Social Media Guidelines/Best Practices

Adapted with permission from New York State 4-H guidelines.

Introduction

For the purposes of these guidelines, social media is defined as accessible online networks and communities designed to allow users to easily interact and share information. Examples include but are not limited to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, blogs, etc.

In addition to this document, staff and volunteers are strongly advised to become familiar with University of Maine Division of Marketing and Communications Policies and Procedures:

Purpose

Social media is an integral part of everyday communications, and many of our staff are already using these platforms in a professional capacity. Guidelines are intended to empower staff to utilize social media effectively and responsibly, in the best interest of themselves, their programs, and UMaine Extension.

Before You Set Up a Social Media Account

Staff who wish to set up approved/official University of Maine social media accounts and speak on behalf of UMaine Extension through social media must:

  1. Develop a plan and get approval from your PA or supervisor. Set goals and discuss how this platform will help you achieve them. Know what strategies you will use to administer your account. Consider how you will evaluate and report your efforts. Do not start an account if you do not believe you have the time and resources to effectively maintain it.
  1. Contact the Extension Communications and Marketing Team to let them know about your intentions. They can guide you through the necessary steps.
  1. Contact UMaine’s Division of Marketing and Communications to discuss issues such as branding, confidentiality, privacy, and FERPA.

General Guidelines

  • In all instances, staff and volunteers must represent UMaine Extension in the best possible way and in alignment with our organizational philosophy.
  • County and program social media accounts should only be used for the purposes of sharing information about and engaging conversation around those programs and related items. They should not be used for personal or commercial purposes.
  • A staff member must be an account administrator. County- and program-level accounts should be administered by at least two staff members who are responsible for monitoring the sites for questions, issues that need a response and, where applicable, to remove inappropriate content (see UMaine Extension’s Social Media Commenting Policy).
  • Account administrators and participants must always follow the policies and regulations of each social media channel. Additionally, social media posts must respect copyright and trademark, and, of course, may not violate any federal, state or local law, including copyright infringement, libel, and invasion of privacy. (For more information about copyright, see Copyright and Libel Primer for Web and Print Publishers and “Copyright Safe” Checklist.)
  • Account administrators must ensure that the content they post is accurate and credible. They are also responsible for excluding religious messages, political opinions, sexually explicit images or text, and language that expresses gender, ethnic, or racial bias, or bias towards persons with disabilities, as well as material that implicitly or explicitly promotes the use or sale of alcohol and tobacco, and material that appears to endorse commercial products or companies. UMaine Extension social media content is subject to University of Maine policies regarding harassment and discrimination.
  • Use of UMaine Extension names and logos should only be used in established, approved manners and should never be used to promote unaffiliated causes and products, or political parties or candidates.
  • Photos that include identifiable individuals should only be used with a valid photo release.
  • Be cautious of third-party applications* that can access information from social media accounts. Be certain that these applications are safe and understand fully what information they can pull from your account.
  • If linking to a website outside of UMaine Extension, know what that website is and how linking to it may be construed. Be sure that the website is safe, credible, and does not contain offensive content.
  • A plan should be developed for when and how social media accounts will be updated, monitored, and evaluated. Only establish accounts you believe you have the resources to maintain. If an account is not updated for weeks or months at a time, it reflects poorly on the program and has clearly fallen out of use, at which point it should be removed.
    • Monitor each of your online environments daily to make sure postings and discussions are appropriate in nature.
    • Respond as needed, and direct a participant’s questions or concerns to the appropriate party.
    • Users in these communities should comply with age requirements regulated by the sites. Most sites require parental permission if under age 13.
  • Always be honest about who you are or who you represent. A UMaine Extension account need not personally identify the person(s) administering the account, but individuals should never pretend to be someone else.
  • As with other forms of communications, private messages on social sites (Facebook messages, Twitter direct messages, etc.) between a youth member and an adult should always include another adult.
  • Above all, be smart and safe. Do not share content that is profane, obscene, discriminatory or otherwise offensive. Do not share personally identifying information about individuals beyond general information such as their names**. Know your account’s privacy and security settings and be cautious about clicking on suspect links.

Guidelines for Facebook

  • Programs and counties that wish to establish a Facebook presence must use Facebook Pages, which are designed to be public-facing and open. Facebook, which requires that businesses and organizations use this type of account, has a step-by-step guide for creating a page and best practices.
  • Pages should be administered by a staff member, and it is advised that at least one more staff member have administrative access.
  • Page managers are strongly urged to include a link in the About section pointing to UMaine Extension’s Social Media Commenting Policy, which encourages open discussion but delineates the types of user posts that are unacceptable.

Guidelines for Twitter

  • As with any other social media platform, a county or program account should be administered by a staff member and at least one other staff member should be able to access the account.
  • Know who and what you are retweeting. Be sure you are not endorsing a statement that is not related to or aligned with your program, contains profanity or is otherwise inappropriate. Twitter user names can sometimes be profane or offensive, so look closely at who you respond to or retweet.
  • Twitter is a powerful tool for connecting with people and sharing and receiving information quickly. It has also been at the center of some of the most high-profile compromises in recent years. To be safe, use strong passwords, be cautious about the third party applications linked to your account, and be sure you trust the links you click on.

Other Platforms

  • Social media is rapidly evolving. Each site is different, offering different opportunities, audiences, and challenges. Before starting an account, develop a plan for your goals, why this platform will help you achieve those goals, and how you plan to administer it. Do not start an account if you do not believe you have the time and resources to effectively maintain it.
  • Though each site is different, following established best practices along with the guidelines here will help your social media presence reach its goals effectively and responsibly.

Branding

Accessibility

Ensure equal access to information being shared on our social media accounts.

Safe Social Media Use for Youth

As with any tool, youth must acquire and practice skills under adult supervision in order to use social media safely. As mentors and educators, it is our responsibility to nurture these skills, especially youth who may be using social media on our behalf. Note, we do not recommend youth under the age of 13 using social media on behalf of any UMaine Extension accounts.

**Use caution when posting photos of children under the age of 18 on web pages/in online groups, EVEN IF YOU HAVE A SIGNED RELEASE FORM FROM THE CHILD’S PARENT OR GUARDIAN AND THE PAGE(S)/GROUP IS PASSWORD PROTECTED. Do not use pictures that could identify the names or locations of children, i.e., children wearing name tags or standing in front of their homes, schools, well-known landmarks, or places with obvious signs posted nearby. Don’t include captions beneath your photos that include the child’s last name, home address, or any address that locates the child. This simple practice will help ensure the safety of children who participate in our programs by protecting their anonymity.

Resources

  • Social Media Test Drive: TestDrive is a safe social media simulation that lets young people practice social media skills. Created by researchers in the Cornell University Social Media Lab, in collaboration with the Program for Research in Youth Development and Engagement and New York State 4-H educators.
  • PYD101: Youth & Technology Course

Contact Us!

Questions about social media can be directed to the Extension Communications and Marketing Team.

*Third-party applications (apps) are created by developers that aren’t the owner of the social media site that offers them. For example, Facebook permits some apps that it did not develop to function on its social media network. These third party apps access your user data in order to work properly, which can pose privacy risks. Your social media site’s privacy preferences do not necessarily apply to the third party apps.