Bloomberg updates social media policy: Ask first. Tweet later.

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Bloomberg's new social media policy encourages reporters to use Twitter — but with stipulations. It might seem like an obvious move for a news organization these days, but some traditional outlets, including Bloomberg, have managed to hold off until now.

Dan Fletcher, the new social media director for Bloomberg, told employees about the new policy in an internal memo, which we received from an anonymous source close to the matter. "While the policy is meant to extend broadly across all social networks, we're encouraging reporters and editors to get started with Twitter," he said. "Twitter is easy to use and has become a valuable news source for millions of users. It's the best way to help readers discover the work you're doing and monitoring conversations within your beat."
 
This news isn't too surprising, as Bloomberg has been getting more social-media-savvy over the last year, first with the hire of Robert Harles, the company's global head of social media. Harles sat on a panel alongside other financial news outlets during Social Media Week, discussing how Twitter can be used for financial news. In an interview afterward, he hinted that the news organization was starting to experiment with getting editorial staff oriented with Twitter.  
 
Fletcher's e-mail offered tips and resources for Bloomberg editorial staff to get started on Twitter, and said he plans to send a weekly e-mail to highlight social media news, tips and success stories. 
 

Please tweet … but

Bloomberg is encouraging and training employees to use Twitter, and its new editorial policy (full version below) clearly allows employees to keep a personal profile on social networks. But it outlines a lot of boundaries. As the policy puts it: "Ask questions first. Tweet later." 
 
Though I haven't seen the exact policies of most news organizations, much of the wording around accuracy and bias is unsurprising from a journalistic institution. Bloomberg's policy forbids journalists to use social networks to express political opinions, to advocate on behalf of a particular issue or agenda, or to use social media to express opinions related to their professional assignment or beat. It also asks editorial staff to apply the same standards of fairness and verification to Twitter. Bloomberg Terminal
 
A few interesting tidbits from the rules that stood out as particular to Bloomberg's digital strategy include: "We should not share work in progress or use social media as a vehicle for breaking news" (Bloomberg offers a subscription service, so presumably wouldn't want to break news on a free service). The rules also prohibit reporters from engaging "in arguments with those critical of our work or critical of Bloomberg News." They also encourage reporters to promote Bloomberg's work above other outlets: "Social media is an excellent means of promoting our work. As such, there should be a preference for linking to Bloomberg.com stories. However, it’s good Web and social media etiquette to give credit in the form of a link to work that is interesting or valuable, regardless of the source."
 

Finding a Twitter balance

On one hand the policy demonstrates that traditional news organizations have come a long way from viewing Twitter strictly as a rogue tool for reporters. On the other hand, it's obvious that social media still comes with a lot of daunting editorial constraints. 
 
GigaOm's Matthew Ingram says that some of the common rules of news organizations and social media tend to neglect the social aspect. He recently examined The Toronto Star's policy, which contains many of the same stipulations as Bloomberg. Ingram says putting so many guidelines around engaging with readers keeps reporters from being personal. 
 
As much as "social media rules" can seem counterproductive, I understand why some media brands need to jump carefully into social without losing objectivity or credibility. It's easy for blog-oriented reporters to scratch our heads at it, but that's because social is more inherently a part of our brand. The right mix of allowing personal expression within a big corporate news organization isn't easy. The New York Times has experienced culture wars over Twitter in the past, but it seems to be striking a balance. On a recent panel, reporters praised the non-Draconian Twitter policy of their employer. 
 
UPDATE: A Bloomberg spokesperson declined to comment.
 
Please share your thoughts: How is your organization handling editorial policies for Twitter? Should companies like Bloomberg lessen the reins? 
 
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[from Bloomberg:]
 
Editorial Social Media Policy
 
Social media platforms are a powerful way to reach millions of new readers and expand the impact of our reporting. Social media is a useful complement to our work so long as principles of fairness, accuracy and transparency are upheld. Common U.S. social networks include Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Tumblr and Posterous, although this list is by no means exhaustive.
 
The ubiquity and rapid evolution of social networks can make it difficult to define the line between personal and professional expression. To be clear, as a journalist at Bloomberg anything we publish is considered a professional act. This doesn’t preclude keeping a personal profile. It simply means that we are responsible for the content of that profile, and that anything we communicate must meet the company’s guidelines and standards.
 
The guidelines that follow are designed to help journalists steer clear of common pitfalls of participating on social media networks. These principles are designed to extend broadly across any social site a Bloomberg News employee may participate on. The ethics section of the Bloomberg Way provides useful additional guidance, as well.
 
Lastly, when in doubt, remember: Ask questions first. Tweet later. 
 
Social Media Guidelines 
 
Joining Social Networks
 
  • Every social network has its own set of terms and conditions that govern the data that appears on the site. In many cases, social networks reserve the right to display portions of a user’s personal information or updates without additional consent. 
  • Some social networks offer privacy settings to help protect the spread of information outside of a user’s friends and followers on a social network. These protections, while useful, are fallible. Assume anything posted on the Web is publicly available. 
  • Deleting a post does not ensure its removal from the Web. Assume anything posted will be available in perpetuity.
Personal Conduct
 
  • We should not use social networks to express political opinions or to advocate on behalf of a particular issue or agenda. Posts should never express bias based on race, sex, religion, or nationality.
  • Reporters and editors cannot use social media to express opinions related in any way to their professional assignment or beat. We must be mindful readers depend on our reporting for observation and insight derived from fact – not from opinion or gossip.
  • We must be transparent at all times about our occupations. Most social networks include a personal profile section, which is usually the best opportunity to provide background information.
  • Do not join groups on social networks dedicated to a particular political opinion or cause.
  • Do not engage in arguments with those critical of our work or critical of Bloomberg News.
  • Do not disparage the work of others. 
  • Assume internal Bloomberg discussions and meetings are "off-the-record" unless otherwise stated.
Reporting / Sharing Our Work
 
  • Social media is an excellent means of promoting our work. As such, there should be a preference for linking to Bloomberg.com stories. However, it’s good Web and social media etiquette to give credit in the form of a link to work that is interesting or valuable, regardless of the source. 
  • Be cognizant that reposting (on Twitter, "retweeting") updates from other sources may be viewed as an implicit endorsement of a specific viewpoint or fact. As such, we must apply the same standards of fairness and verification as we would to any other posting.  
  • We should not share work in progress or use social media as a vehicle for breaking news. As ever, news must always break first on the Bloomberg Terminal. 
Accuracy
 
  • Be skeptical of any information forwarded on a social network. Memes and misinformation spread more rapidly online than anywhere else. We must apply the same standards of verification as we would to any other source.
  • Any update benefits from a second review before posting. Because of the nature of social media, the "two pairs of eyes" rule may not always be practical. However, remember our posts are always available for public and editorial review.
  • In the event of an erroneous post, delete and issue a corrected version, noting the correction.
Above all else, we must avoid any action that could call our impartiality into question. When in doubt, contact an editor for guidance.

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