Social Media Best Practices and Guidelines

Knowing the brand and your social media strategy

Before you create your content, examine — or create! — your social media strategy. A social media strategy establishes a solid framework for creating, posting and engaging online.

The Office of Communications & Public Affairs maintains a central social media content strategy that focuses on creating content with the intent to educate its many audiences. We do this in several ways. For example, we share research produced at Berkeley through the lens of students, faculty and the communities impacted while providing insight and value with every post. This builds upon and expands our brand holistically. 

If you don’t already have an existing social media strategy, try thinking through the purpose of your channel, your audience and your goals. If you want to discuss and develop your social strategy further, please contact Berkeley’s social media cirector, Yasin Id-Deen, at yasini@berkeley.edu.

General overview of social media in Higher Ed

Social media engagement is a critical element of higher ed marketing and outreach, providing an opportunity to recruit, build community, provide authentic and story-driven content, speak to issues that your communities care about, amplify a diverse range of voices, uphold your university’s reputation, reflect the university’s brand, and share expert research. 

As a general rule of thumb, when writing for social media, you should try to be short, succinct and to the point. That’s not to say that you can’t ever have longer captions or larger campaigns, but you should be mindful of simplifying complex ideas and reducing your word count to make your content more digestible. Also, strive to be authentic and entertaining, even when you are trying to share knowledge and educate. Social media should be fun — and social! 

Cross-promotion

It’s also highly encouraged to cross-promote whenever possible. There are a lot of social media accounts affiliated with Berkeley, so chances are that your post might involve or reference another department. Consider reaching out to facilitate co-authored posts or tagging other accounts when relevant.  

Audiences

At the end of the day, whatever you’re creating should provide value or a call to action to your audience. Otherwise, your posts will get lost in the noise. The visuals and tone of voice you choose will depend on several things, but it will start with considering your audience, which will vary by platform. 

  • Undergraduate:

    • Typically Gen Z

    • Digital natives

    • More diverse

    • Interest in social activism

    • Love Tiktok/reels/videos 

  • Graduate: 

    • Average age is 33 (typical range is 25-45)

    • Tend to have at least one year of professional working experience

    • Usually seeking to accelerate or pivot career

    • Many are first gen and already have debt

Audience breakdown by platform

Social media starts with knowing your audience. The following is a general breakdown of the audiences you may come across on your channels. Please note that this is a broad overview and not a strict rule of thumb since social media is constantly evolving and changing. It would be best if you took some time to learn who your specific audience is on each platform.

Instagram: 

  • Audience: current students, prospective students, admits

  • Use this platform to build relationships and community with highly engaging visual content. This is one of the best places to reach your current and prospective students.

Linkedin:

  • Audience: prospective students, alumni, donors > skews professional

  • Use this platform to share news and articles, network, develop your business and showcase your brand. Try humanizing the business aspect here.

Facebook:

  • Audience: alumni, parents of students, few prospective students

  • This platform has a more limited reach when it comes to prospective students, but it’s a great space for cultivating brand loyalty and building relationships. Here, you’re most likely to speak to an older audience. Consider tailoring your content and tone of voice to appeal to families of students and alumnus. 

Twitter/X:

  • Audience: donors, academics, peer institutions, media

  • This platform is great for sharing PR, news, articles, etc.

  • Tip: Twitter/X threads are useful for larger pieces of news and ongoing campaigns. Want to break down your research and articles further? Try a thread!

Tiktok:

  • Audience: current students, prospective students, admits

  • This platform has become a search engine but can still be used for building relationships and fostering conversation, brand loyalty and community. Here, you can participate in real-time trends and speak to the younger end of your audience. 

Youtube:

  • Audience: current students, prospective students, admits

  • Used widely as a search engine, sharing “how to’s,” showcasing lifestyle, education and brand awareness. Tip: Are you already creating Instagram reels or Tiktoks under 60 seconds? Try posting them as Youtube shorts! 

Style guidelines 

Once you’ve examined your social media strategy and its alignment with the institutional brand, you can start creating your content.

AP style

Berkeley follows AP style guidelines. You can find a thorough rundown of their social media guidelines on the AP website (requires CalNet login).

Campus brand standards

While it’s important for you to have your own digital voice for your department/unit, the look and feel should align with campus brand standards. Consult the Identity and Visual Design section of this website for guidance on logo usage, the brand architecture system, color, typography, photography, and graphic elements. If you need a logo lockup for your department, please send a request to brand@berkeley.edu. Be consistent in your application of the campus brand and consider templatizing your ongoing campaigns.

Adobe Creative Suite 

We suggest using the Adobe Creative Suite to create content. All faculty, staff and students have access to the Adobe Creative Suite free of charge (please visit Software@Berkeley if you need to request access). If you need to training on the Adobe programs, please reference this library of Creative Cloud tutorials

Web accessibility

It’s also important to note that everything you make must adhere to web accessibility requirements.

Monitoring

Since social media is social and you’re striving to create engaging content, ideally, your audience will interact with your content. Try to monitor your comments regularly to keep an eye on community conversations, concerns, suggestions, etc. As part of your social media strategy, consider laying out how you’ll choose to interact with your audiences. Do you want to actively reply to comments? Like comments? Share user-generated content?

When it comes to trolling and other audience activity that’s of concern, the line we draw for comments on posts is if the remarks are irrelevant, spamming, and or scamming/solicitations. We don't delete those comments, but we will hide them; with hate speech, we hide it and report the user to the platform. We don't turn off comments because that can be seen as censorship.

Planning and execution

Generally speaking, it’s recommended that you create a one-pager to detail your campaigns. This ensures everyone involved in the project is on the same page about your content's design, copy and overall purpose. This can also act as a blueprint for making similar content in the future.

Questions to ask yourself when planning your strategy:

1. What do you want to accomplish? Outline your goals like you would with any communication or marketing campaign. Social media is another channel for your content. Use it wisely.

2. Where is your target audience? Determine where your audience is and concentrate your efforts on building one platform before adding another. It takes concerted time to listen, engage and inform. Social media is meant to be a conversation, not a one-way broadcast.

3. Do you have time to keep up with rapid changes to social media? Settings and policies may change with no notice from the provider.

4. Do you have the content to sustain a presence? Your social media channel(s) will reflect on your department and, ultimately, the university as a whole. Consider whether your unit has the time and personnel to 1) create or curate quality content on a regular basis (that drives traffic to your own website as much as possible), 2) post engaging content daily, and 3) monitor and respond often. Social media doesn’t create your stories, it tells them.

5. Are there other university social media accounts that are already connecting with your target audience? Using established campus platforms might reach your target audience faster than it takes to build your own fan base.

Before executing your strategy:

1. Set a goal and strategy. Otherwise, you’re shooting in the dark.

2. Engage your audience. Post content that your followers enjoy and want to share. This will not only keep them coming back for more but also increase your chances for better reach (via Facebook’s algorithm).

3. Remember less is more! Don’t feel the pressure to use every social media channel out there. Start with a realistic plan for one or two and get good engagement with those first.

4. Develop a social media plan for each channel Different channels are better suited for certain goals and audiences.

5. Measure your results. Establish performance metrics upfront that are tied to organizational strategy. Find out what did well, and why. Adapt accordingly.

6. Involve actual students in your planning (if they’re your main audience) You may think your campaign content is interesting and written in a way that appeals to students. Find out if that’s really true.

7. Reach out to subject matter experts. Don’t respond on behalf of the university, your department or a professor unless you have the correct facts and information. Direct the questions to the appropriate website or person in your network.

8. Think twice about posting, or responding. Exercise sound judgment and common sense. Trust your gut. Familiarize yourself with compliance obligations under FERPA and university policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment. Refrain from conversations that may create the appearance of lobbying. 

9. Respect copyright laws. Show proper respect for laws governing copyright and fair use. Be sure to receive permission for sharing images protected by copyright. A best practice is to always credit a source, unless the photo credit is referenced in the linked story itself.

10. Be supportive. Collaborate with other social media managers across campus to help amplify your or their content. Be courteous with considerate lead-time when possible.

11. Use brand guidelines. Support campus efforts to build a strong brand when creating graphics, using logos or composing Facebook posts or tweets.

12. Keep updated on social media trends. Subscribe to quality newsletters and blogs. Make it a habit each week to pick out articles you think may help your efforts—and set aside time to actually read them.

Bonus: Experiment! Don’t be afraid to fail. But be smart about it.

Approach

Please keep the following concerns in mind:

Privacy

As stated in UC Statement of Privacy Values (page 2, “UC Privacy Principles”):

a. Free inquiry: “The university is guided by First Amendment principles and is committed to encouraging its members to exercise free discourse without fear of reprisal or intimidation, subject to the privacy and safety of other individuals or university resources.”

b. Respect for individual privacy: “The university is committed to respecting the privacy of individuals, including their interactions with others, and expects university members to esteem each other’s privacy and well being.”

c. Surveillance: “The university is guided by Fourth Amendment principles regarding surveillance of persons or places, whether in person on campus or electronically, and is committed to balancing the need for the safety of individuals and property with the individuals’ reasonable expectation of privacy in a particular location.”

Social media account access

We recommend:

a. Access to login and passwords to each social media account is known by a minimum of three staff members.

b. Warn all staff of the unfortunate possibility of making “accidental” posts or tweets to an official Berkeley account rather than their own. They should be sure to always check which account they are actively logged into before every post or tweet.

Personal responsibility and liability

a. Assume copyright protection: As stated in the UC Electronic Communications Policy (page 2): “In accordance with federal law, users should assume that material created by others, in electronic or other form, is protected by copyright unless such material includes an explicit statement that it is not protected, or unless such material is clearly in the public domain.”

b. Avoid infringement: As stated in the UC Electronic Communications Policy (page 9, “Intellectual Property”): “The contents of all electronic communications shall conform to laws and University policies regarding protection of intellectual property, including laws and policies regarding copyright, patents, and trademarks. When the content and distribution of an electronic communication would exceed fair use as defined by the federal Copyright Act of 1976, users of University electronic communications resources shall secure appropriate permission to distribute protected material in any form, including text, photographic images, audio, video, graphic illustrations and computer software.”

c. Avoid endorsement: As stated in the UC Electronic Communications Policy (page 7): “Users of electronic communications resources must abide by university and campus policies regarding endorsements. References or pointers to any non-University entity contained in university electronic communications shall not imply university endorsement of the products or services of that entity.”

Counter cyber-security risks

Social networking is built upon mutual trust. Attackers seek to exploit this trust relationship to damage reputation, disrupt operations, or for financial gain. Their tactics include taking control of social media sites and posting links to websites controlled by them to distribute malware or exploit vulnerabilities in web browsers, web browser extensions or applications.

a. Change your passwords often. As a precaution: use strong passphrases, avoid re-using passphrases for other sites, and where available use two-factor authentication.

b. Hover over links and look at statistics bar at the bottom of your browser to see where the link goes before clicking on it.

c. Install software patches within 48 hours.

d. Prepare an incident response plan to expeditiously identify, contain, eradicate, and recover from incidents.