Extension Social Media Guidelines & Best Practices
The professionals at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service are engaged in several types of social media communication with other professionals and with the public. Below are our guidelines.
Decide if Social Media is Right for Your Group
Please consider the following before creating a new Extension-affiliated social media account:
- What is the primary goal of this social media account? How will you measure those goals?
- Are there any other social media accounts with which your new account will compete? Is there really a need for this separate account?
- What other marketing channels are you currently using and how are they working? How will social media be used differently?
- Who is going to manage the account? And what happens if and when the selected admin graduates or leaves the group? How will your succession planning work?
- What content will you share, and do you have a strategic plan in place to schedule and create this content?
- How often will the account be checked for feedback? And who will be charged with responding to feedback?
- Will your social media account provide valuable content to its users on a consistent basis, and who will create this content?
- How will you promote the account to gain a following?
We strongly caution groups from being too eager to create accounts that will not be maintained. If an account has just a few followers or friends and there are no timely updates, it is most likely not worth the time and effort.
Social Media Guidelines
The purpose of the social media usage of the Cooperative Extension Service is to further
our mission to provide research-based information through non-formal education to
help Arkansans improve their economic well-being and the quality of their lives.
These guidelines govern the publication of and commentary on social media by employees of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service (“UACES”) and its related entities. UACES employees may publish or comment via social media tools in accordance with these guidelines. UACES employees are subject to these guidelines to the extent they identify themselves or are recognized as a UACES employee and engage in the use of social media tools as part of their job.
The Social Media Working Group is an ad hoc group of faculty and staff who meet regularly to discuss and plan UACES social media efforts. The working group researches and evaluates social media platforms, provides information on best practices, makes recommendations for training, advises when questions arise, and maintains the social media registry. The Social Media Working Group is under the leadership of Amy Cole, Website Program Manager and Digital Principal.
Send questions, suggestions, or comments regarding social media to: Amy Cole, firstname.lastname@example.org
Social Media Channels
For the purposes of these guidelines, social media relates to any medium for online publication and commentary, including but not limited to blogs and social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube. Additional social media outlets may be used. A full list of Extension’s registered social media sites is available on our website.
Social media usage at UACES is governed by all official policies. Read the policies
before engaging in any social media campaign as part of your official duties. All
uses of social media must follow the professional ethical standards expected of UACES
employees. These guidelines are in addition to, and complement, any existing policies
or guidelines regarding the use of technology, computers, e-mail and the internet.
Specific policies of interest related to social media include but are not limited to:
University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture
Brand Identity and Logo Standards and Guidelines
University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture
Code of Ethics
PMGS-09-4 Policy and Management Guidelines Division of Agriculture
System Management, Office Management, Employee Conduct
Policy Number: C.E.S.P. 4-11
Replaces C.E.S.P. 4-10 and C.E.S.P. 4-6
System Management, Office Management, Computer and Network Use
Policy Number: C.E.S.P. 4-19
Date Revised: 4-20-2012
System Management, Office Management, Management of E-mail
Policy Number: C.E.S.P. 4-25
Date Revised: 8-20-2009
Civil Rights Compliance, Public Notification of Nondiscrimination
Policy Number: C.E.S.P. 2-4
Date Revised: 12-12-2006
Personnel Employment Policies, Political Activities
Policy Number: C.E.S.P. 1-9
Date Revised: 6-3-2004
Advertising on behalf of external vendors is prohibited on Extension social media presences. Be mindful of the policies set by social media sites.
Obey copyright law.
Ensure content is accessible to those with disabilities. Add captions to photos and videos. Always include contact
information on all social media platforms for clients to connect with the agent or
If you have questions about policies or social media practices, contact Amy Cole.
Before engaging in work-related social media, employees must register their social
media accounts (individually) with UACES at 501-671-2304. Designate who will be responsible
for the account and ensure you have a backup person in your department and approval
from a supervisor before starting to post. All active accounts will be listed in the
UACES social media directory.
Social media accounts for UACES entities, including 4-H, EHC, Master Gardeners and any other entity representing UACES, should be set up by the county agent or specialist. In the event an account is set up by a club member for the entire group, a county agent or specialist must be added as an administrator to maintain settings and controls as set forth in these guidelines.
If you need assistance choosing a social media platform or setting up an account, please contact Amy Cole, email@example.com.
It's not permissible to post confidential information. Think before you post. Be mindful
of posting personal information you wouldn't want clients or co-workers to know. Don't
post anything you wouldn't say in public. What's posted online is online forever.
It's not just about the organization but also about protecting your own online reputation
as well. Don't talk negatively about anyone, especially co-workers or competitors.
Your posts should never include:
• Sensitive financial or legal information.
• Confidential information.
• Sensitive or personal medical information that would violate HIPPA regulations.
Protect minors. When posting photos of 4-H youth or other minors, follow this format: First Name, First Initial of Last Name, County; ex.: Joe S., Anywhere County.
Protect your own privacy. Privacy settings on social media platforms should be set to allow anyone to see professional profile information. Learn how to manage your social media privacy settings: https://youtu.be/gnztX8-yBws and how to protect yourself on social media: https://youtu.be/yXWkFFojskg.
If you use your personal device to update and manage your Extension social media accounts, you are governed by the official social media guidelines. As Extension employees, we must be very clear that we do not endorse or promote any specific religion, political party, or product. To avoid any perception of violating our official policies, personal social media accounts should not be used to distribute official University of Arkansas business. Please be mindful of your personal social media activities; i.e., pages and posts you "like" or "share" if using your personal social media for official business at any time, which is not recommended, and avoid liking and following pages with a religious or political slant from your business pages as well. See above information on privacy settings and ways to protect yourself.
Make it clear that you are blogging/Tweeting/Facebooking, etc. in your role as an
employee of UACES. Individuals’ use of social media can help to personalize the organization
to the public.
Don't be afraid to be yourself, but do so respectfully. This includes not only the obvious (no ethnic slurs, offensive comments, defamatory comments, personal insults, obscenity, etc.), but also proper consideration of privacy and of topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory - such as politics and religion.
Nothing gains you notice in social media more than honesty - or dishonesty. Do not say anything that is dishonest, untrue or misleading. If you have a vested interest in something you are discussing, point it out.
If you make an error, be up front about your mistake and correct it quickly. If you choose to modify an earlier post, make it clear you have done so. If someone accuses you of posting something improper (such as their copyrighted material or a defamatory comment about them), deal with it quickly.
The quality of your posts reflects on your professional reputation and on the organization.
Use clear, concise writing. Spell and grammar check. Proofread before posing. Use
appropriate photos and properly edit them. If you have any doubt or need training,
contact Amy Cole (501-671-2304).
Remember the mission of UACES is to provide research-based information to the public. Focus on providing non-biased, reliable, up-to-date information. Remember that writing for the web is different than writing fact sheets or journal articles.
When posting in your professional role, avoid making claims that may appear to endorse commercial products or services, political parties or viewpoints or religious affiliations. Avoid liking pages from your business account that have a similar political or religious slant.
There is no such thing as an average social media user. It is our responsibility to deliver our content in a manner that is accessible to all users. Here are some considerations for making your content accessible to all.
- Make your contact information available on your social media account page. List a primary phone number and email address where a user can reach your agency with questions, or provide a link to your agency website that lists the appropriate contact information.
- Make your social media content available through more than one channel. Provide easy points of entry for more information. Some of the most common ways are to post threads on your website, provide options to sign up for daily email digests of social media posts or to add a social media widget to your agency website.
- Provide links or contact information to official social media support and accessibility teams. Often, social media tools have their own accessibility tips and support help desks. Educate yourself about them and provide links to your constituents.
- Keep it simple. Good design and good content more often than not leads to accessible content. When possible, write in plain language, use camel case when appropriate (i.e., capitalize the first letters of compound words as in #SocialGov), and limit your use of hashtags, abbreviations and acronyms. The use of camel case is not only a common practice, but a helpful one as it makes multi-word hashtags easier to read, including for those using a screen reader.
- Learn the accessibility requirements and periodically test your content for accessibility. Read the Section 508 Standardsand the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and other key resources that discuss them. Then test your social media content with a screen reader or other type of assistive technology.
For specific tips on making your content accessible and for a real-world demonstration of assistive technology, watch the following presentation by Amy Cole: https://youtu.be/3OBNkiiik5M
For instructions on adding captions to videos for Facebook, visit https://www.facebook.com/help/261764017354370.
Social media requires regular attention. Check your sites at least a few minutes each
day. Post fresh content several times a week. People will lose interest if your site
isn’t kept current.
Be prepared to accept and respond to comments on your site. At the very minimum, comments should be monitored regularly. Some sites offer an option to moderate comments before they are posted. Consider moderating comments when this option is available.
Comments that are completely inappropriate can be hidden or removed. Post the following statement on your official UACES social media outlets:
We reserve the right to remove all offensive and unrelated comments on our social media outlets. You may contact Amy Cole, 501-671-2304.
Understand that not all comments will be positive, and respond to negative comments professionally and respectfully, and by providing additional information that may help resolve the issue. If you see a post that you think needs an official UACES response, please contact 501-671-2304.
If you are commenting on someone else’s site as an official part of your job, be sure to indicate who you are and your affiliation with the UACES. Leave only constructive, helpful comments.
County teams may utilize a team management approach to their social media accounts given the amount of time successful social media management takes. Strategies such as planning content, scheduling posts, and using collaboration software may be part of your overall social media management plan. Watch this presentation by Lindsey Sexton for management tips: https://youtu.be/DhfNa1IPI9g. The use of contests and paid posts to promote content or your page. You may define a budget and strategy for paid promotions so that your funds have the maximum impact. Contests will need to have clearly stated rules and objectives. For additional tips on marketing using social media, please view the following presentations by Amy Cole: https://youtu.be/sXTCFhJaNOA?list=PL9XVR7D6Cu8HDEc5D_1Zf17F1c9IBNIvd and https://youtu.be/4ztZORD04zA.
If an emergency is unfolding, please do not post speculative information about the situation on your site. For proper emergency communications response, please refer to our communications department. If you discover erroneous information about an unfolding crisis, please contact Mary Hightower, 501-671-2126.