Resort Council Approves First Social Media Policy

OCEAN CITY – The Town of Ocean City approved a formal social media policy this week that will serve as a guide to how staff utilize the tools to communicate content to the public.
“Social media has changed the way we communicate, both personally and professionally,” Communications Manager Jessica Waters said. “While social media is a great tool to use to provide information to our citizens and interact with our residents and visitors, it is important that the content being shared is appropriate, timely, professional and factual.”
Waters furthered, by creating a social media policy, the Town of Ocean City will be setting strong expectations as to how “official” social media sites are maintained. These not only include content management, but also comment review, departmental response and achieving procedures.
Most importantly, this social media policy will assure that all official town social media sites, both past, present and future, are held to the same standards as other official websites.
“When I took this position, I started looking at some of our social media accounts that we have here in the city and looking at any type of policy that we had that regulated them, and realized there wasn’t any,” Waters said. “So, there isn’t any expectation as we as a town expects our social media accounts to be operating.”
Waters pointed out there are close to 30 social media accounts across all Ocean City departments between Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Flicker and blogs that are all controlled by Ocean City employees.
“There is no policy that says that an employee in Public Works can start their own official Public Works Facebook page, or any kind of Facebook page that acts as an official Ocean City site,” Waters used as an example. “I wanted there to be something that tells the people that are maintaining and managing these sites the best implementations and what is expected of them in an official capacity.”
The purpose of the policy is to establish guidelines for the use of the town’s existing and future social media sites as a means of conveying pertinent information to its citizens. This policy established the town’s position on the use and management of social media and provides guidance on its management, administration and oversight. This policy addresses social media in general and not specific platforms, as they are evolving and new tools will likely emerge.
The intended purpose behind establishing town social media sites is to disseminate timely information regarding emergencies, public safety concerns or community information from the town to its residents, property owners and visitors. The town has an overriding interest and expectation in deciding what is “spoken” on behalf of the town on social media sites.
A few policy items highlighted during the Mayor and City Council’s discussion are all social media sites or pages should be approved by the communications manager and/or department head and shall be administered by the communications manager. Additional administrators can be any department employee designated by the requesting department head that has a complete understanding of the policy and has appropriate content and technical experience.
Social media should adhere to applicable federal, state and local laws, regulations and policies, including the Maryland Freedom of Information Act. Any content maintained in a social media format that is related to town business, including a list of subscribers, posted communication, and communication submitted for posting, may be a public record subject to public disclosure.
When using social media, including written posts and/or photographs and video, during an active incident or investigation, all postings must be approved by the communications manager and/or incident commander.
“We have really wonderful people maintaining our social media sites, so I am very fortunate but in the policy it does ask the communication manager oversees posts. Many of the staff now, if they get a post and they are not sure how to respond do call me, and I do appreciate that team work,” Waters said.
The sites are a limited public forum, limited to the discussion of matters related to the Maryland Emergency Social Media websites. The town encouraged submissions of questions, comments and concerns but reserve the right to delete comments without notice that are off topic, solicitations or advertisement for commercial products or services, infringe on copyright or trademarks, obscene under legal standards, or speech that is otherwise unprotected by the First Amendment the town deems inappropriate.
“I just wanted to make sure that the listening audience understands that this is really a policy for us as the town of Ocean City, and that we cannot have a policy for somebody out there who comments on our page but we do have the right to remove it if it is not pertinent, uses foul language, or is inappropriate,” Council Secretary Mary Knight said.
The City Council voted 6-0 to approve the social media policy with Council President Lloyd Martin absent.