Courthouse Journal Blog

The Courthouse Journal is the official weekly newsletter of the Washington Association of County Officials. The Courthouse Journal Blog is a collection of publications relevant to WACO members, their staff, and others. *This blog is not updated on a schedule.

View All Posts

Jun 02


Posted on June 2, 2023 at 8:31 AM by Timothy Grisham

Social Media is a complex topic from both a legal and policy standpoint. Because of this, WACO is happy to share with our members of our reference points and best practices on the topic. 

Public perception is influenced by several factors. Everyday your office interacts with several stakeholders, an informed and un-informed public at large, media, etc., as well as strives to engage otherwise unengaged members of diverse communities and stakeholders.    

To foster positive collaborations with a diverse group of interested parties, audience engagement only strengthens your ability to serve the people of your communities, as well as leverage a wider support for your office goals. 

A key component to growing your audience, and reaching new demographics, is taking in and adapting to feedback. Note what kinds of messages are resonating through various channels. It is important not only to track what resonates, but also what is being said. Social media relies in large part on participatory involvement.  

The strength of social media, much like social capital, or traditional social connections is not through direct communication, but the ability to communicate to one set of individuals and build on their separate set of partners to spread your messaging to an audience not immediately within your reach. It is through strengthening these relationships that your own audience and reach grows. 

 Basic Social Media Principals  

 These principles are universal when using social media officially, professionally or personally.  

 Be aware: communication via social media is powerful. Social media tools allow information to be communicated almost instantly to a broad audience, perhaps literally around the world.  

  • Communication via social media (for example on Facebook) is often not anonymous. Privacy settings may not create the level of privacy intended and even “anonymous” posts may not actually be or truly remain anonymous.  
  • Communications via social media are recorded and widely available for an indefinite length of time. 

 Be responsible. Be responsible for material posted. At times employees may use social media for official or professional agency business purposes; however, employees may be perceived by others as speaking on behalf of WACO regardless of intent or authority to do so. Carefully consider content and how it may be perceived. What is published will be accessible for some time and, in some cases, indefinitely.   

Be honest and transparent. Honesty – or dishonesty – will be quickly noticed in the social media environment. Don’t communicate under anyone else’s name or photo. Don’t use fake names.   

Correct errors quickly. If a mistake is made, admit it. Be upfront and quickly provide the correct information. If appropriate, modify an earlier post to make it clear that the error has been corrected.   

Be respectful. When disagreeing with others’ opinions, keep it appropriate and polite. Do not use defamatory or libelous language or engage in damaging innuendo. Do not use abusive, threatening, offensive, obscene, explicit or racist language.  

Be relevant and add value. The best way to get content read is to contribute information that people value. Social communication from WACO should help citizens, partners and co-workers. It can be thought-provoking and should build a sense of community. If social communication helps people improve knowledge or skills, build their businesses, do their jobs, solve problems, or understand the community better, then it is adding value.  

Be conversational. When communicating via social media, use the same approach that one would use when talking to a person on the phone. Bring in personality to personalize the voice/tone of the agency. Use plain language and avoid using government jargon or acronyms. Consider content that is open-ended and invites responses. Encourage comments. Broaden the conversation by referring to others who are commenting about the same topic and allowing content to be shared or syndicated. When shortening words to save space, utilize commonly used shorthand.  

Abide by social media provider rules. By joining a particular social network or service, an employee agrees to abide by that provider’s terms of service.  

Handling negative comments. The purpose of many social media sites is to engage and get feedback from the public. One should expect that some of the feedback received will be negative. Some effective ways to respond to negative comments include: 

  • Providing accurate information 
  • Respectfully disagree 
  • Acknowledge that it is possible to hold different points of view 

Sample Social Media policy (see page 90):

MRSC has a fantastic section to explore the topic: 

While the AG has a great resource on Social Media and public records: