We’ve written before about the double-edged sword of social media. On the one hand it can boost profiles and raise revenue, on the other it can get a lot of people in hot-water if someone steps even a little bit out of line.

From a journalistic perspective, social media is also emerging as an important tool for hacks to engage and network with the wider community. And the BBC has today published its social media guidelines for its staff working in news.

The guidelines are divided into three sections:

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 (eg 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 guidelines are very explicit in what members of staff at the BBC can and can’t do. It seems it’s okay to admit that you work for the BBC on social networks, but with caveats:

“You are allowed to say that you work for the BBC, and you can discuss the BBC and your work publicly. But your name/title should not contain BBC in any form. And you should make clear that the views expressed are personal, and not those of the BBC.”

And, the guidelines state that even when acting on their own behalf rather than as a BBC employee, they should be careful about expressing political allegiances:

“You shouldn’t state your political preferences or say anything that compromises your impartiality. Don’t sound off about things in an openly partisan way. Don’t be seduced by the informality of social media into bringing the BBC into disrepute.”

Common sense comes into the equation too, with members of staff urged to “not do anything stupid”. But BBC has gone even further by providing ‘Official Tweeters’ Guidance‘, in a separate document.

“We label the Twitter accounts of some presenters and correspondents as ‘official’ . This activity is regarded as BBC News output and tweets should normally be consistent with this, reflecting and focusing on areas relevant to the role or specialism, and avoiding personal interests or unrelated issues. A senior editor keeps an eye on tweets from these accounts after they’re sent out.”

Most of the points do seem like common sense, but by formalizing these, BBC is minimizing the chances of a major social media faux-pas taking place.

Chris Hamilton, BBC News’s Social Media Editor, says in a blog post today:

“The guidance we’re publishing is not set in stone. It will change as the digital and social media landscape changes – hopefully as fast. For now, as it is, it aims to strike the right balance for us and to help our journalists engage, gather news and spread their journalism.”

Other organizations have also published their social media guidelines recently, such as Ford, which also follows a ‘use your common sense’ approach, reminding staff that ‘The Internet is a public space’.