Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube, Instagram, and Foursquare, can provide an easy and affordable way to connect and interact with your audience. These can be powerful tools when used well. The guidelines in this document are intended to help departments, offices, centers, and other divisions of the College of Arts and Sciences make effective use of social media — should they choose to participate in them.
Looking for the short version? Read our Social Media Quick Tips.
Choosing Social Media: Should You Go There?
Getting social media right means not only using it well but also choosing it carefully. Why are you interested in social media? Why do you want to create a social media account for your division? “Everyone else has one” isn’t good enough; to create a social media presence that builds a positive relationship with your audience, clarify your objectives by answering these questions:
Why are you using social media?
Perhaps you want to share information. Maybe you want to give students a way to participate in the life of your department. You might also hope to use social media as a free advertising medium for your organization’s events.
Who’s your audience, and what do they want or need?
While anybody with an Internet connection can view your social media postings, not everybody will (obviously) — so “everyone” isn’t a helpful way to think about your audience. The users who “like” your page and visit it regularly will probably be people who have some connection to your division. Those people fall into many groups — alumni, colleagues at other schools, current faculty and students — and each of these groups has its own needs and interests.
How will you promote your social media channels?
Without followers, communicating via social media is like talking to a vast, empty room. Consider how you’ll attract your desired audience, and how your social media communications will fit in with other messages they receive from you (e.g., your website, newsletters).
Who’s going to do the work?
Someone in your division needs to “own” your social media presence. That means not only having the password and administrative rights, but also monitoring posts made by others and ensuring that the page is updated regularly (more on that later).
Ideally, the account administrator is a faculty or staff member. If you choose to allow a student to run the account, assign a faculty or staff co-administrator who has the login information and the time to monitor the site. Consider creating a general login, then changing the password each time a student administrator’s tenure ends.
Can you handle the work?
Every social media channel needs a continuous stream of fresh material. Before you jump in, consider how often you’ll need to provide new material, and make a realistic assessment of your ability to produce it over the long term.
Understanding Social Media
You might think you understand Facebook very well because you’ve had a personal account for years. But have you considered how running a page for your workplace might differ from keeping in touch with your family and friends? Look at the medium you’re considering with fresh eyes.
Do enough research to understand the channel: How does it work? Does it require participation from multiple parties, or does it function more like a bulletin board?
Look for pages by other organizations like yours, not only at UA but across the country. Review them critically: What are they doing well? Poorly? What are their readers responding to? What could or would you do differently? Do some channels seem to yield better or more interesting information than others?
Maintaining Your Pages
Using social media effectively doesn’t necessarily mean opening an account on every channel. Nor does it mean churning out an endless stream of posts seven days a week. The quality of your social media presence is what counts, and that requires not only good content but also good timing.
While it’s important to maintain a steady flow of new information, research has shown that there’s only so much users can take. Posting too frequently can annoy readers or worse, create the impression that you don’t have anything better to do with your (Alabama-taxpayer-funded) time and technology.
Here are the optimal posting frequencies for the most popular social media:
- Facebook: up to seven posts per week
- Twitter: up to four tweets per day
- Other forums: post good content when you have it
Each medium has peak times — intervals when users are most active and therefore most likely to see and interact with your posts. For most media, this occurs on weekdays, between about 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., with a window of particularly strong activity between 1 and 4 p.m. Nights, Friday afternoons, and weekends present something of a dead zone for most channels. Blogs like Tumblr are the exception, however; users are more likely to read them in the evening, and posts made on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Friday nights get the most attention.
The “social” in social media means every channel is designed to allow user feedback. The types of feedback vary from channel to channel; make sure you understand how users can respond to and share your posts on the channel you’re considering.
User feedback can be great, but it also means relinquishing some control over the messages posted to your page. If you’re comfortable with that, go ahead and enable comments, but know that you will then need to monitor your page continuously and respond to user queries and comments.
Keeping your social media pages current is great, but if you’re not giving your readers information they want, then you’re wasting everyone’s time. And if you aren’t presenting that information in a clear, consistent, appropriate manner, you’re missing an opportunity to build the College’s reputation and its relationship with former, current, and prospective students, faculty, and friends.
Content That Works
Research tells us that social media participants appreciate content that’s varied and informative, and that suits A&S perfectly — as a higher ed institution, we have a lot of stories to tell about our students, faculty, staff, facilities, and community.
As you plan your posts, keep in mind that social media aren’t subject to the same “newsworthiness” standard we apply to print or even our websites, which makes them a great place to tell small stories that together create a picture of your department’s activities and culture.
Give readers a sense of what it’s like to be on campus, right now.
You can accomplish this with photos, of course, and quick updates on ongoing campus activities (the Brigadoon-like appearance of tents on the Quad on the Friday before a football game, for example) or Alabama weather. These kinds of posts can be especially meaningful to alumni.
Announce upcoming events.
Are you bringing an interesting or well-known speaker to campus? Is your department hosting an exhibition or performance? Are you planning an event for your alumni or current students? Post it.
Share good news.
Show off your faculty members’ awards, publications, discoveries, and “expert” appearances in the media. Mention students who win major awards and scholarships. Announce the opening, expansion, or improvement of facilities or technology.
Tell stories about students.
Show your readers what students are doing in your department, other than sitting in classrooms: working in labs and studios, providing service to the local community, interacting with other student groups on campus. Make sure to get signed release forms (or emailed consent) for any student you feature in any public format.
Keep up with your alumni.
If one of your department’s graduates lands an important job, appears on a TV show, makes a valuable discovery, publishes a best-seller, or lands on Mars, let your readers know.
You can be a little mushy on social media, using the space to congratulate graduates or applaud students’ accomplishments.
Show readers our offbeat side.
A campus as big as Alabama’s hosts myriad events over the course of a school year, some of them on the quirky, humorous, or silly side. Letting readers in on that aspect of campus life makes them feel like insiders.
Give readers a sneak peek.
Make the first announcement of an upcoming speaker or event via social media — and let your readers know they’re seeing it first. Post photos of the set-up or rehearsal of a performance or gallery show. NOTE: Before you post any sneak-peek news or photo, be sure to obtain the permission of those staging the event so you don’t spoil a deliberately engineered surprise. And always ask students to sign release forms before you publish their photos.
Remind readers what you can (and do) do for them.
From time to time, publicize services and special programs offered by your division, such as tutoring, counseling, research, or other resources.
Making Your Presence Known
Choose a good name.
When you create a social media account, choose a name that will help potential readers find you. The easiest way to do this is to include “University of Alabama” (spelled out) in your name. “UA” is certainly shorter, but there are many UAs in the world, and comparatively fewer entities that call themselves “University of Alabama.”
Put a link to your social media account on your division’s website. Add the URL for your division’s social media page to your email signature. Mention your social media presence in any newsletters (print or online) you produce, or, if appropriate, in mass emails you send to your constituents. Remembering that there are likely hundreds of entities with names similar to yours, be sure to provide either a direct link or a complete URL so your audience doesn’t have to use the social media channel’s search function to look for you.
Let A&S know you’re out there.
Tell us your social media account name/s, and connect with the College’s social media presence — e.g., through Facebook “likes.” Why? Because given the sheer number of social media accounts, if you don’t let us know about yours, we might never find it.
Connecting with us, and with other A&S divisions, serves three purposes: (1) It helps your audience find you by increasing the number of people who know you have a social media presence. (2) It can help your content reach a wider audience through shares and retweets, and help you provide useful content by sharing or retweeting items from other A&S pages. (3) It alerts others in the College to your division’s activities, which may in turn generate other types of support, participation, or publicity for your programs.
The College’s Facebook page is here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-University-of-Alabama-College-of-Arts-and-Sciences/140775952645023
Our Twitter handle is @UA_AS.
Content/Tone Guidelines for A&S Social Media
Making regular social media updates isn’t difficult — but achieving the right tone and content requires planning and careful attention to detail. Following are guidelines we’ve developed to help anyone who posts on behalf of an A&S division deliver relevant messages in a manner that helps, rather than hurts, the College’s image.
Remember who you are.
When you post to your personal Facebook page, you’re you, of course, but when you blog, post, or tweet on your division’s social media pages, your readers see not your name but that of your division. Anything you post represents your division and all who work or study within it. Think about how your messages might be interpreted by people who do not know you personally, and consider whether your division’s reputation would benefit by that interpretation.
Reread your posts critically.
Sure, social media are an almost-instantaneous means of communicating with your audience, but that doesn’t mean posting off the top of your head is a good idea. Review every post before launching it. Thinking about your audience and how its members might interpret (or misinterpret) the post, look for potentially confusing, misleading, or offensive language. (We like to write ours in Microsoft Word, wait a few minutes, then edit before copying and pasting into the submission box.)
Be friendly and direct.
A&S’ social media style uses the second person (you/your), uses active voice whenever possible, and wholeheartedly endorses contractions. Our tone is friendly and conversational.
Proofread your posts.
The informality of social media doesn’t diminish our readers’ expectation that we, an institution of higher learning, communicate clearly, correctly, and accurately. Use complete sentences wherever possible, and read each post word-by-word to ferret out grammar, spelling, punctuation, and factual errors.
Keep it short.
Research has shown that tweets of no more than 100 characters get the most attention. For Facebook status updates, the ideal length is no more than 80. That’s not much — the first two sentences of this paragraph clock in at 135 characters, not counting spaces — and many messages can’t be expressed in so few characters. But we include that information here to give you a sense of how little room you have to get your readers’ attention and communicate your message.
How do you say anything of value in under 100 characters? By thinking strategically and leveraging the medium.
- Think for a moment about which aspect of your message is likely to be of greatest interest or relevance to your readers, and put that as close to the beginning of your post as possible.
- If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words … that means it’s worth about 5,000 characters, right? Posts and tweets with photos draw the highest levels of user engagement. Attractive, relevant, well-composed visuals get readers’ attention and help convey your message. Sometimes they even do this literally: posting a clearly legible photo of the poster for an event is often an effective, appealing way to catch your reader’s eye — and it also communicates important information.
- Rather than bogging down your post or tweet with lengthy explanations or fine details, give the reader what he or she needs to know to decide “Am I interested?” then provide a link to more information. Use links to flesh out your message. A reader who is interested in the story you’re telling will click on a link for more information (think about how often you’ve clicked on interesting links posted by your Facebook friends).
Skip the fluff.
Pointless posting can be lethal to your social media presence. As soon as your readers detect fluff, they’ll eject you from their news feeds and “following” lists. Stick to posts that provide useful information, and never post just to put up something new.
Be funny if you like, but do so gently.
Readers like, even expect, a lighthearted tone in social media. Humor can be a way to connect with them, and to draw likes, shares, and retweets. But be careful: avoid even mildly disparaging or mocking remarks about people or institutions, and don’t joke about things that reasonable people could be sensitive about (e.g., cancer, alcoholism, flunking out of school). Steer clear of tasteless humor. Avoid inside jokes that could fall flat with readers who aren’t in the know.
Choose words that are clear and direct rather than gimmicky to capture readers’ attention. Make sure the post accurately and appropriately represents the subject matter. An attention-grabbing statement that has little to do with the event you’re promoting will annoy readers.
Leave memes out of it.
What do we have against memes? For starters, they don’t say anything about A&S. Memes are clichés, and clichés don’t convey specific information about who we are or what we offer. And while memes can be silly and funny for a time, they wear out quickly. It’s always better to write something specific that addresses your audience’s interests or needs.
Keep it clean and polite.
No profanity, even the variety that’s permissible on TV (unless it’s part of the title of a work). No racial, religious, cultural, regional, class, or gender stereotyping. (And be careful about idiomatic expressions that recall or play on stereotypes.) Don’t disparage other SEC schools; while it’s OK to wish our athletic teams well, do it without rancor. No criticism of UA, the College of Arts & Sciences, or any division or personnel (past or present) thereof; A&S social media are not a forum for grievances.
Remember that even if everyone in your department seems to share your political views or to tolerate religious references, your audience is a lot bigger than your department. (And maybe your co-workers are just being polite.) Avoiding political or religious expressions of any kind will help keep your social media presence from becoming a flame zone and ensure that you don’t inadvertently offend others in your division by speaking for them.
Keep your cultural references squeaky-clean.
Make movie, TV, music, celebrity, and other pop culture references carefully. When you make such a reference, you’re indirectly connecting A&S with the idea or persona it refers to, so consider whether the association will confer benefit or harm upon the College’s image.
Don’t advertise or infringe.
Avoid any direct or indirect endorsement of third-party products (such as references to commercials or brand names), and don’t infringe on anyone’s copyright or trademark by using their logos, imagery, or wordmarks (even spoofed or altered).
When in doubt, leave it out.
A boring post that communicates needed information is better than a creatively written post that offends some readers, confuses others, and distracts our audience from who we are.