for radio stations. If your station doesn't already have one in place, use this guide to write one now. If your station does have one, now would be an excellent time to pull that policy out, dust it off, and review it with your air talent — and perhaps your entire staff. If it hasn't been revised since MySpace and Friendster were a thing, take the time to update it.
As you write or review this policy, keep these three points in mind:
1. A social media policy is about prevention, not just punishment.
The point of a social media policy is not to punish air talent after they have done something wrong, but to help them avoid making the wrong decision in the first place. Nobody wants to get fired, and nobody likes having to fire other people — especially in the current economic environment. If the first time you pull out your station's social media policy is after one of your DJs has posted an offensive status update, it's too late. Discuss what the station or company deems appropriate and inappropriate now, before something goes wrong.
2. Offer guidance on what to do, not just what to avoid.
The discussion around your radio station's social media policy should be more than just a list of what's forbidden; it also needs to include examples of the type of social media posts that are encouraged. Without this, you run the risk of air talent that sounds tone-deaf because they are posting about things that are completely out of touch with the current conversation, or air talent that decides not to post at all because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. What should your station be talking about right now? What tone should your on-air personalities take? How should they be engaging with listeners? Talk to your staff about what to do, not just what to avoid.
3. Don't use email to have this discussion.
Email is a fantastic tool for carrying on lots of conversations, but this is not one of them. Do more than just fire off an email with the station's social media policy attached. While it may not be possible to hold in-person staff meetings at the moment, this subject warrants a discussion over Zoom where people can be seen and heard. You need to know that your staff members are aware of and fully understand the station's social media policy, and they need the opportunity to ask questions about it.
We've already seen public figures damage their brands by making disastrous comments on social media, and we'll see more before this all plays out. But if you're proactive and thoughtful, you can reduce the chances that it will happen to one of your station's on-air personalities.