Social Media Best Practices
Following some basic guidelines can help social media users maintain a successful online presence and avoid potentially serious pitfalls. First and foremost, it is important to consider the implications of what you post and to follow the terms of service or community guidelines of the platforms you use. All members of the UMBC community are also expected to follow applicable university policies (e.g., Code of Student Conduct, Faculty Handbook and Staff Handbook).
This document is primarily intended as an educational resource to inform how UMBC community members use social media in their professional lives. If you are using social media as a representative of UMBC, the Office of Institutional Advancement recommends following these basic tips. Broader social media users might also find them helpful for navigating the gray area between professional and personal life online. Uncertain of what it means to represent UMBC or if your account is personal or professional? Contact OIA Communications Manager Dinah Winnick at email@example.com for guidance.
Create a recognizable online identity
- Create an online identity that is easy to recognize and understand. An account name that is straightforward, searchable and clearly connected to a real-world identity (such as your department or group’s name) often works best. Account icons should be simple to function effectively as thumbnails.
- If you or your organization have accounts on multiple platforms (such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn), consistently use the same name and visual style across each site if possible.
- Make your account’s name and visual style unique, but keep UMBC-affiliated accounts consistent with the university’s style guide. For information on using a UMBC logo or seal, contact Creative Service Design Director Jim Lord at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Provide engaging content
- Craft brief, effective messages that pique interest, provoke questions and implicitly convey why a reader should want to learn more.
- Post regularly but avoid redundancy, such as repeating reminders for an upcoming event several times. On Facebook and Twitter, aim for a posting frequency of at least once per week, preferably more often.
- Pay attention to how people on various platforms use language in their messages and stay current by adopting standard writing styles, abbreviations and posting conventions.
- Include a diverse mix of content types, such as: (1) original writing, video, audio or photos highlighting upcoming events, new publications, achievements, opportunities or perspectives; (2) links to material produced by others, like breaking news stories; (3) dialogue with and comments from constituents.
- Tailor your voice to the needs and interests of your intended audience. Keep in mind that social media is a platform for more intimate/casual conversations than other media, but more informative/institutional voices might be appropriate in some cases.
- Provide a balance of heavy/light and short/long posts to engage diverse readers.
Prioritize accuracy and propriety
- Take the time to think before you post. Once your content is online, it is no longer under your control, so take a moment to reflect and to proofread before hitting “enter.”
- Be the first to respond to your own mistakes. If you make an error, be up-front about recognizing it and correct it quickly. If someone points out your mistake, thank them for letting you know.
- Respect privacy and confidentiality. We encourage university faculty, staff and students to participate in community dialog and to share their work and experiences with public audiences. However, it is important to remember prohibitions against posting personal, confidential or proprietary information, such as those outlined FERPA, HIPAA and donor anonymity agreements. Sharing restricted information, even unintentionally, can result in legal action against you or UMBC.
- Respect intellectual property. When quoting someone else’s work, remember to credit the original source. Rather than re-posting a full-length piece, post a small excerpt and link to the original.
- Before you friend, like or follow another account or comment on an external company or product, consider if the relationship is appropriate and how it might be perceived by others. Unless reflecting an existing relationship, official UMBC accounts should avoid suggesting that the university endorses a particular group, cause, brand or person.
Distinguish between personal and professional communications
- If you are a highly visible faculty or staff member using social media in a personal or semi-professional capacity, please note on your account, “the views stated here are my own,” or an equivalent.
- If you are using social media as an official representative of UMBC, take care to uphold the university’s mission and values and to keep your personal views separate where overlap might be problematic.
Develop robust conversations
- Become an active friend, fan or follower. Social media is about developing connections, not just broadcasting news. Join existing discussions by connecting with other users, liking and re-posting their content, offering comments or sharing resources. Initiate discussions and ask questions.
- Become a valued community member. Engage in dialog with other users, but make sure you are contributing valuable insights. Social media users often view self-promotion negatively.
- Monitor ongoing conversations on relevant topics and chime in when possible. Use event-, topic- and group-specific keywords and hashtags to connect your posts to broader conversations.
- Respond to questions, comments and complaints quickly and appropriately.
Social Media Contests: Terms and Permissions
- UMBC requires that staff seek and receive permission from content creators to share their contest submissions in any format beyond an intraplatform re-tweet, share or link. For example, photographer permission is required if you want to save a photo from an Instagram contest and add it to a Facebook album or video slide show.
- Seeking permission is simple. On your contest rules and information page add this sentence (with hyperlink): “By submitting a creative work for this contest, you acknowledge and agree to UMBC’s Terms and Permissions.”
- UMBC’s Terms and Permissions are sufficient for standard social media contests. However, if you would like to use submitted materials for commercial gain (e.g., photographs to illustrate a calendar you are selling for a fundraiser) or to prominently feature creative works in promotional materials, additional permissions may be required. Please contact Dinah Winnick, Office of Institutional Advancement, at email@example.com
- Beyond contests, social media administrators often encounter content that they would like to re-use across platforms. This also requires permission. Here is sample language that you can use to seek permission from a content creator: “Love this photo. Is it yours? Could we share this with the UMBC community? Please see terms and permission [link] + respond with yes/no. Thanks!”
Use resources wisely
- Original content is important to engage readers, but it can be laborious to create. Get the best return on your time investment by syndicating original content across multiple platforms and accounts, or linking to older content when it becomes relevant again, but take care to avoid redundancy.
- Allocate sufficient time for account management to ensure a strong, continuously active social media presence. As you plan your schedule, include time for social media strategy development, daily communications and usage/readership assessment.
- Vigilantly monitor your site for signs of hacking. If you are hacked, or you fall into a phishing trap, immediately update your password and notify your friends/followers. The larger your audience is, the more tempting it will be for unauthorized parties to gain access to your account, and the more serious the repercussions.
- Regularly assess your efforts. Analytic tools can help you determine how successful your tactics are at helping you reach your communications goals. If your tactics aren’t bearing fruit, change your approach until you find something the works with your audience. Some platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, have built-in metrics, and there are several free and subscription services that can help you delve deeper into the data. We also recommend using a link shortening and tracking service, such as bit.ly or goo.gl, so you can see click-through numbers on the links you post. Remember to record your metrics so you can gauge your performance over time.
- Delete or merge inactive and redundant accounts. Such accounts can frustrate followers, harm your reputation and consume resources that could be better spent elsewhere.