Skip to Main Content

Social Media Best Practice Guidelines

Following best practices can help social media users maintain a successful online presence and avoid potentially serious pitfalls. These guidelines are 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 (OIA) recommends following these tips. Broader social media users might also find them helpful for navigating the gray area between professional and personal life online.

First and foremost, always consider the implications of what you post and 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).

Questions? Contact news@UMBC.edu for guidance.

Create a Recognizable Online Identity

  • Create an online identity that is easy to recognize and understand. Account names that are simple, specific, and clearly connected to a real-world identity, such as a department or organization name, are the most searchable and memorable.
  • Use the identity consistently across platforms as much as possible, with minor variations as needed to fit each platform. This includes consistent account names as well as graphics, colors, fonts, and profile description language. Example: UMBC Bookstore on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
  • Account profile, header, and background images should be simple, vibrant, and clear (as high resolution as possible). Keep in mind that a profile image should function effectively as a thumbnail.
  • Confirm that you have permission to use the image, icon or graphic that you select. You may use your unit’s own logo or wordmark. If you are uncertain of permission, snap a fresh photograph to use. Learn more about fair use practices here.
  • Make your account’s name and visual style unique, but keep UMBC-affiliated accounts consistent with UMBC’s Style Guide. For information on using a UMBC logo or icon—including the Retriever logo, which is limited to accounts affiliated with Athletics—see the UMBC wordmark and logo page or contact Creative Service Design Director Jim Lord.

Provide Engaging Content

  • Craft brief, effective messages that pique interest, inspire 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 too many times. Posting frequency can be greater on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat than on Facebook, where most institutions post from a few times per week to a few times per day.
  • 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 community members.
  • Provide a balance of heavy/light and short/long posts to engage diverse readers.
  • Tailor your voice to the needs and interests of your intended audience. Keep in mind that social media is a platform for more personal and casual conversations than other media, but more informative or institutional voices might be appropriate in some cases.
  • Use a consistent personality or voice. On more visual platforms, focus on a consistent visual style (such as using just a few of the available Instagram filters).

Make Use of Strong Visuals, Particularly Video

  • Videos should capture the viewer’s interest within 3-10 seconds.
  • Short videos are highly recommended over long videos, including on platforms like Facebook that support longer videos.
  • Include a visual marker in your video to make sure it is clear who produced it, whether through an intro, outro, or icon that appears during the piece.
  • Consider including names and titles for any people included in your video.
  • Caption your video. Captions are easy to add in YouTube, where they can be typed in directly or uploaded. Whenever possible, don’t really on automatically generated captions, which may not be fully accurate. In addition to making your video accessible for people with hearing impairments (important for inclusion and ADA compliance), captions will also make your video more accessible to viewers who are watching it on silent autoplay (e.g., on Facebook) and viewers whose primary language is not the language of the video.
  • Make sure you have legal permission to use all footage, still photos, logos, and music included in the video. Learn more about fair use practices here.
  • If you’re sharing a video on Facebook, try uploading it to Facebook rather than linking to it in a post, for maximum viewership and quality analytics.
  • Technical video production guidelines are available here.

Prioritize Accuracy, Propriety, and Legality

  • Take the time to think before you post. Once your content is online, it is no longer under your control, so always take an extra moment to reflect and to proofread.
  • 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 and creative labor. Written permission is required to share user-generated content across platforms, such as pulling images from Instagram to create a YouTube video. This includes content submitted through social media contests. When you share something with permission, remember to credit the original source. Properly crediting content creators is important for building online relationships with other individuals and institutions on social media.
  • Learn more through UMBC’s Terms and Permissions for Creative Works and the UMBC Photo Release Form [coming soon].
  • 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

  • UMBC faculty and staff using social media in a personal or combined personal-professional capacity should note in their account biographical statement “the views stated here are my own,” or an equivalent, to avoid confusion about if/when they are speaking as a university representative.
  • 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.

Run Social Media Campaigns and Contests

  • Email news@umbc.edu to consult with OIA prior to launching a social media campaign or contest. OIA can help you refine your contest strategy and plans, partner with other groups on campus to have an event greater impact, or develop an engaging, concise hashtag.
  • Is your contest really a contest? In a contest, the winner is selected by merit, such as having the best submission or receiving the most votes. In sweepstakes, the winner is chosen by luck, such as with a drawing. In a lottery, entrants must make a purchase or pay money for a chance to win. We strongly recommend against lotteries, which involve complex legal regulations. More information on the legal distinctions and implications of these three categories is available here.
  • If you plan to use the creative work followers submit through a social media contest, make sure you seek and receive permission to do so. Permission is required from content creators to share their contest submissions in any format beyond the simplest forms of engagement within the same platform. 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 YouTube video.
  • 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., using 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 email news@umbc.edu for details.
  • 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 on UMBC’s Facebook page? Please see terms and permission [link] + respond with yes/no. Thanks!”

Organize Social Media Takeovers

  • Social media takeovers are a great way to boost the visibility of student voices and to provide a sense of the student experience. They offer benefits to both the person taking over the account (their perspective is shared on a large platform) and also the account itself (which benefits from new energy and a fresh approach, and can attract the followers of the new person posting).
  • Think carefully when determining who the right person would be to take over your account based on what you want to convey and the audience you want to reach.
  • Prior to finalizing plans for a social media takeover, meet with the person who will manage the takeover to discuss the expectations of each party, essential guidelines the poster should follow, and tips based on previous takeovers.
  • Here is a checklist you can use in your takeover prep meeting. Make sure you discuss:
    • the specific date and time when the takeover will begin and end
    • the specific account that will be taken over
    • how the guest poster will actually post to the account, such as through a temporary login or by emailing or texting content to the regular social media manager to post
    • the goal of the takeover, such as to highlight a particular event, a space on campus, or a day in the life of a student, or to motivate action, such as encouraging registrations or donations
    • what kinds of content could be a good match for the account, and any applicable university guidelines or broad tips for posting, such as re-reading before you post to catch any errors
    • approximately how many posts should go up during the takeover
    • recommended variety in types of posts (e.g., mixing photos and video, avoiding multiple pictures of the same subject)
    • how to introduce themselves at the start of the takeover and say goodbye at the end (before logging out)
    • a possible signature for each social media post, so new readers tuning in are aware a takeover is in progress (Example: –Jess M. @womencenterumbc #UMBCtakeover)
    • what, if any, hashtags, or geotags should be used
    • how the takeover manager and regular manager can quickly contact each other if there are any issues
  • Promote the social media takeover before it begins. With permission, take a photo of the person who will manage the takeover, and post it on the account prior to the takeover so followers have a sense of who will be posting at that time.
  • Continue to monitor the account during the takeover to make sure it is going smoothly.
  • After the takeover, remember to:
    • quickly update the account password if provided to a guest poster
    • thank the guest poster both publicly on the account and through a personal message
    • ask the guest poster to share any recommendations or things they have learned from the experience that others would find useful in the future
    • consider opportunities for future takeovers with the guest poster

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 sharing original content across multiple platforms and accounts, and linking to older content when it becomes relevant again, while taking 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. Use two-step authentication or password managers if possible. Remember that 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, so you can see click-through numbers on the links you post. 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.

Explore Paid Advertising Strategically

Paid advertising may be beneficial to your department/organization, however here are some things to think about prior to setting it up:

  • What is your goal for the ad? There should be clear call to action for the user that connects back to your organization or department’s overall objective, such as boosting event registrations or applications.
  • Can the ads pay for themselves? Consider how you would gauge the return on your investment in the ad to determine if it would be worthwhile. For instance, if you want to run an ad to promote an event that has an entrance fee, the money earned through increased ticket sales could offset the cost of running the ad. If the ad is for something that is not revenue-generating, are there other ways it will benefit your organization?
  • Who’s paying for it? P cards can often be used to pay for social media ads, but prior to starting an ad you should confirm that this is allowable in your situation, and you will need to know what chartstring it comes out of for your organization or department.
  • Are you competing with anyone else? Could you partner with them? If you’re running an ad that may be the general responsibility of another department or that mentions another department, you may end up increasing costs for each other. Before you start running ads, take into account what others on campus might be doing and see if you can identify ways to collaborate to use resources most effectively and have the greatest impact.
  • Who’s your audience and what’s your message? It is too costly to try to advertise to everyone, so you must make decisions about who your potential audience truly is and what message you want to convey to them. For example, if an annual event has historically been focused on students, and you are considering advertising to professors because they might be interested in attending, consider if they are truly likely to attend and whether or not including more faculty in that particular event would demonstrate success, based on event goals.
  • Have you done your homework? Once you have a sense of your advertising approach, research the type of paid promotion you would like to pursue and make sure you carefully follow guidelines for that approach, to make the best use of your time and budget. For example, make sure you follow Facebook guidelines when designing a Facebook ad, as the company will not approve ads that contain too much text, and you want to avoid having to redesign an ad multiple times.

Reach out for help when you need it

UMBC now has a Social Media Advisory Group that can provide feedback, training, and supports for social media administrators across campus. To reach this group for advice, email news@umbc.edu and include “Request for SM Advisory Group” in the subject line. Social media account administrators are also encouraged to join the myUMBC Social Media Club for training resources, peer support, and social media campaign coordination.