How to use this guide: Browse below for comprehensive guidelines and best practices, and visit the How To guides for specific topics.


Social Media Guidelines

Virginia Tech authorizes the creation and use of university social media accounts, provided their use is professional, protects the reputation and brand of the university, and complies with Virginia Tech policies and applicable state and federal laws and regulations.

The university recognizes the value of social media platforms for a range of goals and must balance its support of social media with the preservation of Virginia Tech’s brand identity, integrity, and reputation.

Entities affected by these guidelines

All units of the university including, but not limited to, colleges, schools, institutes, departments, student organizations and clubs, and governing organizations.

Who should read these guidelines

All faculty, staff members, and students who manage social media as a university-affiliated administrator or as an individual for personal use.

Everything we do at Virginia Tech should be first and foremost guided by the Virginia Tech Principles of Community, and our interactions on social media are no exception. Inclusivity and respect at Virginia Tech are everyone’s responsibility.

Acceptable use of information systems at Virginia Tech

Access to computer systems and networks owned or operated by Virginia Tech imposes certain responsibilities and obligations and is granted subject to university policies, and local, state, and federal laws. 

Social media account administrators are expected to be familiar with Virginia Tech’s policy on appropriate use of computer systems and networks owned or operated by the university.

Website: vt.edu/about/acceptable-use

These definitions apply to terms as they are used in these guidelines.

Account Administrator A Virginia Tech faculty member, staff member, or student who administers or authors content for any university social media account.
Communications Professional at the Unit Level A university staff member within a unit charged with communications oversight at the unit level.
Social Media A website or application external to Virginia Tech that permits sharing of information between people. This includes internet-based social networking applications, blogs, forums/chat rooms, collaborative information and publishing systems (Wikis), video- and photo-sharing websites (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.), and other websites with user-generated content.
Unit A college, school, institute, department, student organization or club, research center, office, service or transaction center, or any other operating unit.
University Social Media Account Any account administered by an official university unit on any social network used in support of the functions or needs of that unit. Typically, these accounts include the name of Virginia Tech and the name of the unit (i.e. Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences).
Note: Accounts administered by any other groups or individuals are considered non-sponsored accounts, and the university is not responsible for the content shared on these accounts.
User A person who places postings, commentary, or other content on a university social media account or space.
Influencer An individual or institution that has a large social media following and a strong affinity for Virginia Tech. A social ally.
Community commenting rules Guidelines by which comments will be moderated. For Virginia Tech, referencing and linking to the Principles of Community offers a good guide.

The major responsibilities each party has in connection with these guidelines.

Account Administrator
  • Before launching a social media account, consult the Best Practices Guidelines below and/or consult with your unit’s communications professional for guidance on compliance with these guidelines, as well as with the university’s brand guide. (Please note: The branding guidelines will be updated in summer 2017).
  • Correct or modify university social media accounts under the administrator’s control, as directed by University Relations.
  • Terminate any university social media accounts that cannot be made compliant with these guidelines.
  • Deactivate obsolete accounts.
  • Publishing and enforcing set “house rules” for the code of conduct by followers of the account.
Communications Professional at the Unit Level
  • Work collaboratively with University Relations to review and approve new university social media accounts.
  • Provide guidance and support for new account administrators in respective units.
  • Document the university social media accounts in respective units.
Individual
  • Refrain from using or posting to university social media accounts in violation of these guidelines.
  • Surrender access to university social media accounts, as appropriate, when university status changes.
University Relations
  • Oversee Virginia Tech’s institutional presence on social networking platforms.
  • Determine whether to allow university social media accounts on new platforms as they become available. Authorize these accounts as appropriate.
  • Review social media accounts that represent the university for compliance with these guidelines.
  • Instruct account administrators to correct, modify, or terminate university social media accounts that are not in compliance with these guidelines.

The university recognizes the value of social media platforms for a range of goals, including, but not limited to, reaching new audiences and building relationships with stakeholders. This document supplements existing acceptable use policies as outlined in the Virginia Tech faculty and staff handbooks and includes:

University social media accounts

A university social media account is any registered account administered by an official university unit on any social network used in support of the function or needs of that unit. Typically, these accounts include the name of Virginia Tech and the name of the unit.

Use of social media accounts must be conducted in a manner that is professional, protects the reputation and brand of Virginia Tech, and is in compliance with university policies.

Prohibited conduct includes the use of social media in a way that constitutes libel, false advertising, copyright or trademark infringement, harassment, professional misconduct, or a violation of privacy or other rights protected under the law.

The university is not responsible for content shared or generated by non-university social media accounts administered by groups or individuals not sponsored by the university.

Registering a social media account

Existing and new university social media accounts are requested to be registered with the university. The purpose of this is to keep an updated directory for visitors to the university’s websites and to allow for periodic quality control checks to occur. Registration information includes:

  • Full account name
  • Two best contacts (Virginia Tech employees) with email addresses

Registration survey: bit.ly/2i6MoRc

Virginia Tech employees may be authorized to use social media at work to promote the Virginia Tech brand and encourage active engagement with the university community. These individuals must maintain Virginia Tech’s brand identity, integrity, and reputation while minimizing potential legal risks.

These guidelines do not seek to limit personal use of social media by faculty, staff, or students. Virginia Tech employees and students may mention their university affiliation in the bio or about sections of personal social media accounts but are prohibited from using university brand elements on those accounts in ways that violate branding guidelines and the Virginia Tech Principles of Community.

Users must adhere to the terms and conditions specific to each social network platform and follow policies for the use of personally owned devices in the workplace at Virginia Tech.

Account Administrators
  • In general, administrators should post on Virginia Tech-affiliated social media platforms only using the account name of his or her department or unit.
  • This maintains the privacy of administrators of Virginia Tech social media and also preserves consistency of the units’ institutional voice.
Individuals
  • Users as individuals shall not use social media for personal purposes that might reasonably create the impression the content is authorized or controlled by Virginia Tech, unless using a social media application’s sharing feature to share content from an official university source.
  • Users are responsible for their conduct when using social media for personal or business purposes and should not post content that is discriminatory, threatening, or unlawful.

Virginia Tech encourages social media users to interact with the university and each other but is not responsible for comments or posts made by followers of or visitors to Virginia Tech accounts. Comments posted by these individuals may not reflect the official views or policies of the university. In accordance with this, university social media accounts should include a version of community guidelines in the accounts’ about sections:

Virginia Tech welcomes your comments on our page and encourages interaction among Hokies around the world. We ask that you use the Virginia Tech Principles of Community (inclusive.vt.edu/vtpoc0) as guidance in your posts and remain true to the spirit of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).

We review all comments made. Comments will be removed if they are inappropriate, offensive, insult or attack, contain illegal suggestions, use foul language, contain unauthorized commercial solicitation, or if they are posted by those who engage in repetitive off-topic or inflammatory posts in an attempt to provoke others. We reserve the right to terminate access to the page by repeat offenders.

Note: Before removing non-English comments, use translation tools to verify if the comment indeed violates the other standards as listed.

For launching or assuming responsibility for university social media accounts:

Account Administrator
  • To establish a university social media account, contact your unit’s communications professional. If your unit does not have a communications professional, contact University Advancement.
  • When launching new university social media accounts or assuming responsibility for existing ones, administrators should familiarize themselves with this document and the university Brand Guide.
  • Administrators must correct or modify university social media accounts under their control, as directed by University Advancement and/or the unit’s communications professional.
  • Administrators must terminate any university social media accounts that cannot be made compliant with these guidelines.
Communications Professional at the Unit Level

Unit communications professionals are expected to:

  • Oversee creation of new social media accounts in their units to ensure compliance with best practices.
  • Maintain a list of social media accounts in their units and encourage registration to the university register.
  • Train account administrators in their units about their roles and responsibilities under these guidelines.
  • Familiarize themselves with these guidelines and the university brand guide.

Required actions upon a change in an individual's university status:

Individual
  • When the status of an individual with access to a university social media account changes (i.e. role change within a unit, transfer to another unit, or separation from the university), the individual is expected to surrender that access. The account administrator will transfer that access, as appropriate to another staff member.
Account Administrator
  • Responsible for reviewing individuals’ access to all social media platforms, social media tools and revoke where appropriate.
  • Where appropriate, review and modify passwords for all accounts to prevent unauthorized access.
  • New administrators must review social media policy, strategy, and brand guidelines with University Advancement and the communications professional at the unit level.
Communications Professional at the Unit Level
  • Unit communications professionals are responsible for reviewing social media guidelines, strategy, and brand guidelines with new account administrators.
  • Responsible for updating the list of university social media accounts in their units and encouraging registration in the university social media register.
Subject Contact Telephone Email/Web Address
Guidelines clarification and interpretation University Advancement 540-231-0946 socialmedia-g@vt.edu
Establishing a new university social media account University Advancement 540-231-0946 socialmedia-g@vt.edu
Unit Communications Professional Unit-specific Unit-specific
Social media community guidelines University Advancement 540-231-0946 socialmedia-g@vt.edu
Resources/training opportunities University Advancement 540-231-0946 socialmedia-g@vt.edu

Screenshot of Facebook post

Social Media Best Practices

The people of Virginia Tech and Hokie Nation make exciting and meaningful connections every day — through research, public service, alumni connections, daily interactions on campus, and more.

Social networks help us to advance these connections while furthering relationships, cultivating Hokie pride, and acting as good stewards of the Virginia Tech brand. Social media offers Virginia Tech and its units and programs opportunities to engage specific audiences, including prospective and current students, parents, alumni, faculty and staff, donors, media, and opinion leaders. Our overarching goal is to raise awareness of Virginia Tech.

These best practices can be applied whether you’re a staff member managing a department Facebook account, a faculty member operating your own professional Twitter account, or a student group running a university-affiliated Instagram account.

By having a social media account that indicates you work at or attend Virginia Tech, or if you run an account for your unit, you may be perceived as being a spokesperson for Virginia Tech. It is essential that you do not speak for Virginia Tech, the institution, but that you represent your unit. In that role, you should consider yourself a spokesperson. To mitigate any potential issues, be mindful of the following:

  • Stick to your area of professional expertise.
  • Confirm information before posting/sharing to ensure it is correct. When in doubt, don’t post.
  • Use good judgment when responding to comments. Review the decision tree at the end of this document for reference.
  • Questions/comments that are related to a news story or press release should be referred to @vtnews on Twitter and/or the Media Relations Director of University Advancement.
  • Keep personal accounts separate from your role at Virginia Tech when possible. If there is overlap, ensure your personal views are not viewed as official Commonwealth of Virginia communications.
    • You may include a disclaimer in your About section (from Policy: 1.75 – Use of Electronic Communications And Social Media), such as:
      “The views expressed on this (website, blog, social media site) are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer or of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

To avoid confusion on what constitutes an official Virginia Tech social media account, affiliated accounts must adhere to the Virginia Tech Brand Guide to ensure consistency across platforms.

Official logos

Official Virginia Tech logos are available to download to help you create profile photos and cover photos as the platform allows. Official university primary and secondary colors are available in the Brand Guide for reference when creating page identity images.

Profile requirements

Page/usernames
  • Full, official name of your unit.
  • Typically begins with “Virginia Tech” (i.e. Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences); but may not contain “Virginia Tech” if it holds a donor’s name — in that case, ensure Virginia Tech is in the about information, as described below.
  • If space is limited in the platform, “VT” is an acceptable alternative to “Virginia Tech” (i.e. @VT_Football)
Contact information
  • Official website link.
  • As space allows, include other contact information such as:
    • Address
    • Telephone number(s)
    • Email address(es)
    • Other websites
About information
  • As space allows, fill out as completely as possible the about section of your profile.
  • This includes mission, descriptions, founding information, etc.
  • Include “Virginia Tech” here if your unit’s official name does not contain it (i.e. the name comes from a donor).
Profile picture
  • Must represent your unit in a clear manner.
  • Do not use prohibited secondary logos (see Brand Guide, page 12).
  • Must be readable at small, thumbnail size and be high enough resolution for larger expanded sizes.
  • If unsure about appropriateness, contact University Advancement for help (socialmedia-g@vt.edu)
Other photos, cover photo
  • If available, choose a photo that works well in the horizontal area at the top of many social media platform pages.
  • It should represent your unit and/or directly complement your profile picture.
  • Swap this photo regularly to refresh the look of your page.

Before starting a new social media account, consider a few key questions:

Who is the audience?
  • Determine who you’re trying to reach and where that audience is, social media platform-wise (for descriptions on the different platforms, see the Social media communications plan section below).
  • Determine how your messages will be targeted (i.e. promoted posts to a specific audience, different platforms for different audiences, etc.)
Why are you starting this account?
  • Define the purpose for the new account.
  • Determine what the goal is and how to measure success.
  • If you wish to do this for a time-bound event (like a conference), ask yourself if you have time to build up an audience. If not, do not create a new account and instead utilize an established account with an event-specific hashtag.
Do you have the resources?
  • Managing a university-affiliated social media presence requires frequent and consistent attention.
  • If you don’t have the time to devote you may be quickly overwhelmed.
What makes your account unique?
  • Determine what your account offers that others don't, particularly in your unit.
Are you duplicating messages?
  • Define messaging framework for your target audience and determine if it overlaps with another Virginia Tech account.
  • Determine if partnering with another account can strengthen your message.
How can account administrators be contacted?
  • If admins (such as students) change frequently, consider creating a generic email address to minimize the effort required for transitioning to a new account admin.
What are your peer institutions doing on social media?
  • Follow and analyze content on social media from your peers as a starting point for you in planning reaching those audiences.

Troubleshooting

When starting a new account, you may run into your preferred username being used by another account. Each social media platform has their own way of reporting unofficial accounts, so the best route is to start with the Help sections. For example, Twitter has a procedure if you encounter unauthorized accounts using your unit’s official name: support.twitter.com/articles/18367

To mitigate copyright issues, you can also apply to get your account verified. This also varies by platform and can usually be found in the Help section.

The ever-evolving landscape of social media means that you’ll have to stay abreast of emerging technology and platform developments. Take time to assess new content features and if they can help you achieve your goals. Some sites offer information on image sizes for each platform:

To help maintain good relationships with students and alumni and to give you more content for your posts, you can solicit submissions for photos and other content from your followers. If you receive submissions that you intend to post from your account, ensure you have permission from the user as well as the photographer (if a different person) before sharing.

Collect the following information and give proper attribution:

  • Name
  • Hometown (if student)
  • Major
  • Graduation year

Tools for Instagram, such as the Repost app, will add an attribution box to the image. You should still tag the submitter’s username in the comment box with the other pertinent information.

University Advancement uses certain hashtags for tweets and other social media posts. They are:

  • #VirginiaTech
  • #UtProsim
  • #Hokies
  • #HokieLove
  • #HokieGrad (for commencement)
  • #HokieFacts
  • #WhyVT
  • #VT4L
  • #VTFirstDays
  • #HokiePets
  • #HokieBaby
  • #HokieNation
  • #TravelingHokies

When using or creating other hashtags, do your research before you tweet. This includes going to Twitter and Instagram and performing a search for the intended hashtag. Take note of the posts associated with the hashtag and use your best judgment about using that hashtag with your own promotions. Also be aware that "VT" is often used to represent the state of Vermont.

Social media administrators should respond to commenters who express concerns and attempt to address them directly or refer them to a person or department who can.

The structure of your response will vary based on the nature of the social networking platform but it should always be friendly and representative of Virginia Tech’s culture and values.

Not every critique needs a response; some people are just venting frustrations, or they are “trolls” — those who engage in off-topic or inflammatory posts in an attempt to provoke others.

Comments that are inappropriate, offensive, insult or attack, contain illegal suggestions, or use foul language should be removed as allowed by that particular social media platform, as should those that are intentionally repetitive (spam). Keep a log of any comments removed, and be consistent.

Removing posts that have become controversial

Occasionally, you may find that something you’ve posted to your page has taken a life of its own in the comments section. If your audience is staying on-topic and remaining civil as per your community commenting guidelines, it is advisable to let the commenters keep each other in check.

However, if the conversation seems to be sliding toward only one point of view in a manner that is contrary to the spirit of your post, you may decide to turn off commenting or take down the post altogether. If you choose to do this, be sure to take and save screenshots of the post and note the metrics. Before exercising this option, which should be treated as a last resort, you should first remind commenters about your commenting policy and see if that stems the tide.

Keep in mind that even after removal, controversial comment threads may still be found using web tools such as the Internet Archives: Wayback Machine —archive.org/web — or someone may have screenshotted the thread to post again later. Nothing is truly gone once it’s posted online.

Social media is an increasingly vital part of how we as a society communicate, and that’s especially true in times of heightened awareness. Rumors quickly spread in the absence of reliable, verified information.

The University Status website contains information on operating statuses at Virginia Tech campuses. Please refer to this page for general and contact information: vt.edu/status

Official messages during emergencies and other incidents will come from the following social media accounts:

In an emergency or another incident, university-affiliated accounts should not post information that has not been approved for dissemination from approved sources or spokespeople. If you wish to disseminate the information, you should share posts from the official channels listed above.

College communicators who receive questions during emergencies or other incidents should refer them to the Senior Associate Vice President for University Relations, Assistant Vice President of University Relations, or Media Relations Director, as appropriate.

Threats received via social media

If you become aware of a potential threat through your role as a social media administrator, report it immediately.

If the nature of the threat is an emergency, call 911. You can also refer a situation of concern to the university Threat Assessment Team at ThreatAssessment@vt.edu or to Virginia Tech Police at 540-231-6411.

Include as much information as possible, including the username of the individual involved, a screenshot of the message, who or what is involved, when the message was received, and other pertinent information.

It is important to be able to set goals and measure success against those goals for social media. This will inform overall communications strategy and help you assess whether certain platforms work better for your intended audiences than others.

Learning tools

Many social media companies have blogs with how-tos. To educate yourself on how and what to measure, look to the experts. Here are some suggestions on where to start:

Visit the How To guide on measuring success in social media.