SOCIAL MEDIA AT PENN STATE
Guidelines for University Communications and Marketing Professionals
These guidelines were created by Penn State’s Office of Strategic Commmunications. For more information, contact Lisa M. Powers, director, News and Media Relations, 312 Old Main, University Park, PA 16802 or email email@example.com.
Why do we need guidelines for social media?
This document outlines for Penn State marketing and communications employees guidelines for communicating online. Social media has become an integral part of communications and you and your employees likely are using these online tools for personal and professional purposes.
Social media guidelines set employer expectations, while empowering employees to tweet, post or blog. In addition, guidelines educate staff on issues and items to avoid in both personal and professional online updates or conversations.
Employees in communications and marketing positions at Penn State must be aware that when representing Penn State, we need to comply with uniform policies and present one clear message. These guidelines apply to employees when they are participating in social media for work and during personal online activities that may give the appearance that they are still speaking for Penn State. Our unique positions as spokespeople and the voices of Penn State make it imperative that we follow certain accepted standards and practices when using digital platforms. Our credibility as communicators demands a consistency in tone, attitude, actions and professionalism.
This document provides guidelines gleaned from first-hand experiences managing social media for Penn State and from various sources. We hope that you will find the information useful.
What is social media?
Blogs, social networks, wikis and websites such as Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube (to name a few) are examples of social media and provide exciting channels for us to share knowledge and connect with others.
Because social media channels rapidly evolve and introduce new opportunities and challenges, we’ve assembled these “best practice” guidelines from respected online and industry sources to help you use these forums effectively, protect your personal and professional reputation, add quality to Penn State and follow University policies.
The purpose of social media
Social media offers the opportunity to engage in conversations with those who care about Penn State and to hear directly from them. Social media has helped to initiate new conversations, respond to feedback and maintain an active dialogue with friends, fans and others. Social media platforms are also effective tools for listening and understanding the needs of our audiences.
Involvement by University marketing and public relations departments in social media can help grow our brand, strengthen our connection among the University and the publics we serve and make us aware of what people are saying and what they may really think about Penn State.
- The keys to success in social media are honesty, thoughtfulness and awareness of your audience. Make sure your communications are in good taste. Be sensitive about linking to content. Directing to another site may imply an endorsement.Above all, exercise good judgment and common sense. Never use profanity, slurs or derogatory comments. Be civil and welcoming. There is no such thing as “private” social media. Remember that what you post has a longer shelf life than you do. Archives save information even if you delete a post. If you feel angry or passionate about a subject, it’s wise to delay posting until you are calm and clear-headed.
Be transparent and authentic. Be yourself.
Be honest about your identity. If you are authorized by your supervisor to represent Penn State in social media, say so. If you choose to post about Penn State on your personal time, please identify yourself as a Penn State faculty or staff member when appropriate. Never hide your identity for the purpose of promoting Penn State through social media. In the end, this could negatively impact your credibility.
Never pretend to be someone else and post about Penn State. There have been a number of high-profile and embarrassing cases of company executives anonymously posting about their own organizations.
The essence of community is the idea that it exists so that you can support others and they, in turn, can support you. Learn to balance personal and professional information, and the important role that transparency plays in building community.
A good resource about transparency in online communities is the SocialMedia.org — Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit.
Make sure you have all of the facts before you post. It’s better to verify information with a source first rather than post a correction or retraction later. Cite and link to your sources whenever possible; after all, that’s how you build community. If you make an error, correct it quickly and visibly. This will earn you respect in the online community.
Respect copyrights and fair use.
Always give people proper credit for their work, and make sure you have the right to use something before you publish. Only those authorized by Penn State may use the University’s marks or logos, so be sure you do not include Penn State brand symbols in your personal postings. Penn State photographs also may not be used for commercial purposes.
Protect confidential and proprietary information and follow University policies.
Being transparent doesn’t mean giving out the Colonel’s special 11 herbs and spices used in KFC chicken. Online postings and conversations are not private. Do not post confidential or proprietary information about Penn State, its students, its alumni or your fellow employees. Use good ethical judgment. Follow University policies and federal requirements, such as FERPA and HIPAA. Videos produced for communications and marketing purposes should follow University policies on accessibility and include closed-captioning.
Productivity matters – respect University time and property.
University computers and your work time are to be used for University-related business. It’s appropriate to post at work if you have been instructed to do so or your comments are directly related to accomplishing established work goals, such as seeking sources for information or working with others to resolve a problem. Maintain your personal sites on your own time.
Do not use Penn State’s name or images to promote or endorse products, causes or political parties or candidates.
Also, linking to, or following and liking other sites is usually a good thing, but it’s important to consider the associations you want to share with potential applicants, donors and research funding agencies. Make sure your links are appropriate for your audience.
- Comments including blatant profanity, racist, sexist or derogatory content
- Product advertisements
- Political support
- Comments that are off topic or spam
- Comments that are personal attacks on an individual
Social media sites such as Facebook welcome comments — it builds credibility and community. However, if you choose to delete comments, you should have a policy on unacceptable posts that is easy for viewers to see, such as:
The following comments are subject to removal:
In general, if the content is positive or negative and in context to the conversation, then we allow the content to remain, regardless of whether it’s favorable or unfavorable to Penn State. Community managers should be responsive and recognize when a comment requires a prompt response.
Some sites, such as YouTube, allow managers to set comments to require approval before posting. This can be done on a case-by-case basis and is the decision of the unit managing the account.
Facebook, YouTube and other social media sites are meant to be interactive, current and engaging. If you find your site is not relevant, has few posts or receives little traffic, it would be best to evaluate whether you need a new strategy or if you should focus your energies on other platforms or communications endeavors. Not every digital platform is right for every communications unit. You should be judicious in your use of social media, selecting those platforms that best allow you to meet your communications goals and objectives.
Social media will more likely pay dividends for you if you add value to your followers, readers, fans and users. If it contributes directly or indirectly to the improvement of Penn State; if it allows the general public to learn more about Penn State; or if it builds a sense of community and helps fans and friends feel more connected to Penn State, then it is adding value – but once you launch a platform, you must be committed to its regular care and feeding.
Your Penn State-focused Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms should, when possible, follow, mention and share from and to other University accounts, including the University’s core branded sites, which have a broad appeal, large followings and regular updates. These sites include:
A large listing of University social media accounts can be found at https://socialmedia.psu.edu. Penn State has a strong social media community, and collaboration and support is encouraged.
Understand and follow site policies.
Social media platforms are owned by third parties, which have their own policies and rules for operating accounts on the site and, often, specific rules for brands and businesses. It is important that account managers understand the rules or guidelines they agree to abide by in operating any account.