How To Create a Social Media Policy for Higher Education

by Morgan Siem on July 15, 2011

in Social Media

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This post is a follow-up to our recent post on social media marketing best practices. In this post we’ll use some of our experience from working with clients in higher education to answer some questions specifically about the use of social media in higher ed.

Our first recommendation is to set down guidelines and make them easily accessible to students, faculty, staff and audience members. Sometimes these are formal social media policies, while at other times they take the form of guidelines and best practices documents with links to additional resources. We recommend these to protect both the institution as well as its members. For instance, there are often student groups, faculty members and individual students who actively use social media. These entities, in many ways, represent your institution, whether or not they’ve been granted explicit permission to do so. Guidelines help these entities answer many questions, such as:

  • what material is appropriate to post?
  • do I have to put a disclaimer in my bio?
  • what are the privacy concerns I should be aware of?
  • how does FERPA relate to my use of social media?
  • am I allowed to use the University’s logo?
  • what’s the best way to promote events on campus?
  • for state schools, what are the state’s social media policies?
  • for state schools, what do I need to do to ensure that I’m abiding by public records laws?

Here are some key points to consider when creating guidelines for your social media policy:

  • Be Transparent– Disclose the identities of people posting on behalf of the institution as well as their relationship to the institution
  • Provide Insight – Contribute valuable information to online conversations
  • Be Aware of Liability – individuals are legally liable for what they post online. If, for instance, a professor is posting personal opinions on Twitter, then his or her Twitter bio should include a disclaimer that the opinions stated via that account are not the opinions of the institution.
  • Use Privacy Settings – In addition to encouraging people to use discretion when posting, also encourage people to use the appropriate privacy setting to protect their personal content. We recommend offering training and coaching sessions to help users navigate the settings on sites such as Facebook. This post provides some helpful links and resources: Use Privacy Settings
  • Maintain Confidentiality – protect confidential and proprietary information. Universities and other institutions of higher learning fall under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This federal law protects the privacy of student education records, such as grades, transcripts and student identification numbers. Make it known that all communications on university-sanctioned social media profiles or pages may be monitored and subject to disclosure as public records. There should be no expectation of privacy in any social media communication, whether personal or official.
  • Cite Sources – avoid plagiarism and copyright infringement charges by respecting fair use and copyright laws. Require that sources be disclosed and appropriately cited.
  • Respect & Respond – Be civil at all times, even when expressing disagreement. Respect differences of opinion. Refrain from vulgar, discriminatory or otherwise inappropriate language. Respond rather than react.
  • Provide brand assets – Provide logos, mascot imagery and other brand assets to prevent users from altering your brand image or using poor-quality examples.

In addition, make sure to connect to others in your field using social media to network and to ask questions, share tips and learn more best practices.  Join some of the groups for higher education on LinkedIn such as the Inside Higher Ed group to keep connected and when you need help with strategy or the development of your policy, ask an expert who can advise you on both best practices as well as educate your team going forward.

The power of social media in the higher ed space is great. It combines low cost with wide reach and immediate results. A great example of the use of social media in this industry is the University of Iowa’s Tippie MBA Twitter campaign. On August 1, a full-tuition package worth $37,000 will be awarded to the applicant with the most creative tweet answer to the question, “What makes you an exceptional Tippie Full-time MBA candidate and future MBA hire?” The campaign has been covered in publications like The Daily Iowan and Businessweek.

Photo by roel1943

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