Skip to main content

Best Practices for a Successful Social Media Presence

Tips Specifically for Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn | YouTube | Wikipedia

 

Be respectful. Anything you post in your role as a Vanderbilt employee reflects on the institution. Be professional and respectful at all times on your social media site. Do not engage in arguments or extensive debates with naysayers on your site.

Be transparent. Make it clear that you are Tweeting / Facebooking, etc. in your role as a staff member for Vanderbilt. One of the great benefits of social media is that the individuals maintaining social media sites personalize large and complex institutions such as Vanderbilt. Use your own “voice.” Do not ghostwrite posts for supervisors.

Listen. Being a consumer of social media is essential to your ability to be a successful producer of social media content. “Listen” to online conversations on your preferred tools – be they blogs, Twitter, Facebook or anything else – to maintain a clear and current understanding of what is relevant and of interest to the community.

Be active. Social media presences require diligent care and feeding. If you do not have the time or resources to check in on these sites at least a few minutes each day, and to post fresh content several times a week, reconsider jumping in to social media at this time. Your site is only as interesting as your last post – if that post is several months old, visitors will consider it mothballed.

Be timely. One of the great benefits of social media is the ability to share information almost instantly with a global audience. This timeliness is also one of the expectations of that audience. Be prepared to move quickly in response to new developments, announcements, or emergencies with relevant information on your site. A short amount of accurate information delivered at the time of need can sometimes be more valuable than a full report delivered well after the issue has passed.

Be aware of the world around you. Do not tweet or post during times that would make your brand, and hence the Vanderbilt brand, appear to be out of touch with what’s going on in the world. For example, do not tweet a fun, cheery graphic in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack; likewise, don’t share a serious or sad story in the middle of the Super Bowl. If you have tweets or posts scheduled and something occurs in the world to impact those posts, reschedule them immediately.

Have a full-time faculty or staff member run your account. It can be tempting to hand over responsibility for your social media channels to a student worker, and students can certainly be important members of your communications team, but ultimately the content, strategy, execution - and passwords! - for your social media channels are the responsibility of full-time Vanderbilt employees. We recommend more than one full-time faculty or staff member have access to your accounts.

Use alt tags on your images. Using alt tags - descriptions of your images - makes your social media content accessible to screen readers. Not all platforms offer the option to include an alt tag, but when they do, you should use them. 

Remember, everything you do online can and will live forever. Think before you post, remembering that anything you share within social media, even within a closed network, is not private. It can and will be shared, stored and spread globally. Don’t post anything online you wouldn’t feel comfortable seeing on the front page of the newspaper, or on CNN.

Have clear goals. Don't just tweet or post for the fun of it - save that for your personal accounts. A successful social media strategy requires research, clearly outlined goals and objectives, smart tactics and dedicated effort. All of these should be in support of your area's larger communications goals and the university's mission. We have some thought-provoking questions in this handbook to help you think through why you're doing what you're doing and how best to do it.

Comment. As a consumer as well as a producer of social media, offer comments on interesting posts and share the good work of others using your sites. Social media is not (only) about sharing your news and success, it’s about sharing information that is of interest to your readers and viewers. When commenting as part of your job, be sure to indicate who you are and your affiliation with Vanderbilt. If you see a post that you think requires or would benefit from an official Vanderbilt response, please contact the Strategic Communications (university) at (615) 322-2706 or News and Communications (Medical Center) at (615) 322-4747.

Accept and monitor comments. A social media site without comments isn’t very social. Be prepared to accept and respond to comments. Understand that not all comments will be positive, and respond to negative comments professionally and by providing any additional information that may help resolve the issue. Post a disclaimer on your site stating you reserve the right to remove inappropriate comments. Remove those comments containing vulgar language, those that attack any one group or individual and those that are obviously spam.

Separate personal from professional. Balancing your professional and personal social media presences can be tricky, particularly if you are an avid user in both arenas. Content that is appropriate and of interest to your personal friends is most likely not appropriate or of interest to your department’s followers. Keep these two presences as separate as possible by keeping content about your non-work life on your personal page; and make clear that your personal accounts do not represent the university.

Be a valued community member. Don’t just talk about your program or department – share the best information you find from trusted sources outside of Vanderbilt. This will increase the value of your site and also will ensure you are a valued member of the community and are not just tooting your own horn.

Don’t cyberslack. Endless amounts of time can be spent, and wasted, on social media sites. Limit the amount of time you spend attending to your department’s social media presence to what is needed to post content, evaluate traffic data, review related sites, and monitor comments. Limit your personal use of these sites while at work as directed by your department’s guidelines.

Promote your accounts. If you tweet, but no one reads it, did you really tweet at all? Make it easy for people to find you on social media. Have links and icons on your website. Include your accounts on everything you send out (think: flyers, post cards, calendar entries, posters, email signatures – you cannot oversaturate promoting your accounts). Make sure you’re listed on the official Vanderbilt social media directory (if you’re not, we can fix that).

Best Practices for Specific Platforms

Facebook:

  • Monitor comments on your Facebook page daily and respond to those that warrant it. Encourage two-way communication. Delete those comments that include personal attacks, vulgarity or racial / other slurs, but be prepared for critical comments. Do not delete comments simply because they are critical – rather, respond on the wall or directly to the individual with additional information. In your About section, include or link to a comments policy.
  • Do not use the gold V as your profile picture; this is reserved for the official VU Facebook page. The university has official social media icons for schools and departments; please see the Brand Guide site to make your own.
  • Facebook has a set of official requirements that can help you in creating your cover image. These dimensions and requirements change often, so the official Facebook help page is your best resource for keeping your page up to date.  Looking for campus images to use? You can use the photos from the university's digital asset manager.
  • If you are interested in Facebook advertising, you should switch to a Facebook for Business account.
  • Unlike other social media platforms, you need a personal Facebook page in order to create a business/group/departmental page. No one will be able to see which personal accounts are affiliated with your departmental account. Do not create a "fake" account to post to your departmental account; Facebook will delete it (rightly!) as spam.
  • Page roles: At least two full-time faculty or staff members should be admins. Do not allow students or part-time employees to have higher than Editor status.
  • While tools such as Hootsuite can be useful for listening and posting, be sure to check how your Facebook posts are appearing to your audience. If you post the same message to Twitter and Facebook, for example, the message will probably be truncated on Twitter, and your tweet will contain @ signs and hashtags on Facebook.

Twitter:

  • When choosing your username, remember that this will become part of your Twitter address and also will be how you are identified when tweeting and responding to tweets. Choose a username that clearly identifies your department or program. Examples: VUEngineering, VanderbiltAlum, etc.
  • If you already have an Instagram presence, try to keep the handles the same to make it easier for your audience to find you.
  • For email, use a group mailbox that several members of your department or program can check. Do not use your personal email address. If your department does not have a group mailbox, contact VUIT to get one, or consider creating a departmental gmail account and sharing the password.
  • Include a brief descriptive text about your department or program and a link to your website.
  • For a profile picture, do not use the gold V; that is reserved for @VanderbiltU. The university has official social media icons for schools and departments; please see the Brand Guide site to make your own.
  • The Vanderbilt digital asset manager has plenty of campus photography options you can choose from to customize your header image.
  • Use Twitter’s internal guide for customizing your profile.
  • Before you start tweeting, build the list of those you will be following. Seek out other Vanderbilt accounts, other accounts for people and programs in your field, and others who are tweeting about keywords that are relevant to your interests. Read, retweet and respond to these tweets to begin building your online network.
  • Remember, Twitter is a conversation, not a megaphone. Use yours not only to share interesting news and information about your program, but to share news from other sources, to respond to and ask questions and to get to know your audiences better.
  • #hashtag: Hashtags can be a great way to join, start or monitor conversations around a specific topic. Before creating one, do a search to see if another group is already using it. Use only one hashtag per event/discussion. If you do promote a hashtag, you need to monitor its usage and respond quickly; creating a hashtag without monitoring it is a bit like promoting your department phone number and then never answering when the phone rings.
  • Get our attention: If you’d like the main Vanderbilt account to see your tweet, @ us – include @VanderbiltU in your tweet. When sharing images, tag them #vandygram.
  • Consider using an app to manage your account. There are many free online applications that make updating and monitoring your Twitter presence much easier. Check out TweetDeck and HootSuite for starters.
  • The apps and sites mentioned above offer the option to schedule your tweets, which can be a timesaver. But keep in mind, you can't set it and forget it. Check on your tweet after it's posted and respond to comments, and when the circumstances in the world change, reschedule your tweets immediately.

Instagram:

  • Do you have enough images to share? Do you have a plan for creating and taking images? You should update your Instagram once or twice a week, if not more often. Canva is a great resource for creating images when you don't have any to share.
  • Include a brief descriptive text about your department or program, and a link to your website.
  • When choosing your username, remember that this will become part of your Instagram address and also will be how you are identified when posting and responding to posts. Choose a username that clearly identifies your department or program. Examples: VUEngineering, VanderbiltAlumni, etc.
  • If you already have a Twitter presence, try to keep the handles the same to make it easier for your audience to find you.
  • For email, use a group mailbox that several members of your department or program can check. Do not use your personal email address. If your department does not have a group mailbox, contact VUIT to get one, or consider creating a departmental gmail account and sharing the password.
  • For your profile picture, do not use the gold V; that is reserved for @VanderbiltU. The university has official social media icons for schools and departments; please see the Brand Guide site to make your own.
  • Seek out other Vanderbilt accounts, other accounts for people and programs in your field, and others who are posting about keywords and hashtags that are relevant to your interests. Like, share and respond to these posts to begin building your online network.
  • Remember, Instagram, like all social media, is a conversation, not a megaphone.
  • If you have a personal Instagram account and are switching between the two, make sure to check which account you are logged into before posting personal photos.
  • Get our attention: To reach a larger audience, including the main Vanderbilt account, tag your photos #vandygram.
  • You can share other people’s photos through apps such as Repost – they allow you to regram the photos while giving proper credit to the original poster.
  • Social media sites such as Hootsuite have tips on how to build your audience and other helpful advice – follow them!

LinkedIn:

  • If your department or group is affiliated with one of our schools, check to see if that school has a LinkedIn presence first. If they do, talk to the school's social media team in order to be set up as a Showcase Page with the school.
  • If it does not make sense for your page to be set up under one of the schools, set it up as a small, non-profit business.
  • Monitor comments on your LinkedIn page daily and respond to those that warrant it. Encourage two-way communication. Delete those comments that include personal attacks, vulgarity or racial / other slurs, but be prepared for critical comments. Do not delete comments simply because they are critical – rather, respond in the comments or directly to the individual with additional information. In your About section, include or link to a comments policy.
  • Do not use the gold V as your profile picture. This is reserved for the official VU LinkedIn Page. The university has official social media icons for schools and departments; please see the Brand Guide site to make your own.
  • LinkedIn has a set of official requirements that can help you in creating your cover image. These dimensions and requirements change often, so the official LinkedIn help page is your best resource for keeping your page up to date.
  • Similarly to Facebook, in order to create a LinkedIn page you must have a personal LinkedIn account. No one will be able to see which personal accounts are affiliated with your departmental account.
  • At least two full-time faculty or staff members should be admins of the page.
  • As opposed to some of the other social media platforms, LinkedIn’s tone is very professional. When crafting posts it is best to keep your language as succinct as possible.
  • LinkedIn is a great way to form micro connections to people who could be interested in your specific division. Share articles from leaders in your roster, post thoughts on industry news, and share relevant articles from news.vanderbilt.edu.
  • When mentioning Vanderbilt schools, staff, or faculty in a post, tag them as appropriate.

  YouTube:

  • Vanderbilt has three official channels: for the University, Health and Athletics.
  • Schools, departments, student groups, etc. should use the official Vanderbilt University YouTube channel.
  • Do not set up your own channel. The benefit to the schools is accessing a much larger audience than they would on their own channel, and the benefit to the viewer is they are then linked to all of the content VU has to offer on YouTube.
  • Within the University channel, there are over 100 playlists. These can be embedded into your website or used as you see fit. These take the place of having your own channel.
  • For information about VUMC’s YouTube presence, please see their Social Media Toolkit.

Getting your videos on the University YouTube channel:

  1. Fill out this form. Someone from the Digital Strategies team will be in touch after your video has been uploaded.
  2. Do not submit any videos that contain copyrighted material. You must be able to show that you have permission to use all video clips, music, etc. that are featured in your video.
  3. Read our “YouTube: Tips and Tricks” to learn how to improve the searchability of your videos, using better titles, descriptions, tags and more.

Wikipedia:

Wikipedia is often used as the go-to information source on any given topic. Content is generated and moderated entirely by the Wikipedia community. Though individuals and organizations are often interested in ensuring they are represented in Wikipedia, self-written profiles are expressly discouraged by Wikipedia and should be avoided. The best practices below offer guidelines for participating in Wikipedia.

  • Self-written / ghost written profiles discouraged / prohibited.
  • Original research prohibited – all information on Wikipedia must be cited.
  • “Talk pages” are appropriate places to suggest material / new articles that may reference you, your work or your department.
  • Only edit content about yourself or your department when it is obviously vandalism, out-of-date, or a typo.
  • If you must post an article about yourself, keep it entirely neutral and ensure all information is verified elsewhere (on your department’s website, on your personal website, professional organizations’ sites, etc.) Understand that once you post such a profile you lose control over it – you cannot take it down and others will edit it. A better approach is to make a proposal that an article be written about you on a talk page within your area of expertise, provide the relevant content, and let the Wikipedia community take it on.
  • “Neutral point of view” is a founding and guiding principle of Wikipedia. Any content provided by public relations / marketing offices should be straight facts only, with appropriate citations.
  • To participate in Wikipedia, consider authoring or editing a Wikipedia entry for your research area. Link it back to Vanderbilt, but also link it to other relevant sites.
  • These are guidelines; familiarize yourself with Wikipedia's rules on its website.

Hashtags

Hashtags can be an effective way to participate in local, national and even global conversations. Before using a hashtag, evaluate its appropriateness by investigating its origin and context. This can be done by clicking on the hashtag to understand how it is being used.

When appropriate, use Vanderbilt-specific hashtags to reach our community:

  • #Vandygram – Used when posting Vanderbilt-specific content on Instagram
  • #VU4Life – Used when sharing alumni content across social media.
  • #VU2022, #VU2026, etc. – Used to celebrate Vanderbilt students, as denoted by class year, generally around Commencement and when they’re admitted to the university.
  • #AnchorDown - used for all things Athletics. Go Dores!

Avoid creating hashtags of your own as it can be difficult to receive buy in and maintain excitement around a new hashtag. Instead, look for existing local, national or global hashtags that could further your post’s reach.

External Resources

There are many free, easy-to-use platforms and tools available for social media communicators. Some helpful resources include:

  • Hootsuite – Can be used to monitor hashtags and key phrases associated with your account. Hootsuite also offers a number of free learning resources through their free Hootsuite Academy program. 
  • Canva – Create visually compelling graphics and posts sized appropriately for social media.
  • Getty images – Library of royalty-free photos and illustrations.
  • Creative Commons – Nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. Their free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide artists a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use their creative work — on conditions of their choice. Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright. Be sure to check usage of each resource on these sites – there are varying degrees of permission depending on how one plans to use the artwork.