Analysis: BBC Social Media Guidelines

Last week the BBC released some guidelines for its staff in using social media. Mat Murray, content editor for Fuse8 takes a look at the guidelines and offers his opinion as to what they will mean for the corporation.

Mat Murray, content editor for Fuse8 takes a look at the guidelines and offers his opinion as to what they will mean for the corporation.

The document, published on 14 July, covers three main areas of social media activity. They were:

1. Your own personal activity, done for your friends and contacts,

but not under or in the name of BBC News

2. Activity for core news (e.g. breaking news), programmes or genres

carried out officially in the name of BBC News

3. Activity of editors, presenters, correspondents or reporters

carried out as part of official BBC News output.

The BBC state that these are merely guidelines and a new way of thinking when delivering messages over social networks, but many of the guidelines also carry explicit rules which cannot be broken.

For example, core news (e.g. breaking news), programmes or genres that seek to deliver messages officially in the name of BBC News, must have all tweets and Facebook must have a “second pair of eyes” prior to publication.

This additional level of ‘security’ will invariably slow down information relay, especially in the world of breaking news where every second counts, but the BBC also later states in the document that ”every effort should nonetheless be made to ensure this practice is adhered to, unless there are urgent live deadlines”, which gives journalists some leeway.

Area 1 covers “personal activity”, and states that if a BBC staff member’s Twitter feed is a personal account and not 100% geared towards the BBC and relevant news therein, that the Twitter profile must make clear “that the views expressed are personal, and not those of the BBC.”

Finally, the last area covers official BBC accounts, declaring that “all tweets need to be consistent with this, reflecting and focusing on areas relevant to the role or specialism, and avoiding personal interests or unrelated issues.”

The BBC isn’t the first to outline its own strict online and social media guidelines, and it certainly won’t be the last, but these guidelines needed to be outlined. The social web can feel like a lawless state at times, and with the instant, real-time nature of social media, combined with the anonymity and lack of consequence that the Internet often provides, these guidelines will provide stability to BBC staff members.

These refreshed guidelines will make this historically grey-area decidedly less ambiguous, and if anything, will lend itself to increased social engagement from BBC employees, instead of staff members worrying about what they can and what they can’t post online.

Chris Hamilton, social media editor for BBC News, said however that the guidance was not set in stone in order to allow the corporation to keep up with developments, but also allow journalists to ‘engage, gather news’ and ‘spread their journalism’.

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