On This Page: Social Media at NYU | Channel Opening Guidelines | Choosing a Social Platform for Your Needs | Audience Considerations | Social Media Post Language and Editorial Guidelines | Image Guidelines | Accessibility Checklist | Content Scheduling and Context Awareness | Managing Crises and Breaking News | Follower Growth, Engagement, and User-Generated Content | Social Media Takeovers | Community Management
Social Media at NYU
In 2013 NYU formally established a central social media team within the Office of Public Affairs that now engages with more than two million followers across the University’s main Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter channels. With dozens of accounts representing individual schools, departments, centers, institutes, and administrative units across the University, the breadth and strength of NYU’s presence on social media is rivaled by few of the world’s other higher education institutions.
Social media platforms are some of the most nimble and visible channels for communicating the University’s values and priorities, receiving feedback from and evaluating sentiment among internal and external stakeholders, and building connections and a sense of belonging across the NYU community. But the advantages—such as speed and public visibility—that make social media a crucial element of any communications strategy can also be liabilities. Here are some recommendations for how to avoid common pitfalls and make the most of each platform to cultivate vibrant, meaningful relationships with your key audiences.
Starting a new social media account is not a decision to enter into lightly. Before you jump in, state clear communications objectives and evaluate how a new social media presence will help you achieve them. How will you measure success?
It can be easy to underestimate the time and attention required to engage meaningfully with audiences on any given channel. Consider the following points when you are ready to incorporate social media into your communications strategy:
- Contemplate a prelaunch trial run (i.e., creating sample content for a period of weeks) to get a realistic taste of the potential workload.
- Resist the temptation to create new accounts dedicated to annual or one-time events. These accounts will either go dormant or need to be discontinued once the event is over.
- Proceed cautiously around the creation of subsidiary accounts (e.g., accounts for a department within a school or a committee within a larger organization). Be mindful of audience overlap and message saturation.
- Any new account may seem to compete for attention—or followers—with established ones. Can the content you’d like to share fit within the strategy of existing accounts that already have an engaged following?
- Also keep in mind that any social media presence carries some degree of risk. Anything you post is subject to public scrutiny. So the more platforms you are on, the more risk there is.
- Before opening a new channel, discuss the possibility of criticism with stakeholders, especially where there are particular sensitivities regarding your school, office, department, or unit’s image. Are there senior leaders who need to approve outgoing content on some or all topics?
- Map out and agree on workflow in advance, keeping in mind that a complex, multistep approval process may hinder your ability to post timely messages.
- Choose platforms based on your goals, not trends.
- Prioritize platforms where your target audiences are most active (e.g., LinkedIn for alumni engagement) and that are best suited for the content you’re likely to create (e.g., Instagram requires strong photography whereas Twitter supports a faster pace of newsy updates and link sharing).
- Platforms frequently roll out new features and audience behavior can shift over time. But here is an overview of the top social media platforms and audiences they cater to at the time of writing:
- Instagram is the platform where NYU measures the most engagement among millennials and Gen Z, making it an important vehicle for reaching current students, prospective students, and young alumni.
- LinkedIn is a hub for networking and professional updates as well as school pride and nostalgia for our grads.
- Twitter offers a ready forum for discussion and debate among academic researchers and cultural commentators.
- TikTok is currently the fastest growing social media platform, with teens making up 25 percent of users in the United States.
- Facebook, the world’s third most visited website, comes with something for everyone—and algorithms that make it challenging to reach many users without a paid strategy.
When deciding between channels, keep in mind that user demographics only tell you who uses a given platform, not how they use it. Focus groups—even informal ones—can help you learn more about the kinds of content your desired audiences engage with on each platform and evaluate whether your presence would be welcome there. Users may cultivate separate spaces for social and professional interactions, or they may engage primarily with peers on one platform and expect content from brands on another.
Even as you tailor content to specific audience personas, remember that any public-facing account may attract followers with diverse interests and needs.
Structuring and Framing Social Media Content
Here are ways you can structure and frame your content to ensure maximum audience receptivity:
- Lead with a piece of storytelling, a compelling discovery, or a new or counterintuitive idea. Save cumbersome details for the end of the post—or omit them. You can always link to a page that offers more information.
- Avoid references to NYU’s internal organizational structure (including partnerships and sponsorships for events) whenever possible. Ask yourself: If I didn’t work or study at NYU, would I know what this means—and would I care? In writing about research, use words and phrases such as “first-ever,” “discover,” and “breakthrough” sparingly—and fact-check these claims. Avoid “amazing” and other vague and subjective assessments. When you highlight the specifics, you won’t need as many adjectives.
- Commands such as “check it out,” “read,” “watch,” “listen,” or “learn” are often unnecessary and potentially body centric (i.e., suggesting an ideal body and mind). Post language should grab the reader’s attention with a new thought, so avoid repeating headlines from articles or web pages that you share. Pull out a quote or paraphrase a concept from the piece instead.
- On Twitter, limit hashtags to one or two per tweet. On Instagram, it’s common practice to use more, but put them at the end of the post where they don’t slow the reader down.
- Use “@” social mentions to tag relevant schools, departments, faculty, organizations, and guest speakers if their accounts are active on a given platform. (Use your judgment, but if there have been no new posts in the past two to three months, the account may no longer be in use.) Always double-check you are tagging the correct account.
Language Style and Formatting
Craft short, simple sentences that communicate the main point succinctly. Though formatting and post length vary across platforms, basic grammatical rules apply on social media, too!
- Whenever possible, write how you speak, avoiding technical or academic jargon, clichés, obscure or insular acronyms, and excessive abbreviation.
- Try reading your copy aloud to make sure it sounds clear and conversational. Proofread, spell-check, and proofread again.
- Express emotion where appropriate. Exclamation points (employed judiciously!) can be used to indicate excitement but lose meaning when overused. Consider using the first person to strike an informal, familiar tone (e.g.,“We’re proud to share that…” rather than “The University today announced…”).
- On Twitter, common space-saving abbreviations (e.g., “prof” for “professor,” “Mon.” for “Monday,” “Oct.” for “October,” “&” for “and”) are acceptable, but don’t invent new ones or use more than a few in a single tweet. If you’re way over the character count, it’s a sign you’re trying to squeeze too much in and should try a different approach.
- Pay attention to differences in language and tone between different platforms, studying established accounts that you admire to determine which communication styles resonate in context. Industry-specific terminology might be appropriate on LinkedIn, for example, but may look out of place elsewhere.
- Be aware that successful content on one platform may not always easily translate to another. Examine your top-performing posts on each platform for patterns, keeping in mind that external circumstances and algorithms, in addition to your own content and style choices, affect rates of engagement. (You can even try experiments like tweeting the same news two different ways to determine which post gets more retweets.)
- Seek to replicate strategic successes, but don’t chase likes for likes’ sake with an endless stream of motivational quotes and cute cat photos.
- Don’t try to impersonate students by mimicking their language. Exercise caution around the use of slang terms, memes, and reaction GIFs, keeping in mind that meaning can shift very quickly. Be cognizant of the role of cultural appropriation—particularly of African American Vernacular English—in internet speak.
- Well-chosen emoji are fair game—even in academic contexts. Consider the implications of using “people” emoji that require choosing a gender or skin color. (Who or what is presented as the default? Who is being left out?) Beware of alternate meanings, especially sexual ones (no eggplants!). Do your research—Urban Dictionary can be a good starting place—and if in doubt, leave it out.
- Make sure posts (including any tags and hashtags) are formatted correctly for each platform. Don’t set posts to auto-publish from one platform to another. When repurposing copy across platforms, watch out for platform-specific tags and language (e.g., “tap the link in bio”) and edit accordingly. Remember that brevity generally works in your favor. Even platforms that allow for longer character counts (such as Facebook) often truncate wordy posts in the feed, showing a small excerpt and hiding the rest behind a “see more” link users must click to view the whole message.
- In general, documentary-style photography and simple graphics tend to work well in social media posts, but use your creativity—within brand guidelines—to find a look and feel that consistently catches your audiences’ attention.
- Do not attempt to repurpose flyers, posters, PDFs, or other print materials, as they appear messy, are difficult for all to read on small devices, and inaccessible to those who use screen readers.
- For photography, action shots are more dynamic and attention-grabbing than headshots or posed group shots. (Photos with a lot of detail or many faces also have less impact when viewed on small devices.)
- Use original photography when you can.
- When using stock images, be conscious of issues of representation (e.g., gender, race, ability, age).
- Only post images the University owns the copyright to or has the license to use on social media. The NYU Photo Bureau has a photo bank of images that is a great starting point.
- Credit photographers as required by license agreement. While the legal risks to the University related to photography permissions are somewhat lower for organic social media than for paid advertising or print publications, the safest course of action is to obtain signed media releases—from all photography subjects—before publishing images of them on any platform.
- Never use an image of someone under the age of 18 without a release signed by their parent or guardian.
- If someone asks you to remove a published image of them, take it down immediately.
- Bookmark a list of ideal image sizes for each platform and consult it frequently. Keep in mind that different platforms will automatically crop images to different shapes and sizes in timelines and feeds, and sometimes the display varies between mobile and desktop devices. (For high-profile projects and campaigns, consider testing image cropping and display on a private dummy account before publishing publicly.) Never post an image that is smaller than a platform’s minimum recommended size in any dimension, or it will appear pixelated.
- Refer to the NYU social media team’s photography tips (Google Drive folder, NYU NetID log-in required).
- If a graphic has text on it, be sure to spell the text out in the element’s alt text field. Whenever possible, include a link to the same information in text-based (i.e., nonimage) form.
- Avoid publishing images—such as event flyers and the like—with more than a few words of text on them. Any essential text on an image should be repeated in the social media post’s copy.
- Include a description in the alt text field for each image. Consult instructions for how to do this on each platform.
- Put hashtags in camel case (i.e., capitalizing the first letter of each word and each letter of an acronym). For example, #NYUWelcomeWeek.
- For videos, include closed captioning (by uploading an .SRT file) to all platforms that can accommodate it (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn). For Instagram, include open (i.e., “burned on”) captions. Read more about captioning.
- Avoid using several emoji in a row. A person using a screen reader will hear a description of each emoji used, so long strings of emoji will result in long strings of description, slowing the user down.
- Here is a resource for more detailed accessibility guidance.
- Post regularly and schedule posts for times when your target audiences are most likely online and engaged, keeping in mind that not everyone will encounter posts in real time. (Platform algorithms play a role in what users experience each time they log in.)
- Publishing consistently but less often (e.g., once a week on Facebook or Instagram) is better than posting twice daily for a week and then disappearing for weeks or months at a time. If you’ll go quiet at a less active time in the school year (e.g., winter break), communicate so.
- It can be useful to map out social media posts in advance, using a scheduling tool or calendar to plan content for a week or month at a time. Planning ahead makes it easier to post consistently and builds in time for any necessary approvals, lowering the risk of publishing anything problematic.
- Match content to the rhythms of the academic year (being mindful of milestones like move-in day, midterms and finals, winter and spring break, and Commencement) and the calendar year (thinking seasonally) when you can. Exercise caution when acknowledging holidays—especially religious ones—ensuring your policy is consistent and inclusive.
- Be alert for opportunities to connect meaningfully to local, national, or international theme days, weeks, or months (e.g., National Nurses Week, International Women’s Day), but don’t stretch too far and jump on every trend or social media “holiday” (e.g., National Iced Tea Day, National Go Fishing Day).
- When you have content that adds something novel and timely to public discourse about current events (especially if it features scholarly expertise), share it. But don’t feel pressure to weigh in on topics far afield from your mission and goals.
- Be conscious of the news cycle, and know when to pause. If your audience’s attention is focused on one thing and you post about something unrelated, it will get lost—or worse, be perceived as insensitive, inappropriate, or out of touch.
- Consider the disparate impacts of current events—from natural disasters to political developments—on different communities, keeping in mind that there will be times when your particular audience’s reaction to the news is stronger than that of the general public. (University communities tend to follow social movements especially closely, for example, and international news may be more relevant for NYU than for institutions with less of a global footprint.)
- Some signs that you should hold all outgoing posts until the situation changes:
- Most news organizations and social media accounts you follow are covering the same breaking news story or reflecting on a moment of crisis or upheaval.
- NYU (or a particular NYU school, department, or office relevant to your audiences) makes headlines for something negative or otherwise receives substantial public criticism.
- Your team receives multiple emails and/or direct messages about a local development or controversy affecting your community specifically.
- The comments on your pages are dominated by an issue unrelated to the content of your outgoing posts.
- When in doubt, ask for a second (or third) opinion. If you decide to pause, alert all team members who publish to your social channels, and remember to check your scheduled queues for any posts (or paid advertisements) that are set to auto-publish.
Especially in a crowded field, attracting new followers takes sustained work beyond broadcasting from your own account and waiting for others to engage. You’ll be visible to more of the people you care about if you proactively follow potential influencers, peer institutions, and public figures and experts on relevant subjects and engage with messages that relate to your mission and goals. This will make those accounts more likely to follow you, tag you, or share your content with their followers in the future. Here are some thoughts to consider when you are seeking to boost your growth and engagement on social media:
- Before amplifying anything, read an account’s recent posts to make sure you’re comfortable giving it visibility. Your followers may percieve likes and shares as endorsements.
- While there is no magic formula for racking up a huge follower count overnight, demonstrating you are listening to your audiences is the surest way to build loyalty and engagement. “Like” or comment on positive, public posts that mention or tag your account or use your branded hashtags.
- You will often find that members of your community are already using their own words and images to tell authentic stories that align with your communications goals, so sharing this user-generated content can be a simple and effective way of showcasing your values. Most users will be flattered by the feature. Consider sharing works as an incentive for participation in future campaigns.
- In general, you don’t need special permission to share a public post within a platform—such as clicking “share” on Facebook or LinkedIn, using the retweet or quote retweet features on Twitter, or tapping the share button on a public Instagram post to add it to your Stories. But if the author of the post you’ve shared asks you to remove it, do so immediately.
- If you’d like to repurpose something you saw on one platform for a different post on another or use someone else’s photo in a new post of your own, always send a direct message (DM) to the user to ask permission and find out if they would like to be acknowledged (by their name[s], by social media handle, or both) in your post.
- Be transparent about where you are incorporating user-generated content and always give credit. Never screenshot and repost without permission.
Many communicators find social media “takeovers” to be an effective tool for giving users a “behind-the-scenes” look at life at NYU. In a takeover, a member of the community—most often a current student—posts from the first-person perspective on an NYU account (often Instagram Stories) for the day. Across higher education, this has become an especially useful tactic for college recruitment. Takeovers require careful planning and carry multiple reputational and security risks. You’ll need to identify and vet potential takeover candidates, establish a system for approving content before it is published on your channel, and meet with the takeover host in advance to set expectations about what, when, and how often they will post. There are many different methods and tools you can use to facilitate a takeover, but whichever you choose, never give anyone the ability to post directly from your account without first granting your approval of the content. And if you share a password with anyone, you must change it as soon as the takeover ends. Reach out to email@example.com for additional guidance before planning your first takeover.
Carefully monitor public comments and replies to your outgoing posts. Like and/or respond to positive sentiments and have a plan for dealing with negativity. Some recommendations:
- Delete and report spam (e.g., advertisements for essay writing services or “sugar daddy” arrangements) through the platform’s reporting mechanism.
- Consider indicating in your profile bio or elsewhere that you will delete slurs and other hate speech, and stick to that policy. Monitor for this language in debates between commenters. As a rule, healthy debate and strong opinions are otherwise OK.
- Screenshot anything you delete (according to your policy) for your records.
- Keep in mind that users may screenshot posts and notice when you deleted comments. Avoid accusations of censorship by letting criticisms (even harsh ones) of NYU stand. Do not engage in a public debate with commenters.
- If a commenter has a specific, actionable question or complaint (e.g., a problem with power, water, or the like in an NYU facility, a tuition billing issue), comment publicly that you will reach out and then DM or email them to ask for more info and route them to the relevant NYU office. Do not get into specifics publicly. The same goes for DMs you receive; regularly check them and, where feasible, answer questions by pointing people to the relevant sections of the NYU website.
Remember that all interactions online can become permanent and public. While the need to respond to your community can feel urgent, it’s better to take a few minutes to consult with colleagues and think through your strategy than to immediately post—or delete—something you may come to regret.
If you encounter the following in public comments or direct messages, immediately screenshot and report them:
All employees who manage active social media pages on behalf of an NYU entity are invited to join NYU’s Social Media Ambassadors Group, which provides guidelines and tips, industry news and updates, and networking and professional development opportunities for communicators working in this field.