Charities should be social media savvy

28 June 2012

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland has urged charities to ensure that their social media use does not break the law or jeopardise their reputation and the reputation of charities more generally.

The call comes as increasing numbers of charities use social media to get their message across in an effective and inexpensive way.

Charity Commission Chief Executive Frances McCandless elaborates:

"In straitened times charities may well turn to social media to get the message across about their good work and keep in contact with service users or supporters; two examples of the many positive aspects of social media.

"The flip side however, is the potential for a rogue or careless post to attract adverse attention, to undermine the work of a charity and to potentially break charity law or indeed other laws. This is very possible and we think that if charities use social media they should also have some checks and balances in place.

"A simple internal policy or procedure can help charities to use social media successively and minimise risks to their reputation. We have provided five tips to help charities with this, and to be savvy about social media."

The tips follow the Charity Commission launching their Twitter channel CharityCommissionNI @CharityCommNI.

The Charity Commission’s "five social media savvy tips" are as follows:

  1. Have a plan in place: A social media plan should detail who can access the social media account and the kind of things they should be posting. This plan will ensure that the person using social media on behalf of the organisation understands social media dos and don’ts, expectations and responsibilities. You would not give your car keys to an uninsured driver, and the same could be said of social media account access.
  2. Social media is an expression of the organisation not the individual: Ensure that social media does not become a soap box for the individual tasked with making online posts. An expression of the political views of any individual trustee or staff member may be a breach of the Charities Act (NI) 2008. Charities need to be especially cautious during election time, ensuring that postings could not be interpreted as an expression of a political view. For more information on this see the Commission’s guidance on lobbying and campaigning.
  3. Stick to what you know: Charities are often experts in niche areas. It is best for them to post about their charitable purposes and what they know rather than stray into unknown and dangerous waters. Considered use of social media can demonstrate the societal value of charities, so stick to what you know.
  4. Reputation, reputation, reputation: Social media is a more relaxed communications platform than most. But don’t let this fool you into thinking that charities can say what they like on the online world. Don’t post online anything that you wouldn’t want said back to you. If you do damage the reputation of a charity, you could have breached the Charities Act (NI) 2008. Think before you post and if in doubt, hold off and double check.
  5. Choose your friends carefully: Choosing friends or individuals to follow may affect the reputation of your own organisation. Think about and check what your friends are posting online. Their comments may show on your social media feed or page. Also, resist being drawn into online conversations with friends that are interesting but don’t fall within the charity’s remit or social media policy. A current topic may be fun to discuss online but think about how that discussion could affect the charity’s reputation and independence.


Notes to editors:

    1. The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland is the new independent regulator established under the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008.
    2. The Charities Act (NI) 2008 provides the Commission with a range of powers.
    3. The Commission’s guidance on lobbying and campaigning can be viewed at:

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