It’s nice to see so many parishes embracing social media and establishing accounts on services like Twitter and building Facebook Pages. As I look at various parish websites that have staff email addresses posted I have noticed that many are obviously personal addresses (i.e. @Yahoo.com, @Live.com, etc.) I wonder how many parishes have a technology, digital/electronic, or even office equipment policies regarding acceptable use?
Companies and organizations all over are running into the issue of service accounts, such as Twitter accounts, and who really “owns” them when the creator of the account leaves. Why? The main reason is that people have often established these accounts under their own personal email addresses for the organization, feel they “own” the account, and there is often no formal policy that explains who “owns” these accounts and what acceptable use is.
Just as any communication equipment in your parish office is the property of the parish and appropriate use is expected, the same holds true for parish online accounts. This includes parish provided email accounts and parish social networking accounts. It should be spelled out in a formal policy that is reviewed with anyone working in the office or representing the parish to the outside world by communicating on it’s behalf.
Here’s 3 things to do this year to sure up protecting your parish digital/electronic communications:
- Establish formal Digital Communications and Appropriate Use policies. I recommend consulting your Diocese Office in regards to the formal policies. Generally, in the business community these policies clearly point out that equipment, services (internet access), and accounts are the property of the organization and what appropriate use is in regards to communication. This policy should be communicated to anyone working in the office, all ministry leaders, and anyone volunteering that will communicate to others as a representative of the parish. This way volunteers understand that the Twitter account or Facebook Page belongs to the parish and there is a responsibility to use it with care and respect. It’s often a best practice to have a signed copy of the policy for each user on file also.
- Provide Parish email accounts for anyone working in the office. Email is the new phone number and one of the primary ways people communicate and exchange documents and information. Personal email addresses not only look unprofessional, they open you up to all sorts of potential problems both technically (i.e. increased virus potential) and legally (i.e. providing necessary communication records with a legal issue) if you can’t access communications later on if necessary. This also eliminates the “owner” dispute because the parish owns the email account which should be used for creating the online accounts that the parish owns too inherently. I recommend establishing them by position/function (i.e. Pastor@YourDomain.com, OfficeManager@YourDomain.com, etc.) which makes it easier for change.
- There should be multiple access to accounts. The parish should always have access to all email accounts and social media accounts for the parish. I typically recommend having a minimum of 2 people (at least one being a normal office staff person) having access to social media accounts and a Network Administrator as well as the Pastor having access to all email accounts. The email part often gets confusing where people tend to think their organization-provided email is considered private to them and this is not true. The email account and all communications going through it belong to the parish or organization providing it to the user.
The important thing is to recognize that these digital communication accounts and services are important and just as important as any communication technology. There are potential issues that can (and are) arise and it’s better to be up front and reduce that likelihood. Establishing the expectations and clearly communicating them is always the best solution in my opinion.
Does your parish have a formal policies regarding equipment, digital/electronic communication, and appropriate use?
Does your parish provide email accounts or does office staff use their own personal accounts? If you haven’t provided email accounts, why not?