Social media guidelines for elected officials

Social media guidelines

Perhaps the best advice is to approach online worlds in the same way we do the physical one—by using sound judgment and common sense.

Follow the City of Guelph’s codes of conduct and corporate values

City of Guelph codes of conduct, corporate values and policies are the foundation for these principles and guidelines.

Maintain confidentiality

Do not post information discussed in closed session. Do not post anything that you would not present in a public forum.

Maintain privacy

Do not post private or confidential information about fellow Councillors, City of Guelph employees or constituents. Do not discuss situations involving named, pictured or otherwise identifiable individuals without their permission.

Refer customer service questions to the City’s official channels

When you’re asked a question about City operations (garbage collection, snow removal, rink times etc.) you may not have all the answers, and that’s OK. City staff monitors and responds to questions using its official accounts. Rather than duplicating the service provided by staff, elected officials can acknowledge the question and refer people to the City’s official customer service channels on Facebook, Twitter,, or by phone or email. For example:

Question: When will my street be plowed?
Answer: All @cityofguelph streets should be done by Wed. If not, call 519-837-5628 or report a problem online

Give credit where credit is due

Be authentic. Write as an extension of your own voice. When you re-post something written by someone else, first ensure you have the proper permissions to do so. Then clearly state the material, letter, response, etc. has been authored by someone else. Do not use the copyrights, trademarks, publicity rights, or other rights of others without the necessary permissions of the rightholder(s).

More isn’t more

Resist the urge to post everything. Refrain from cutting and pasting emails from staff or constituents into posts without clear context and permissions. These messages are written for a specific audience for a specific purpose that is probably different from your own. You could be doing your readers a disservice by sharing information without context. Take the time to interpret the contents, and re-present them based on your audience and its needs.

Provide information when it counts

Should you decide to engage in social media, know that monitoring and responding in a timely way are crucial. Social media participants expect timely responses to requests and expect co-participants to monitor social media properties frequently and regularly.

When in doubt, do not post

Like City staff, elected officials have an obligation to ensure their posts are accurate and not misleading, and that they do not reveal confidential information.

Know the Internet is permanent

Once information is published online, it becomes part of a permanent record. It is a good practice to provide a link to an online space where your thought or message can be expressed completely and accurately if it, along with its context, cannot fit within a character-restricted space (such as Twitter).

Social media needs maintenance. If you start it, commit to it

Be dynamic: update news feeds, post developments, upload new pictures. Social media participants are savvy; if your online property appears static, it is likely to quickly fall into disuse.

1 Brian Solis, Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.
2 Brian Solis, Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.