I was intrigued by last week’s story about Sam Houston State University in which students felt the school’s social media policy limited their free speech. That is… censored their social media postings on campus-related accounts.
 
The situation in Texas was previewed in a conversation I had with Andy Careaga about a year and a half ago.  He and I were discussing the pros and cons of labeling institutions’ social media do’s and don’ts as “policies” or “guidelines.”
 
I’m a fan of drafting policies and then conducting significant outreach to introduce the approved language to a campus community (my background was original as a policy wonk… you can’t unlearn those teachings!). I worry that not using the term “policy” allows campus constituents to minimize the seriousness of the recommendations and underestimate the consequences for noncompliance.
 
Andy advocated for implementing guidelines paired with significant outreach to the community to share their contents.  He said the Missouri S&T community viewed social media as better governed by recommendations than set-in-stone rules.  The key, he believed, was to charge the community with protecting the institution’s brand with the guidelines serving as a starting point.
 
In the end we appreciated each other’s viewpoints and moved on.
 
Fast forward to this month.  Not knowing the specifics of the situation at SHSU, I can only suggest that those of us in our field look for the overlap between the two approaches—the need for direct communication with the campus to roll out the language.  The underpinning of both of our ideas was a concerted effort to share the language broadly, correct any misperceptions and answer any questions.
 
If done well it doesn’t matter if you have a policy or guidelines, because you’ll have an informed and onboard campus community.  And, after all, isn’t that the goal?