Revised BBC social media guidelines offer practical advice

The BBC has revised its guidelines (PDF) on the use of Twitter and other micro-blogging sites by staff.

The updated guidance take account of the spread of services like Twitter which were not widespread when the advice was first published in 2008.

As well as offering specific advice on friending and retweeting, the guidelines set out the BBC’s social media principles:

  • With conversations, participate online; don’t “broadcast” messages to users
  • Don’t bring the BBC into disrepute
  • With moderation, only police where we have to; trust our users where we don’t
  • Be open and transparent in our social media dealings

These offer a broad and practical approach to social media.  They acknowledge that social media is about community and conversation, rather than about controlling content.

It is good to see an organisation like the BBC, with its roots in a patriarchal, broadcast era, talking about trusting users and entering into a dialogue with them.

Some of the specific advice to staff reflects the BBC’s concerns about editorial impartiality. For example, when it comes to retweeting, the guidelines say:

In some cases, you will need to consider the risk that “retweeting” of third party content by the BBC may appear to be an endorsement of the original author’s point of view.

Instead, the BBC advises staff to add “your own comment to the “tweet” you have selected, making it clear why you are forwarding it and where you are speaking in your own voice and where you are quoting someone else’s.”

This strikes at the heart of one of the tensions in social media for professional media organisations: Social media blurs the line between the professional and the personal.

The guidelines seek to make some distinctions here, especially when it comes to on-air talent, where personality plays a big role:

Presenters of live chat shows, music and entertainment shows may sometimes refer on air, where editorially justifiable, to their personal microblogging accounts. This is where the account is used as a personal tool by the presenter; it should not be used as a normal or official means of contacting the programme but it can be used to gather instant feedback by the presenter.

The BBC, as other media organisations, is adapting to a social media ecosystem, so it is likely that the guidelines will evolve over time. But the general principles set out are a good place to start.