These guidelines are intended to help Amherst College faculty and staff who want to create and manage social media presences as College representatives, either as individual professionals or on behalf of their academic or administrative departments.
Social media include a variety of online tools and services that allow users to publish content and interact with their audiences. Currently, the most common social networks or websites within this rapidly changing media space include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr and blogs.
The Office of Communications maintains the official Amherst College presence on various social media websites, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Flickr, communicating directly with and receiving instant feedback from online communities that include students, faculty, staff, alumni, prospective students, families, fans and others. You can see all those sites together on the Amherst social wall. The Office of Communications also maintains this list of all social media sites affiliated with Amherst College.
If you have questions or suggestions about these guidelines or starting or managing social media, please contact the Office of Communications.
Amherst-related Social Media Accounts
Faculty or staff members who manage social media as representatives of Amherst are responsible for following all normal expectations for professional behavior as representatives of the College. Social media postings, including comments and responses, can be stored by and shared with millions around the world.
For more information on Internet and computer usage at Amherst, view the Appropriate Use Policy, and please review in particular section IV below, “Appropriate Use Guidelines.”
It is important to note as well that applications developed for any mobile devices (i.e., iPhones or other smartphones and tablet computers) and that use the College’s name, wordmark or other institutionally identifiable information should meet the standards set forth in the Appropriate Use Policy and these guidelines as well.
Social Media for Personal Use
If you maintain a personal blog or presence on another social media site but there is no indication that you represent Amherst either by text or photos, you need not consult with the Office of Communications or be concerned with these guidelines.
If, however, your social media presence is representing your Amherst department, group, organization or activity, you are also representing your own professional reputation and the College. Even on your personal site, if you indicate that you are an Amherst faculty or staff member, visitors to the site may perceive that you are speaking for your department or the College; since you are invoking your professional affiliation with Amherst, it may be hard to contend otherwise if you are not explicit about that fact.
The “best practices” section near the end of this document provides suggestions on how to use social media in ways that can prevent you from inadvertently affecting your professional reputation or how your department or your College is perceived. In addition, if you discuss professional issues on your personal social media site, we suggest you include a sentence similar to this one on your profile or “About Me” page: “The views expressed on this [blog, website] are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Amherst College.”
In this digital age, when social media comments can reach many people rapidly far behind their site of origin, it is worth taking care with such matters.
Social media is constantly changing and evolving. As a result, these guidelines may be updated frequently. We invite Amherst faculty and staff who are considering establishing or have already started a social media site as a College representative to contact the Office of Communications for advice, support and promotion, as appropriate. We can help you to establish your goals, build a social media plan, learn about do’s and don’ts, select the appropriate social media tool to support your goals, promote your site, and otherwise navigate through the process of establishing and maintaining a social media presence.
I. Getting Started
Before creating your professional social media presence as a representative of the College, discuss your intention to do so with your department chair or manager and develop a social media plan. Questions your plan should address include:
- What social media, if any, has already been established by colleagues or the College for this purpose? Answering this question will help you avoid duplicating efforts or mixing messages.
- What do you hope to accomplish with this social media presence?
- What communications goals will the social media help you accomplish that other media, such as a website, couldn’t?
- Who is your social media audience?
- What content do you want to have contributed on a regular basis to the social site?
Study various social media sites to answer the question: Which of the social media platforms available to you will best help you fulfill your goals for reaching your key audiences in an efficient way? These points may help you with that assessment:
- Each social media platform has its own set of strengths and weaknesses in such areas as ease of use, type of content included, popularity with users, privacy controls and community user expectations.
- Understanding what you’re trying to communicate will help guide your decision in selecting a platform or platforms. For example, if you’re interested mostly in sharing “headlines,” Twitter may be your best platform. If you’re more interested in developing a community dialogue, Facebook may be the better choice.
- Learn what the individual platforms offer and how their communities work when developing a site plan.
- Choose only one or two platforms, especially in the beginning, to focus your plan.
If the social media presence will be for departmental rather than individual professional purposes, identify the faculty or staff member(s) who will manage the site.
- Choose at least one person from your department who will be primarily responsible for monitoring and updating your site. This person should be able to check the site at least once daily and, in general, depending on which social media presence you have chosen, update it with new content several times a week.
- Set clear expectations for this person’s understanding of the site’s tools, the privacy settings you want to follow, and the frequency of posting and reviewing site content.
- Assign and train a backup who is familiar with the communications goals you have set for the site.
- Ensure that this individual is not the only person in the department who knows the username and password on the account. In other words, establish a protocol by which the department keeps on hand a record of that account information – including as it changes – should that person be unavailable. Otherwise, if that person is unavailable, you will not be able to make changes to or add posts to the social media site.
Select an appropriate name for your site.
- The site name should make it clear to visitors that it represents a specific department or office associated with Amherst. For example, a Twitter “handle” for the Department of English might be @AmherstEnglish.
Start small and build your site before officially launching.
- Create your site and begin populating it with content for several weeks before announcing it broadly.
- Share the link with a small group of people who can join or become followers and provide feedback. Doing so will allow you to become comfortable with maintaining the site, work out any bugs and develop a small audience before launching more widely.
Announce your launch, focusing on the audience you’re seeking.
- Use more traditional means, such as e-mail listservs, websites and newsletters, to announce the official launch of your social media site.
- Briefly describe the focus of your site and the kinds of information you plan to share and encourage people to join.
- Cross-promote the site through other College social media sites. For example, you may request that Communications mention your site on the College’s official Facebook page.
- You may find that other opportunities for promotion include your departmental website and your e-mail signature.
Monitor, measure and be prepared to change.
- Manage your site regularly and track which content is most popular and best communicates your goals.
- Depending on your analysis of this information, you may decide to emphasize certain types of content or turn your focus to another social media platform that might better communicate your messages to your intended audience.
II. Best Practices
Be active, timely and responsive.
- Social media require diligent attention to remain engaging. Schedule time to check your site(s) at least once a day during the work week and plan to post fresh content several times each week. Social media allow you to share information instantly with wide audiences. These audiences also expect your site to be active and timely and will ignore it if it proves to be otherwise.
Interact with your community.
- Do more than just share news. Offer insights and information that are of interest to the network’s community that may not be available elsewhere. Comment on interesting posts and encourage related dialogues.
Be a valued member of your own community.
- Share or re-post information from other, trusted sources that will increase the value of your site and present you as a genuine member of the community.
Be obvious, honest and transparent.
- Use your own “voice” but make sure it is clear that you are posting as a faculty or staff member at Amherst. Do not misrepresent who you are or post as another individual.
Be professional and respectful.
- Anything you post on a social media site in your role as an Amherst faculty or staff member reflects on you and the College. As such, be professional and deliberate with your comments and avoid engaging in emotionally charged arguments or debates with critics.
- Do not post content that might be embarrassing to an individual or that places an individual in a negative or false light.
Nothing is truly private in social media.
- Think about your comments, photos or other content before posting, remembering that anything you share in social media, even within closed networks, becomes publicly available information. Your content can be stored and shared around the world instantly. If it’s not something that you would share with mainstream media, don’t post it on your site.
Accept but monitor comments and postings by others.
- Social media thrive because of the community’s ability to participate in the “conversation.” To support and encourage this interactivity, you should be prepared to accept and respond – judiciously – to comments, not all of which will be positive. If necessary, to correct misunderstandings or factual errors, respond to negative comments in a professional manner and by providing any information that may be helpful in clarifying the issue. Remove comments that are profane, that attack any individual or group by name or other clearly identifying characteristics and that are obviously advertising or spam. Otherwise, take a light hand.
Separate personal from professional.
- Content that you might share on a personal media site may not be appropriate for sharing on an official College site. Given the public availability of website information, it is also worth considering how you are represented on your personal site as it relates to your work at Amherst and how that personal site might lead to your being perceived in your role as a faculty or staff member.
Be careful with confidential and proprietary information (including photos).
- Do not include personally identifiable information that can be used to locate any individual without that person’s written permission.
- Images posted on social media sites can easily be appropriated by those visiting the site. Take care in particular when using images of minors, not least because stringent legal requirements apply. Generally speaking, avoid using such images on social media unless you are absolutely sure they are your property, pose no risk to anyone and might be re-purposed elsewhere without causing any harm.
III. Appropriate Use Guidelines
- Do not use College resources (including, for example, e-mail, web pages, or newsgroups) to defame, harass, intimidate or threaten any other person(s), or to promote bigotry or discrimination.
- Do not send unnecessarily repetitive messages (for example, chain mail).
- Do not publish, post, transmit or otherwise make available content that is copyrighted, obscene or legally objectionable. The College cannot protect individuals against the existence or receipt of material that may be offensive to them. As such, those who make use of electronic communications are warned that they may come across or be recipients of material they find offensive or objectionable.
- Do not forge, maliciously disguise or misrepresent your personal identity. This policy does not prohibit users from engaging in anonymous communications, providing that such communications do not otherwise violate the Appropriate Use Policy.
- Do not violate copyright laws. This includes using Amherst computing facilities and resources to receive, retransmit, duplicate, destroy or tamper with software or data, whether stored or transmitted, unless authorized by copyright, license, College policy and all other applicable laws. Examples of protected materials include written material, sound files, pictures, photos, animations and software not originally created by you
- Do not use Amherst e-mail for commercial or political purposes.
- Do not use Amherst e-mail for fundraising activities not endorsed by the College.