Boston University’s Guidelines for the Use of Social Media

Boston University supports the use of social networking websites, blogs, micro-blogs, and other online communications media (“Social Media”) to promote the University to the broadest possible audience. The University maintains an official presence on several popular social media tools, including Facebook and Twitter and members of the University community use social media to stay connected with the University, connect with one another, communicate about University programs and events, share campus news and information, and announce activities and campus events.  Additionally, the Boston University Public Relations | Social Media team maintains a website that offers social media best practices to enhance all of BU’s social communication and community building.

These Guidelines below provide general guidance to those who may be unfamiliar with the use of social media at the University. In large part, these Guidelines are addressed to employees who use social media as part of their jobs to promote their schools, programs, and departments. However, these Guidelines include general considerations for social media use that should be important to everyone.

Using Social Media for the University

 1.  Plan ahead.

If you will be using social media in connection with your work for the University, it’s a good idea to think in advance about how you will use social media to achieve your department’s objectives. Develop a plan that addresses such issues as how frequently you will review and update content, and monitor and respond to comments from visitors to your site.

2.  Coordinate and get off to the right start.

Take advantage of the University’s resources and expertise concerning social media.  You should coordinate internally with Public Relations to learn the ropes before starting to use social media. Contact Public Relations at 617-353-2240 or for information. Schools and departments should designate a social media communicator who will be responsible for social media use. Social media communicators meet regularly and maintain a blog to share ideas, address common issues, and collaborate on social media marketing strategy. In addition, Public Relations has established policies about the use of the University’s official logos. These policies and additional guidance about website branding are available on the Brand Guidelines page.

3.  Follow the rules.

Social media websites have terms and conditions that users must follow in order to use the sites. You should read, understand, and follow these rules. Also remember that University policies, such as the Conditions of Use and Policy on Computing Ethics, apply to your use of social media as an employee. Employees should be mindful of these generally applicable policies when using social media.

4.  Be honest about who you are. 

If you are promoting Boston University and its programs and activities, be honest about your identity and affiliation with the University. Do not hide or misrepresent your identity if you are posting on behalf of the University.

5.  Be accurate and correct mistakes.

Have the correct information about programs and events before you post. If you are quoting sources, cite and link to them whenever possible. If you make an error, acknowledge and correct it as quickly as possible.

6.  Develop and maintain your presence.

Post news, events, and information that is relevant to your target audience. You may find that it’s a process to develop the right “online voice” for your program or department. Don’t be reluctant to change course if you are not achieving your marketing goals. Cross-promote your social media presence in other channels/materials to drive traffic to your social media (and vice versa). While your department’s use of social media will depend upon a number of factors, such as objectives and time available, you should understand that, once you establish a social media presence, parents, students, and others will find you and expect to engage with you via social media. Establishing a social media presence that you do not maintain will reflect poorly on your department and the University.

7.  Be professional (think before you post).

For employees using social media as part of their jobs, the same good judgment, common sense, and discretion that applies to using more traditional forms of communication should be followed. Moreover, on social media, employees should be guided by an even heightened concern for protecting their own reputations, the reputation of the University, its schools and departments, and the reputations of others, such as co-workers and students. Online posts are permanent and uncontrollable. Try to be mindful at all times that you are representing the University when you post or comment on a University-related website. If you have questions or concerns about whether it is appropriate to post certain material, speak with your department’s social media communicator or your supervisor before you post.

8.  Have a plan for responding to negative comments.

If a blogger or other online commenter posts an inaccurate, accusatory, or negative comment about the University, feel free to correct the inaccuracy but do so in a positive and polite way. If you find yourself in a position where the communications become antagonistic or deal with sensitive topics, ask Public Relations for advice before responding.

9.  Maintain confidentiality and respect copyright law.

Do not discuss confidential or sensitive internal issues online without authorization. Be conscious of the laws and regulations governing the privacy of student education records (FERPA), protected health information (HIPAA), personally identifiable information, and private information about colleagues. Do not post confidential information about faculty, students, alumni, or other employees. Also be mindful of copyright and trademark protections that may limit what materials you may use online. This is especially important with pictures, which may require you to confirm that the people in the picture consent to the use of their image and to determine whether it is clear who owns the picture. Information about copyrights and fair use may be found on the Copyright Basics page.

Maintaining the security of your social media profile can be a complicated and ever-changing effort. Educate yourself on the security issues and options on your chosen social media outlet and set up your profile appropriately. Be aware that social media outlets can—and frequently do—change their privacy policies. So something that may have been private on your profile yesterday may not be protected tomorrow.

If you have questions or concerns, contact Public Relations at 617-353-2240.

10.  Escalate Serious Issues.

If you identify issues related to health, safety, or security while using social media, bring them to the attention of the appropriate resource within the University immediately. Information security issues should be addressed to BU Information Security. If you become aware of material online that prompts concerns about student health or safety or that someone in the BU community may present a danger to themselves or others, you should contact the Dean of Students at 617-353-4126 or BUPD at 617-353-2110, or review the information available on helping someone in distress.

Using Social Media for Your Own Purposes

When using social media for yourself, consider the privacy issues involved. Although some websites have privacy settings, you really cannot rely on such settings to guarantee that your online conduct and postings will be kept private. In general, social media tools are provided to you for free, but that is because you pay admittance with your personal information, which websites use for marketing to you. Many social media sites are continuing to develop their security features and even the best information security features can be compromised. Before you post, consider that you will potentially be sharing it with an audience of millions.

If you identify yourself as a member of the Boston University community on your website or blog, please state that you are sharing your views as an individual, not as an official representative of the University. For example, include a disclaimer on your website or blog that states: “The views expressed on this [blog/website] are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Boston University.” Even with such a disclaimer, remember that inappropriate postings may reflect poorly on the University and you as an employee.

For more information about Boston University’s strategic use of social media, please email the Marketing & Communications Social Media team.