In the past few years, Social Media has become a popular tool for communication. As technology evolves, we can expect that the medium will continue to grow in both functionality and popularity. There is no university policy governing the use of Social Media tools, but University Communications has prepared this primer to assist the colleges and units as they move forward into this realm.
We are continually expanding and redefining our approach to how Cornell should represent itself in social media spaces. Cornell already has a presence on many of the social networks and we expect this to grow. Use the guidelines below to help maintain a strong, consistent communications strategy.
Naming Conventions in Social Media
- Try to use Cornell when naming your account. This helps to distinguish us from other colleges and universities with CU as initials.
- If possible, avoid acronyms. We are all familiar with Cornell's own brand of alphabet soup, but your audience may not be.
- If your department or unit name is too long to use in its full form, abbreviate as necessary, but be sure to use the full name and Cornell University in your bio or description.
Use of the Cornell Logo in Social Media
In 2011, University Communications released a new version of the Logo Guidelines that included best practices for Social Media. If you intend to use the logo to identify your account as affiliated with Cornell, be sure to visit http://cornelllogo.cornell.edu/ and read the rules.
There are no rules about using photographs of the campus, events, or other Cornell-related themes, but keep in mind that you are representing the university to the outside world and choose images that are of high quality.
DOs and DON'Ts
- Be transparent.
- Tell your audience who you are and what you do at Cornell. Community members can feel deceived if you hide your identity or intent.
- Use the space to share some of the more quirky and fun things about Cornell and your unit.
- Places like Twitter and Facebook are casual in nature. People go there to play and connect and, in that regard, the medium is perfect for informal interactions with the university.
- Answer comments and questions when you can.
- It is easy to think of social networks merely as tools to push out Cornell content and forget that they are actually built around interaction. Responding to questions and comments builds relationships and credibility and keeps the human element prominent.
- Take advantage of trusted students to do your social networking, when appropriate.
- Depending on your intended audience, using trusted students to maintain Facebook pages and Twitter accounts brings the benefit of an authentic voice. If, for example, you are trying to connect with prospects, there is really no one better equipped to tell them what it's like here than current students. These audiences are savvy and will recognize spin when they see it.
- Update regularly.
- Nothing is more frustrating to users than an account that has not been touched in over a week. You can mitigate the burden by having multiple admins for an account, using tools like HootSuite to schedule posts ahead of time and posting things as you stumble across them--even in the middle of the night.
- Pay attention to (and delete) SPAM.
- Facebook pages in particular are subject to SPAM in the comments. One way to avoid this is to not allow comments on your posts, but the trade off is that you are having a one-way conversation. Someone should pay attention to all of the social networking accounts you use and delete SPAM as necessary. Be careful in what you choose to delete, though, as it can be seen as a form of censorship. A rule of thumb we use on the Cornell Facebook page is to delete anything that does not relate to the university and keep anything that does--even if we don't particularly like it.
- Be engaging in your prose.
- You will get the most reward for your effort when your content is engaging. Because of the casual nature of social media, it is encouraged to be witty, punny, and tongue-in-cheek when appropriate to the subject matter. “Casual” does not equate to sloppy, however, and too much use of online shorthand (e.g., “OMG, I h8 that! ROFLMAO!”) is not appropriate if you’re communicating on behalf of Cornell.
- Know your audience.
- Mediums like Facebook give you access to the demographics of your audience. Pay attention to this when determining what to post. For example, the primary audience for the Cornell Facebook page is young alumni, therefore, it makes little sense to use the space to promote on-campus events unless they are big enough to attract an audience from afar.
- Allow conversations to blossom
- The point of social media is for people to connect--both with one another and with Cornell. It is possible that you might post something that will lead to a conversation in comments that you or your bosses might be uncomfortable with. You should resist the urge to moderate these conversations unless things degenerate into hate speech or otherwise onerous tones.
- Consider the use of multiple kinds of media.
- It’s easy and effective to post video and photos, in addition to text.
- Sink to their level.
- Much like any social interaction, you will come across people who are rude and inappropriate. Resist the urge to respond, either from the official account, or your own personal one. You cannot win the argument and engaging in the exchange will only fuel the flames. Instead, trust that your community will self-police. Other users will call out the bad behavior and, eventually, it will self-resolve.
- Rely on institutional news to be your sole source of content.
- It is certainly valid to post links to Chronicle articles and other official sources, but it's worth noting that things we find important here on the Hill (e.g. Presidential speeches, Dean's announcements, etc) are not always seen to be so by our audiences. For example, a Facebook Post on the Cornell page about the Vet College's oldest alum received over 40 interactions and another pointing people to the State of the University Address received zero.
- Put all of your eggs in one basket.
- Social media can be an excellent complement to existing webpages, but never forget that you are a user of any given platform, not a client. Functionality can and will change without any advance notice or consultation, and user support often consists of FAQ pages and user forums. Don’t depend exclusively on social media for anything that’s critical to your mission.
- Ban a user without thinking twice.
- It may be difficult to rescind a ban. Just be sure that you really want to do it before you click the button.
- Over-saturate the Market
- Try not to send more than five or six tweets a day unless you are tweeting live from an event. Similarly, limit your Facebook posts to two or three per day. Flooding your readers with content may seem like a great way to get the word out, but they will unfollow you the moment they decide that you have tipped the scale from interesting to spam.
How to Handle Breaking News and Incident-related Events
Question: Do we want to set a policy for handling GOOD news? Is there a need for units to wait until UC gives a go-ahead?
In today's world, news spreads as quickly as someone can push the send button on their cell phone. Before you know it, the whole world is talking about something that we, as an institution, might rather they not even know. We used to have the luxury of time to craft messages in response to a tragic event such as a gorge death or an accident on campus; this is no longer the case.
It is important to discuss the incident response with higher-ups (Deans, VPs, etc) as well as with University Communications to determine the best course of action. Each event should be handled on an individual basis and there are many factors to consider when determining a course of action.
When bad news happens, there are three choices in Social Media:
- Attempt to ignore it
- This strategy, while seemingly the easiest, can actually fuel flames--especially if users are specifically calling for institutional input on a topic.
- Use the medium to link users to an official response such as a press release, university statement, or Chronicle article
- This is a safe way to respond to calls for input, but be aware; some users will likely be frustrated by the spin factor they presume to be present in official statements. They may choose to speak out about this, which can feel like you've made things worse by sharing anything at all.
- Engage at a deep level
- It is possible to use social media to our advantage in times of trouble at the university. People will look to official accounts for news and updates and there is an opportunity to use these outlets in a meaningful way. Care must be taken, though, to assure that the holders of these accounts have direct lines to those making communications decisions in times of crisis. The benefit to something like Twitter is the speed at which information can be shared--it does no good to sit on a blinking cursor waiting for the official word to make it down the line. Ideally, the account holder should be empowered to distill messages and push them out as they see fit, escalating things as the situation warrants. Be aware, though, that communication and response at this level of engagement could easily be a full-time job in an emergency situation; any decisions to engage in this manner should be carefully considered.
Please note that we do not recommend using social media as a primary means of communication during times of crisis or emergency situations. University emergency communications protocols are in place and should be adhered to.
Balancing Work and Life Online
As Cornell employees, you are subject to the Campus Code of Conduct [pdf] and the Abuse of Computers and Network Systems policy. Additionally, as users on social networks, you are subject to their respective Terms of Service. It is important to be mindful of all these things as you move forward into the realm of social media; you are not merely there in your own capacity, but will also be tying your personal profile to the university at large.
Also, whether you're using social media for work or play, it's good practice to be aware of the privacy settings for all of your social media accounts and to check them regularly to make sure that the platform you're using hasn't altered default settings.