The Texas A&M University System recognizes the importance and benefits of communicating through social media. Social media is a powerful vehicle through which the A&M System and its entities may disseminate relevant news, listen to voices and connect with our audiences online.These are official guidelines for participating and engaging in social media on behalf of or as a representative of The Texas A&M University System and any of its entities. They apply to A&M System employees and contractors creating or contributing to blogs, wikis, social networks, virtual worlds or any other externally facing (public internet) online community as part of their work for the A&M System. These guidelines do not cover faculty use of social media for instructional purposes.
The A&M System requires those who participate in social media on its behalf to (1) understand the technology they are using and (2) abide by the following principles and engagement guidelines. Failure to do so may damage the A&M System’s reputation and standing and may result in consequences for the responsible employee or contractor. A&M System employees or contractors who are using social media as part of their job responsibilities also have an obligation to stay abreast of changes to official guidelines as new technologies and social networking tools emerge. Please note that these guidelines, too, may evolve in response to such changing technologies and tools.
SUMMARY OF BASIC PRINCIPLES
- Have clear plans, strategies, goals and well-defined employee responsibilities before engaging on a social media platform.
- Be responsible for continuous monitoring, platform maintenance and timely response to comments and messages from your online audiences.
- Add value with unique, strategic information and commentary about the A&M System and its member entities.
- Have clear responsibilities outlined for when employees are empowered to respond directly to users and when prior approval is necessary.
- Be transparent and avoid misrepresentation.
- Write about what you know and stick to your organization’s area of expertise when commenting.
- Report developments and share findings internally across units.
- Post meaningful, respectful comments — no spam, off-topic or unprofessional remarks.
- Always pause and think before posting and consult with a manager or expert if unsure about a post and how it will be received.
- If you make a mistake in a post like a misspelled word, broken link, etc., admit it — and be upfront and quick with your correction.
- Respect the confidentiality of your online audience, and never disclose student information.
- Respect copyright and trademark laws. Give credit to sources of written content, images, videos, and ideas you reference or use on your social media channels.
- Handle negative comments and developments quickly, professionally and strategically. Keep the conversation brief and don’t engage in an argument. If possible, try to take the conversation offline.
- Always use proper spelling and grammar and write clearly. Follow the writing style guidelines of your university or agency.
- Know and follow A&M System and your institutional policies on computing, information, conduct and technology.
I. Plan to ensure strategic and sustainable engagement. The decision to use social media channels to communicate on behalf of your organization is a business decision based on an institution or agency’s specific needs. Before starting a social media program or adding a new channel to your existing program, consult with your Marketing & Communications Office on strategy to ensure that the action not only supports your institutional and departmental or unit strategic plans and objectives, but that it is also sustainable. Before starting a social media program or creating a new channel on behalf of any A&M System entity, an employee must have authorization from their unit or division supervisor. Some colleges or departments may also require authorization from the college or department level communications department. Institutional-issued email accounts must be used for account setup, not solely the personal email accounts of employees. Each social media account must have more than one employee as an administrator with access to the social media account.
II. Be clear and professional. Employees with job responsibilities to represent the A&M System and its members on social media must maintain a high level of ethical conduct and professional decorum. Individuals authorized to post on any A&M System-affiliated social media platform must share information that is accurate, relevant and factual. All posts should also follow professional standards for grammar, spelling and clarity.
III. Actively maintain social media programs and online audience engagement. The A&M System expects employees and contractors using social media on its behalf to ensure that social media content is kept current, posts are made consistently and responses are timely. Any A&M System-affiliated social media sites with no activity for 90 days or more should be inactivated immediately. Inactivation includes making the account private, noting the inactive status in the bio or about section of the account, or completely deleting the account AFTER the contents of the account are downloaded and stored safely. Methodical monitoring and ongoing assessment, together with active account management, is a requirement for engaging in social media successfully and productively on behalf of the A&M System or any of its entities.
IV. Act judiciously to protect privacy, confidentiality and reputation. A&M System employees must recognize that content and messages posted on social media are public and are official communications made by their organization. Employees may not use either institutional social media accounts or their own personal social media accounts to reveal confidential information obtained through their official responsibilities as an employee of the A&M System.
Individuals authorized to post official A&M System information on social media platforms should not
• post information directly related to ongoing investigations, negotiations and/or matters that are confidential or privileged by law;
• lobby or post politically partisan comments;
• imply or post information that would give a member of the public the impression that the communication represents the views or positions of the A&M System or its members unless expressly authorized to do so;
• obstruct the general performance and operation of the A&M System or its members or affect working relationships necessary to the proper functioning of the A&M System and/or its members;
• endorse any product, vendor or website unless given permission to do so
Note: Do not disclose student information. Abide by Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This is especially important in dealing with students who post questions online about their educational circumstances (e.g. “Did my credits transfer?”). Ask the student for a private conversation.
V. Be transparent and avoid inadvertent misrepresentation. Employees or contractors blogging on behalf of the A&M System or its entities must use real names, identify their affiliation, be clear about their role and relationship to the A&M System and comply with all disclosure laws. When commenting or engaging on social media on behalf of any System entity using a personal social media account, the Federal Trade Commission requires disclosure of an employee’s affiliation. When interacting with people online, an employee or contractor of the A&M System should clearly state their role in their account’s bio or about section. This is the ethical thing to do, and there may be personal liability consequences under Federal Trade Commission regulations if the employee doesn’t comply.
Note to System employees using their own personal social media platforms: Make it clear that the views expressed are yours. Your honesty — or dishonesty — will be quickly noticed in the social media environment, and your credibility — and that of the A&M System and its members — will be at stake. If you have a vested interest in something you are discussing, be the first to point it out. Write in the first person, and if you maintain a personal blog or website and write opinion pieces about the A&M System or its entities, use a disclaimer, such as “The posts on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the positions, strategies or opinions of The Texas A&M University System or its members.”
VI. Follow your organization’s editorial and brand style. All departments, programs and individuals using social media should abide by the official standards for branding, graphics and written communications in place for their organization. Use of your institution’s official logo is not permissible as a profile photo or on a website unless express permission is granted by your organization’s Office of Marketing & Communications.
VII. Respect copyright and trademark law. Obtain permission from the copyright or trademark owner before using copyrighted and trademarked material such as original works of authorship including videos and images or literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works as well as trademarked logos. Provide a link to the original material if possible.
VIII. Abide by all applicable System and institutional policies and respect your organization’s time and property. A&M System employees responsible for posting on A&M System-affiliated social media accounts must follow A&M System policies and the policies of their organization related to ethics, privacy and employee behavior when posting to the social media accounts of the A&M System or its members. Institutional computers and individual work time are to be used only for System-related business, which may include social media management as related to individual or unit work goals. Comply with all applicable institutional policies, including those on acceptable computing usage and information security, and stay abreast of emerging new policies governing faculty & staff social media accounts and personal websites.
IX. When in doubt, ask. If you have any questions about what is appropriate, check with a member of your organization’s Marketing & Communications team or direct questions to email@example.com before posting.