Suggestions, tips, resources and more for your social media accounts
Terms of Reference
These guidelines are primarily intended to guide staff, faculty and contractors in their use of social media to represent and promote York university on behalf of the University. These guidelines are also helpful for staff and faculty who seek to promote York University through the use of personal social media accounts and to appropriately attribute their opinions as individuals.
Institutional vs. personal accounts
Social media perform many functions at York:
- They allow the university and its staff, departments and faculties to connect with current students, prospective students, alumni, staff & faculty, donors, government and other groups.
- They help the university promote and market itself.
- They act as communications channels for essential information.
- They enhance and protect York's reputation.
...and much more. Note that whenever you identify yourself online as a York University employee, you effectively represent the university. That applies whether you're using an institutional account or a personal one.
If there's ever any question as to whether you're speaking on your own behalf or on York's (whatever channel you're on at the time) you can make this clear by using words such as the following: "I'm speaking on my own behalf, not York University's," or "All opinions expressed here are my own." We encourage you to include a few words to this effect on your personal accounts, to make it clear that you're expressing your own personal opinions there, unless otherwise indicated. Doing so protects both you and the institution from any confusion, and makes it clear to the listener/reader what capacity you're acting in.
Having said that, we encourage you to help promote the university through social media. Please feel free to share positive messages published through York's official public channels with your own audiences on Twitter, Facebook, etc. This could be positive news about our research, events on campus, athletics, new publications, student successes and more.
To find approved York messaging you can share on your own channels, please visit:
It's important to remember that only York spokespeople are authorized to speak on behalf of the institution in an official capacity with media. If you become engaged in such a conversation (online or off) by a member of the media, please gently inform them that you are not a York spokesperson and cannot speak on behalf of the institution, but that you'd be happy to connect them with a spokesperson. Then contact media relations at extension 22101 / email@example.com.
Crises / Emergencies
During crises, it is critical that C&PA act as the voice of the institution so that York can accurately, clearly and authoritatively communicate essential information in a timely manner and avoid the kind of confusion that can occur during such events.
Crises include weather emergencies (such as a flood or snowstorm), fire, natural disaster, medical emergency or any similar situation. During such incidents, please do not comment on the emergency or send messages out about it on social or other media. If you are asked on social media for information about an emergency, please advise people to monitor facebook.com/yorkuniversity and twitter.com/yorkunews for updates, or to visit security.news.yorku.ca for security bulletins. All media enquiries should be referred to media relations at extension 22101 / firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Get the support you need
Let C&PA know if you're planning on creating an account, so that you can access the resources and best practices that will help you, and so that we can help promote your content through our institutional channels. By letting C&PA know about your account, we can also include it in the social media directory, to help drive traffic to the account.
- Let your supervisor know if you plan to start a social media account
This allows them to stay on top of all the communications happening in their departments and teams.
- Be sensitive
York University is an inclusive environment, and there is no place in it for sexism, harassment, racism, homophobia or other such behaviour. Please treat everyone with respect both online and off. For more information, visit the York University Secretariat policies, procedures and regulations.
- Be honest and accurate
An online reputation takes years to build, seconds to lose and years to regain. That's why honesty is critical; so is accuracy. For example, if you're not sure of the answer to a given question, there's no harm in saying "I don't know" or "Let me get back to you," rather than giving an inaccurate or false answer. Let people know when you'll get back to them, even if it's not going to be right away. If you don't have the information by the point at which you said you would, that's okay; tell the person asking the question that you're still working on it, and give them a revised ETA.
- Be yourself
Don't pretend to be someone else online: it's inauthentic and reduces your credibility. If you have security or privacy concerns about identifying yourself online, it may be possible to use a pseudonym; contact C&PA for more information.
Listen actively to what people are saying to and about you online, and respond so they know they've been heard. This is called "active listening," and it fosters conversation, which leads to engagement, one of the goals of these media. There are many listening platforms available, which can allow you to both listen and respond online; contact C&PA for more information.
- Use approved York branding
C&PA has the logos, backgrounds, graphics and other materials necessary to give your account an instantly recognizable brand online which helps you benefit from the overall York brand. This creates authenticity and makes people more likely to interact with you. Visit our social media branding guidelines for more information.
- Make copies of the 'keys'
When an account goes silent because the owner has moved on, is on vacation, sick or otherwise unable to post, it discourages the audience form paying attention. We encourage you to give a trusted colleague a copy of the login information for any institutional accounts you operate so the account can stay active at all times.
- Know the requirements of the channels you use
Each social network has a set of terms ir requires users to adhere to. Please review them before creating a new channel. Here are some of the terms for the more popular networks:
- Facebook: Terms
- Google+: Terms of Service
- LinkedIn: "Commonly-Viewed Agreements" and more
- Pinterest: Terms of Service and Business Terms of Service
- Snapchat: Terms
- Twitter: Terms of Service and "The Rules"
- YouTube: Terms of Service and Community Guidelines
- Choose your friends wisely
Although it's great to grow your network, not every like, friend or follower is beneficial or will necessarily reflect well on you. If a given connection would reflect poorly on you, your account, your department or on York University, consider carefully whether it's wise to connect with them.
- Give credit
When you reference someone else's words or work online, let them know. It's a proactive way to acknowledge authorship/ownership, it creates a relationship with the source through reciprocity, and it's common courtesy. For example, on Twitter we encourage you to use RT (retweet) to let people know you're referencing someone else or MT (modified retweet) if you're modifying their tweet before sharing. On Facebook, we encourage you to share a post instead of just copying & pasting it, to let people know where you got it from.
- Use link shorteners
Shortened links are the seemingly random string of numbers and letters in links, created by link-shortening sites such as Ow.ly and Bit.ly. They're used where space is at a premium, such as on Twitter which only allows 280 characters. Shortened links save space and each one is unique. A unique link is important because it can be tracked in website analytics which allows you to measure results. For example, if you want to know how much traffic your posts drove to a website from Twitter, you need to use shortened links.
- Think visually
Posts that use visuals (photos, videos, .gifs) are proven to be much more effective than ones that don't.
Share content created by your audience. It engages them, creates a reciprocal relationship, and fosters advocates and repeat readers.
- Be accessible
The AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) is law in Ontario, and requires organizations posting content online to make it accessible to people with disabilities. This applies to web pages, social channels and much more. York has a team providing information and support on this issue. Get more information at http://aoda.yorku.ca/help.html.
- Saying things you wouldn't want attributed to you
Remember that even things you think are private on social channels may not be and can last a very long time online. To protect yourself and to ensure what you're doing is acceptable to you, ask yourself if you would say a given thing in public. Is this something you'd be ok with other people repeating and attributing to you? Would you want to read this in the newspaper the next day? If the answer is 'no' to either of these questions, you should give careful consideration to whether you really want to say these things online.
- Reacting in anger
It's easy to get upset online. People can make rude comments, act flippant, and much more. If you're angry about something, count to ten, or get up from your desk and walk around for ten seconds. You can ask a colleague if what you're about to say sounds negative. Never just react: think first, and always give yourself a chance to cool down before responding.
- Making assumptions
Online communication strips away all the non-verbal cues we rely on to understand what someone is saying: tone, body language, facial expressions and intonation. A post that you think is sarcastic might actually be in earnest. Someone complaining on Twitter might actually think they're being level-headed and reasonable. Always give your audience the benefit of the doubt.
- Using people's photos without permission
If someone is identifiable in a photograph or video ("Identifiable" in this sense usually – but not always – means someone can distinguish and identify their face) you need their permission to publish that photo, online or elsewhere. This permission is given through a photo and video consent form, which you can download from the C&PA brand toolbox. It may also be possible to capture their consent on video: see "Photos on social media: simplified consent" below for more information.
Everyone is entitled to their privacy online. Please don't share personally-identifiable details about people that aren't already publicly available. Examples might include someone's full name, their email address, phone number, home address, gender, student number and so on. Being identified online can become a personal safety issue for some. You can find out more about privacy from York's information and privacy office.
Some activities at York are confidential, or are planned for release at a future date. In these cases, ask yourself whether it's timely to disclose details about them. If in doubt, you should get permission (it should be in writing) from the source first.
You may quote brief passages from works for critical commentary and similar purposes, but you should neither publish nor copy (in whole or in part) copyrighted works, whether written, photographic, video or in other formats. For more information on York's fair dealing guidelines, visit yorku.ca/secretariat/policies/document.php?document=160.
- Disparaging comments
York relies on positive relationships with government, other universities, current and potential funders and others for their support. Please be conscientious about this.
CASL (Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation) affects not only email communications, but communications on social channels too. We recommend you review the legislation at the address above and avoid sending direct messages on social channels that promote commercial endeavours.
- Jargon and marketing speak
Unless you're in a closed forum, people that aren't familiar with industry terms or academic language can read what you write. These people might be interested in what you you're saying, but may not understand jargon or industry-speak. Consider giving them an opportunity to engage with you and learn about your work by using plain language. It's equally important to avoid sounding like a marketer or a salesperson. If what you're saying is interesting, there's no need to embellish it. Plain language is always best, because it's genuine, accessible and easy to understand.
Vulgarity is rarely appropriate, and can offend the people you're trying to reach. Please be conscientious about this.
- Sounding institutional
The internal processes of an institution are rarely interesting to anyone outside it. Our audiences want fascinating, compelling, timely, newsworthy or useful information. Some may need information about schedules, payment info, their application status, etc., but even in these cases, they're rarely interested in York from an organizational point of view: they're mainly interested in answers and information.
When we remove negative comments on our accounts simply because we don't want to see them, our communications risk coming across as inauthentic and contrived. If comments are abusive, out of context or otherwise contravene our policies (listed below), they can be taken down. You can state the fact that you're doing so on the channel where the comment occurred, to show transparency. However, if a comment isn't complimentary to us, but is otherwise inoffensive, it shouldn't necessarily be removed.
You may find a social account is easier to start than to maintain. It's easy to underestimate the work it takes to maintain a Facebook page, Twitter account, blog, etc. To reduce the risk of starting something but not being able to keep it going, consider starting small, to get a sense of the work and time required to keep a channel going.
For example, why not try publishing videos to an existing York YouTube channel instead of starting a new channel? You'll get access to a larger audience than if you start a channel from scratch. Once you're confident you can keep an account going, you can start your own account with a little help from C&PA. You'll be able to let everyone following you on the old account know where to find you when you make the move to your new one, which means you start with a ready-made audience. You'll also have the skills and practice necessary to make your new account a success.
Join the club
If you're active in digital media, consider joining York's digital team. The team exists to support faculty and staff across the university who are using digital media. It offers guest speakers from the digital industry and from within York, and shares critical news about online marketing and communications. Contact C&PA for more information.
Please consult this HubSpot infographic for image sizes.
- Use the #YorkU hashtag to identify the university in tweets. This helps build the hashtag as the go-to source for York content, and makes your content more discoverable via search.
- If you handle a significant number of questions on Twitter from your audience, and if there's more than one user behind an account, each user can identify themselves with a ^ symbol and their initials at the end of a tweet. For example, "^js" could be used for Jane Smith's responses in a given department. (If you're concerned about your privacy, adopt a pseudonym and use its initials consistently) Using initials when there are multiple users on an account personalizes interactions, and lets your audience know who they were speaking earlier to in case they want to contact that person again about their question or issue.
- If you're tweeting to someone and you want to make sure it's publicly visible, and not just visible to the person you're mentioning, put a period before their Twitter handle at the beginning of the tweet. For example, ".@marksyork Hi! How's it going?" Otherwise, only the account you mention will be able to see that tweet.
- Keep abbreviations to a minimum (e.g., using "2" for "to," "u" for "you," "cuz" for "because," etc.). It may be impossible to avoid this entirely on Twitter, but try not to overdo it - it looks unprofessional, and makes your tweets harder to understand.
- Facebook's algorithms determine how many people will see your post. You can increase the score this algorithm gives your content by including visuals when appropriate, tagging people, posting at the times of day when your followers are active, etc.
- You can also increase the chances your post will be seen if you target it demographically, or by interest, to those people its most likely to resonate with. To do so, click the cross hair icon below your post and select the interests, age, location and other information of the people who you think will be most interested in your post. Even though this appears to limit the number of people that can see the post, they're more likely to like, share and comment on the post since it's of interest to them. Facebook takes note of this level of interest when deciding which posts to show to others, and will often reward you with broader reach than if you hadn't targeted the post to begin with.
- It's not a good idea to link your Twitter account to Facebook for automatic cross-posting. It's easy to overwhelm your Facebook audience with the amount of content Twitter generates, and Facebook fans may drop off as a result. Twitter content also doesn't lend itself well to Facebook because of its length and subject matter.
- When creating a Facebook account, don't forget to include as much relevant information in the "About" section as possible. This boosts your discoverability by people and search engines alike.
- Don't forget to add metatags to your YouTube videos. This is important for making your content discoverable. At a minimum, we encourage you to use "York University," "YorkU," "York U" and your faculty or department name (and alternative spellings, acronyms or abbreviations for the name) as meta tags. Include other tags that might be useful to identify an event or subject.
- A good title, description and thumbnail image make your video much more discoverable, and make it easier for someone to understand the subject at a glance. These fields can be modified under "Info and Settings" in the individual video. Adding other information to your video, such as geo-location and a transcript, can make it even more discoverable.
- Don't forget to review the thumbnail preview YouTube automatically selects for your video: it may not be the best one, and can sometimes be unflattering.
- It's unwise to allow users to automatically comment on your video without moderating them first: YouTube has a reputation for bad behaviour in comments. You can set this as a preference on your YouTube channel.
- YouTube recommends uploading video in as high a definition as reasonably possible. YouTube rewards this with higher discoverability.
- If you would like to create a LinkedIn page for your Faculty or Department, please contact C&PA so that we can assist you in creating an affiliate page to the main York University page.
- Instagram is a highly visual platform lending itself best to beautiful photos and engaging video. This article from the online magazine Social Media Today gives 12 comprehensive and easy to understand guidelines for building and maintaining a fantastic Instagram account.
- Please contact C&PA if you would like your Faculty or Department to have a presence on Snapchat.
Q: How often should I post?
A: Different media require different upkeep, and there are no hard and fast rules for how often you should post. We recommend you start slowly and ladder up your frequency over time. More importantly, do what works for you and your audience on your platform: if you measure results and listen to feedback, you will see how much is too much and how much is too little. As a starting point, we recommend the following general guidelines:
- Minimum: 2 posts / week.
- Maximum: 3 - 4 posts / day, but only if you have compelling content
(Minimum recommended spacing between posts of 3 - 4 hours).
- Essentially unlimited (within reason). Shouldn't sustain a rate of more than tweet one every 5 - 10 minutes without a specific reason, such as a tweet chat.
- LinkedIn Groups:
- Minimum: weekly.
- Maximum: daily.
- Optimally: 2 - 4 posts / week
- Minimum: 2 - 3 posts / week.
- Maximum: 4 - 6 posts / day.
- Optimally: 1 - 3 posts / day.
- Pinterest: essentially unlimited (at this point).
- Snapchat: as Snacpchat is a running record, there is no effective maximum. We recommend a minimum monthly posting schedule.
Q: How do I close an account?
A: If an account can't be maintained, or if the unit it supports has changed priorities, the account should be shuttered. This is normally done by announcing the closure several weeks in advance, advising users what account they should follow instead. Don't simply close an account without warning, as this looks bad and doesn't allow the audience to keep interacting with York on another channel: contact C&PA for more information.
Q: How do I schedule posts?
A: You can schedule posts on a Facebook brand page quite easily, using the 'schedule' function. Other platforms don't allow scheduling as easily as this, and some (such as Instagram) don't allow it at all. To schedule a post on platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ you may want to use a dashboard such as HootSuite. or Sprout Social. C&PA has extensive experience with these and many other such dashboards, and can help find the right one for you.
Q: Who should I refer people to when they have specific questions?
A: Contact C&PA.