Social Media Resource Guide

Six Questions to Start

Social media can be a powerful tool to communicate your message, create relationships, broadcast multimedia, and learn from professionals. This online guide provides useful techniques and helps you get started with social media. If you have any specific questions, need help with an unaddressed topic, or have additional information that you would like to share, please contact us.
 
Before setting up your social media channels, it’s important to have clear goals and expectations. The following questions can act as a guideline for getting started:

  • Who is your audience? This should be the driving question behind your social media strategy. Sometimes, you’ll have multiple audiences (e.g. Undergraduates AND Alumni, so it benefits you to be specific.)

  • What do you want to accomplish through social media? Set tangible, achievable goals.

  • How do you want your audience to respond? On-social engagement (likes comments, etc), web clicks, video views, email sign-ups, event RSVPs?

  • Have you integrated social media into your larger communications plan? Social media should be complementary to your website and other marketing materials.

  • Which social media platforms are right for your department? Do some research about various social networking sites, then decide which one is best suited for your audience and organizational goals, as well as the type of content you’re producing (e.g., if your unit has lots of visually content, consider Instagram)

  • Do you have a plan of action for monitoring and moderating conversations on your social media page, positive or negative? While not a daily occurance, sooner or later you will run into negativity online. It is important not to take criticism personally, and to address negative comments on your page in a timely manner.

While these questions are meant to help you get started, a more formal social media plan can help you formulate your overall approach and involvement with social media. For assistance creating a social media plan, please contact us.

You can also read these relevant articles for more information on social media planning:

Please note that these articles are merely starting points – please reach out if you have questions when creating your social media strategy.

Use social media responsibly and effectively by acquainting yourself with social media policies at the University and external websites.

The University of Chicago Employee Handbook

Personnel Policies - Social Media – Guidelines for the responsible use of blogs, networking sites, and other social media for staff employees.
 
New Information Technologies and Intellectual Property at the University of Chicago – A complete overview of your rights and responsibilities as an official representative of the University of Chicago in any and all social networks.

Information Technology Services
 
Information Technology Policies

Every individual social site has their own guidelines and terms of service. Be aware of these on each site as you use them–to avoid common pitfalls, and maximize their impact.

Setting Up Your Social Media Accounts

When applicable, your University social media accounts should not be tied to an individual or personal e-mail address, so it is recommended that you create an organizational or “functional” e-mail address. 

It is easy to setup a shared account (e.g. UChicagoDeptSocialMedia@lists.uchicago.edu) — simply create a closed, private mailing list and use this as your social accounts’ primary e-mail address. This approach both creates a central address for your social media accounts and establishes a backup mechanism where a group of people in your department can access your accounts. The following are additional guidelines as you start to set up your accounts:

  • Creating an account that is representative of a University unit or department should be done with the approval of your supervisor.

  • Keep your contact information accurate and up-to-date.

  • Carefully manage your account’s password – be sure to change it on a recurring basis, and have your account passwords stored in a secure file or via an application like Last Pass.

  • Whenever possible, enable two-factor authentication on an app like Duo Mobile, which sends a push notification to your personal mobile device.  

Use careful consideration in choosing a name or title for your social media channel. In some cases, such as Facebook Pages or Groups the name of the channel may not be changed once it has been created. Take into account the words, phrases, and nicknames that your target audience may use when searching for you with a search engine. 

Department Acronyms are fine for handles (@UChicago on Twitter, for example), but your account names should be clear and easily searchable (example: University of Chicago Social Media Account, not UCSMA). On some platforms (Twitter, and Instagram), you can set a “display name” that functions as a nickname for your account, separate from your “@”. This is another way to make it easy for your audience to find you.

Always be sure to use appropriate University of Chicago or department branding. Visit: Identity Guidelines for updated brand guidelines, and access to University-approved visual assets.

You can also contact us if you need help establishing your social media accounts and identity.

Establishing Your Voice

Establishing a voice and tone is one of the most difficult parts of creating a successful social media account – it doesn’t happen overnight.

When many people ask how to “use” social media, what they often mean is how they should sound, or what style of writing to use. While there is never any universal answer to this question, here are some tips to get you started:

Your target audience will be more likely to interact with your content if it is presented with a casual, personable voice – but keep in mind, you are representing the University, so a level of professionalism is necessary. It’s important to find the line between personable and unprofessional. You want your content to feel like a real person is behind the content.

Multimedia posts almost always perform better than those that are simply text. Sharing media such as photos, videos, audio, or existing relevant articles in your posts can help increase their engagement and reach — and the usefulness of your platform to your audience.

Be helpful. 

In many cases, social media communicators are the new customer service representatives. If you can’t answer a question, try your best to refer the user to someone who can, or a different website.

  • Try to be consistently responsive. Direct replies and comments should be met with some form of response or acknowledgement, when appropriate. Every bit of feedback is a measure of success for your social media campaign.

  • Be consistent. Your social media voice should exemplify a consistent, discernible personality. The essential goal is to lead with positive, informative messaging, in order to make users feel comfortable interacting with your content.

  • Respect copyright laws and other organizations intellectual property. Always give credit and link to your sources, ask permission, do not use stock imagery you did not pay for unless it is verifiably “fair use”.

  • Be Transparent. Acknowledging and correcting mistakes promptly will help maintain your rapport with your readers and, in some cases, even strengthen it. Ignoring or deleting engagements without acknowledgement can send the wrong message.

  • Remember that you are speaking to a group, not just a collection of individuals. Adopt a more communal voice that sounds reasonable to the diverse backgrounds that compose that group. Refrain from broadcasting private issues and topics.

  • Have a sense of humor, when appropriate. Readers skim online, and they’re much more likely to click on or share something that’s fun or amusing. That said, not every topic lends itself to humor. Be selective in when you add humor to a message – understand when and where your social “voice” can have some levity. Be aware that sarcasm is not obvious online, subtext is not always understood, and few memes and emojis are universally applicable. 

UChicago Branding on Social Media

When you represent the University of Chicago on social media, there are number of visual and naming elements that need to be designed and selected for each social channel. Familiarize yourself with the identity guidelines by visiting the Identity Guidelines, or by visiting the Brand Guidelines from UChicago Creative, which provides information about the University’s chosen typefaces, wordmarks, and colors as well as downloadable visual assets.

Best Practices

As you begin to setup and design your accounts, keep in mind how they will appear visually. Avatars should be simple, clear, and high resolution. Remember that many users will see your icon on a mobile device – so be sure that your image looks clear in a variety of formats. If necessary, you may need to scale your image depending on the platform. This guide can help you with image sizes across social media.

Some sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Facebook also allow you to add Cover Photos, or large banner images at the top of your profile. Be sure to have images that are ideally sized for each site. Every platform has different image size guidelines, so keep those in mind when creating your account’s appearance, and refer to the guide above for more. You can also visit the official UChicago accounts for examples of how this might look.

Contact UChicago Creative if you need help creating your social media brand elements.

 

Accessibility

These guidelines outline best practices in higher ed social media were last updated April, 2022.

What is Digital Accessibility? Why is it important?

Digital accessibility is the ability of a website, mobile application or digital content to be easily navigated and understood by a wide range of users, including those users who have visual, auditory, motor or cognitive disabilities. The University of Chicago is committed to providing an accessible, diverse, and inclusive environment. Maintaining accessible digital assets—including social media posts—enables users of all backgrounds and abilities to have a better user experience.

Video captions

The University of Chicago follows WCAG 2.1 Level AA guidelines for digital assets, including videos. These state that captions should be provided for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media.

As a result, all videos shared to social media should be captioned. If it is not possible to embed captions within the video, a link should be provided to a transcript of the video.

The most effective way to secure accurate video captions is to use a third-party captioning service to get a .srt caption file. UChicago Creative can help connect your video with captions. (Note: Facebook caption files must be coded with the language for use—e.g.: “CAPTIONS.en_US.srt” for US-English captions.

Some social platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, offer auto-captioning services. While auto-generated captions do not meet accessibility standards on their own, all three platforms will let you edit their auto-captions, which can be a cost-effective (while sometimes time-consuming) captioning method. In short: auto-generated captions should be carefully reviewed before posting.

The Center for Digital Accessibility has a large database of information for video/digital accessibility that is applicable for social.

Alt Text/Photo descriptions

Visual content is a huge part of social media, and if you’re not making your images accessible, then a portion of your users are missing out on a central part of your content. For users with visual impairments, alt text or photo descriptions provide the visually impaired with what is depicted in the images you publish.

Think of alt text and photo descriptions as a more descriptive photo caption. How would you describe the image to someone who can’t see it?

Examples:

Photography: This photo’s alt text is: “A black bench with the seating area covered in snow, as multiple feet of snow blanket the UChicago campus. The red roofs of the university buildings are visible in the background.” 

Graphics: Alt text is especially important for text-heavy graphics. If you’re sharing a graphic with a lot of text, the alt text should include all the important information within the graphic. Here’s an example from UChicago:

The alt text for this image reads “UChicago Urban Network Presdents: Racism as a public health crisis, COVID-19 Vaccine Access and Acceptance, March 25, 2021 at Noon CT.

Moderated by Natalie Moore, Reporter, WBEZ. Featured speakers: Dr. Arshiya Baig, UChicago Medicine, Brenda Battle, VP Urban Health Initiative, Dr. Candice Robinson, Chicago Dept. of Public Health.”

There isn’t one single correct or accepted way of composing alt text—the most important thing is to make sure the text description represents the image accurately for a user who cannot see it.

In general, most social platforms and management tools have an option to allow you to add Alt Text when posting. Each social platform does this a little differently—see below for platform-specific guidance.

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn |

Things you may not be thinking about…

“CamelCasing” hashtags: Capitalizing the first letter of each word when using hashtags is called CamelCase. It’s easier for everyone to read and helps screen readers identify separate words without spaces in between.. E.g.: A screen reading tool will read #UChicagoSocial as (“U-Chicago-Social”) whereas #uchicagosocial will be read as one, nonsensical word.
 
“Stylized” fonts, emojis & emoticons

 When considering adding emojis to your post, we recommend using them carefully and sparingly. Prioritize using emojis instead of emoticons created from text: Emoticons are hard for many people to read or understand. Screen readers have a difficult time describing them too — watch this video to learn more about how a screen reader shares an ASCII meme.
 
Instead, use emojis—each emoji has a matching text description for screen readers. However, it’s important to use them in moderation as too many emojis in a row can become confusing. (E.g. https://emojipedia.org/red-heart/) ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️. Will be read aloud as “red heart red heart red heart red heart red heart.” Not exactly user-friendly!) Not sure what an emoji means/will be read as by a screen reader? Use Emojipedia.

Similarly, “stylized” fonts have become a popular method of making posts look unique, particularly so on Twitter. While they add a visual flair, these fonts are actually created from code and not accessible for screen-readers. We recommend using only standard fonts when posting to social media.

Resources

The UChicago Center for Digital Accessibility offers a trove of information and guidance for all things digital, including social media. You can check out CDA guides — and you can even set up training sessions for your unit or department.
 
Site Improvement guidelines 

Looking for more ways to increase accessibility options on your social media? Additional information is available on SiteImprove's website.