The Proven Value of a Social Media Policy

For a few years I’ve been recommending that sport organizations develop their own social media policy. In the most comprehensive blogpost - ‘Does your organization need a social media policy?’ - I explained the five components necessary for an organization to safely and effectively involve itself with, and handle fallout from, social media activity. I’ve also written about the permanency of social media, defamation, proactive and reactive steps, and the newness of Instagram and Vine (add Tinder to that list!).

In addition to writing about social media I’ve been asked by some sport organizations to help with their social media engagement – either by giving a presentation to the Board or the members, or by developing and updating the organization’s policies.

To recap, an organization should have:

  • Social Media Use Policy – for the organization’s staff and other stakeholders (internal document)
  • Social Media Guidelines for Athletes – ‘guidelines’ not ‘policy’ (internal document)
  • Social Media Guidelines for Coaches – ‘guidelines’ not ‘policy’ (internal document)
  • Social Media Policy – for coaches and athletes (external document)
  • Updated Code of Conduct or Athlete Agreement

This suite of tools permits an organization to engage with social media effectively (proactive) and take steps to handle negative or discipline issues (reactive) that occur in social media.

Two recent news stories demonstrate the importance of having a comprehensive social media policy that connects the organization’s code of conduct to the organization’s dispute resolution policies, and that also highlights the organization’s guidelines for social media use.

In one story, a minor hockey coach in British Columbia was fired from his job with the North Delta Minor Hockey Association (NDMHA) because of his activities on Facebook. The coach had been posting pro-Nazi material on his personal Facebook page that included the swastika and comments denying of the existence of the Holocaust. The story first broke on November 5th, 2014. The NDMDA has a social media policy (which apparently was adopted on November 4th, 2014) which explicitly states that the purpose of the policy is to “ensure all members and affiliates are aware that conduct deemed to be inappropriate may be subject to disciplinary action by the NDMDA”.

The NDMDA quite rightly lists “general recommendations” and “guidelines” rather than restrictive rules for member use of social media. The policy then describes some conduct and behaviour violations and connects the policy to the NDMHA’s other policies on member complaints and discipline. Though I see some issues with this policy (particularly that conduct violations should be kept in the code of conduct and not repeated in this policy, and the procedurally unfair statement that discipline decisions will not be appealable), it stands as a working mechanism by which the NDMHA can quickly respond to problems that arise in social media and take action to discipline members. Certainly the NDMHA may not want someone who promotes Nazism to represent the organization or coach children.

In another story, two Ontario Hockey League (OHL) players were each suspended for 15 games for their comments toward women on the social media dating app Tinder. The comments criticized the women for not getting together with the players and contained some very insulting language. The league’s social media policy is not publically available but the league commissioner said that: “this most inappropriate and concerning activity contravenes the league's social networking policy and a number of other policies, including Respect in Sport (Harassment and Abuse) and diversity” which indicates the existence of the policy and its connection to other OHL policies related to conduct and discipline.


So there are two examples, within the span of a week, of a sport organization needing to use a social media policy and the connections between that policy and the organization’s conduct and dispute resolution policies. Having these policies allowed the organizations to act quickly to handle the social media issues from a position of strength and preparation. Clearly there is value in having such a policy.

How are NSOs doing? For a fun exercise, I scanned the websites of all 59 sport organizations that are recognized as National Sport Organizations (NSOs). I was looking for a social media policy. Here are the results:

  • Good Policy present on their website       3
  • Decent Policy present on their website    3
  • No Policy present on their website          53

NSOs do not necessarily need to post their social media policy online, but the vast majority of NSOs post their policies that have a connection to members on their websites and the absence of a social media policy from such a list would strongly suggest that the organization does not have a policy to deal with social media issues. It is also possible that NSOs feel they have covered conduct that occurs on social media within their Code of Conduct, which is partly effective, but many of these policies have not been reviewed to take into consideration the unique characteristics of new and emergent social media platforms.

The results of my quick scan are disturbing. It’s very likely that NSOs are not properly leveraging the power of social media (which we wrote about back in 2010!) at all - let alone strategically using social media to benefit the organization. NSOs may also not be prepared to properly handle disciplinary issues occurring in social media.

Certainly an organization – whether it is an NSO, a provincial association, or a local club – that wants to feel more comfortable and effective with its social media involvement should feel free to contact us and we can get started on developing your strategies for engagement, as well as protection.

Kevin Lawrie

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