Read our guidelines on using social media accounts connected with the University.
Our guidelines: context and purpose
As a university, we are keen to encourage and support staff to use social media platforms to promote their research, our courses and the many exciting initiatives undertaken at Sussex.
Social media offers exciting and effective opportunities to engage, inspire and inform our various audiences by conveying messages, encouraging discussion, celebrating success and creating a sense of belonging with the University.
It also offers many ways to build important relationships – with current and prospective students, alumni, external collaborators and the wider global community.
While offering many benefits, social media also presents some challenges and risks. These guidelines have been written for staff using social media – particularly those responsible for setting up and running social media accounts representing the University of Sussex.
We hope these guidelines support everyone’s freedom to communicate online while protecting the reputation and interests of the University of Sussex and its staff and students.
Social media tips
See advice on running a successful social media account if you are setting up or managing University channels.
Scope of guidelines
Our guidance relates to social networking sites including:
We also use Snapchat and other digital communications platforms such as blogs.
These guidelines cover any social media activity where, as a member of staff, you directly (through running a University account) or indirectly represent us online, such as by identifying yourself as a University employee.
This also covers students (such as PhDs) doing work on behalf of the University.
This means using:
- official Sussex accounts, such as @SussexUni or @SusxUniStudents
- University-affiliated accounts, where a staff member includes the University of Sussex in their profile description.
Private accounts or profiles that don’t refer to the University (either implicitly or explicitly) fall outside these guidelines, as do our students’ personal use of social media.
Freedom of speech and reputational risks
We fully respect the privacy and autonomy of our staff outside of their roles within Sussex. We are also strongly committed to the principles of freedom of speech and expression. We also understand that many staff use social media in their private lives.
Be conscious of how comments, content or links to materials may impact on the University’s reputation – and our values of kindness, inclusion, courage, collaboration and integrity.
University staff are influential among many audience groups including the media, politicians, industry and our own student community. As such, conduct yourself on social media in the same way you would if you were meeting these groups in person.
Roles and responsibilities
As a member of staff using social media relating to the University, we recommend you:
- read these guidelines, and ask for clarification where necessary
- contact the Social Media Manager (email@example.com) or other relevant colleagues from the External Relations division if you are creating content for, or posting from, University accounts and would like social media training or guidance
- have a system in place to regularly monitor, update and manage the content of any official Sussex account
- report any incidents or concerns to your line manager and/or the Communications team (firstname.lastname@example.org) as soon as possible, so you can get advice and support to limit any reputational damage or other risk to either yourself or the University.
Disclaimers on personal accounts
When using a University-affiliated account, it is important to make clear that you are not communicating on behalf of the University.
Include an appropriate disclaimer, such as: “The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Sussex.”
Always be respectful in your online communications, be conscious of the tone of your posts and comments. You can use the platform to inspire debate and discussion, but it’s important to do so in a balanced and measured way.
Never use social media to infringe on the rights and privacy of colleagues or make ill-considered comments or judgments about staff or students.
In particular, staff should remember the power imbalance they hold with students and should be wary of negative interactions which may cause distress.
Always consider the appropriateness of content and don’t link to, embed, like, post or share any content that may be deemed as inappropriate or offensive.
If you have a large following and are influential on social media, be considerate to how your followers may react. If you notice your followers are trolling others as a direct sign of support for your views, this should be cause for concern.
Avoid using official Sussex profiles to express personal opinions. Remember you are communicating as a voice of the University.
The term “accessibility” refers to making sure our social media content can be used and understood by everyone – regardless of any impairment or disability.
It is the responsibility of anyone who creates social media content (including graphics, photos, audio and video content) to make sure it is accessible.
The main impairments to consider are:
- visual – where someone might be blind or partially-sighted
- auditory – where a user might be deaf or hard of hearing
- motor – where muscle movement (for instance, in the hands) is limited
- cognitive – where the functions of the brain are impaired.
Ensuring content is accessible can include making sure video and audio content is subtitled and making transcripts available.
Accessibility also includes not overusing emojis, which often aren’t legible to screen readers, and making sure no essential information is conveyed using them.
When sharing images, be mindful of the colour contrast and sizing around any text, so that it is clear and easy to read on mobile screens. Most social media platforms and scheduling tools now offer ways to add alt text for images.
As a university, we are legally bound and committed to meeting the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA standard across the website. If you edit web pages, you should understand our legal requirements.
If you are publishing or sharing content from official Sussex profiles that include images, photographs, videos or text, always ensure you have the correct permissions and consent from the rights-holders to avoid infringing or breaching copyright laws.
The act of liking, posting or sharing content can be viewed as an endorsement, so ensure what you are posting or sharing is in line with our values.
Before you share content from a social media account:
- try to validate the authenticity of the account you want to share content from – for example, look for the blue tick on Twitter, read the biography on their page or scroll through posts and photos to see if they are the kind you expect to see
- ensure they are the original rights-holder of the content you want to share – and if they aren’t, ask who is and contact them directly to seek permission
- ask their permission to share their content on the platforms you’re planning to use, unless you’re sharing directly on the platform you found the content, such as a retweet.
It’s especially important not to publish content or contact details of staff or students without their express permission.
Offensive or unacceptable content
If you receive offensive or unacceptable content through social media, report it to a relevant line manager immediately.
Where University staff or students are subject to offensive, bullying or questionable material, tell the Communications team (email@example.com) and/or Social Media Manager (firstname.lastname@example.org) so they can advise you.
The Communications team and Social Media Manager (which are both part of the External Relations division) reserve the right to ask for any content to be removed from a University-affiliated page that is deemed to be damaging to an individual, the University, or is in breach of staff conduct policies, or platform policies.
Where such content exists on a staff member’s personal social media page, staff may be subject to Sussex’s Staff Disciplinary Policy [PDF 276KB].
Where conduct is considered illegal, the University will report the matter to the police and other relevant external agencies, and may take further action.
Protecting people online
We take online safety and our duty of care to students and staff seriously. We therefore ask you to do all you reasonably can to ensure social media environments are safe for everyone.
Flag up any privacy issues, abuse, bullying or other questionable content to the Head of Communications as soon as you can so they can help you deal with it quickly and effectively.
Receiving inappropriate or ‘trolling’ communications
We recognise there will be occasions when staff, in using social media responsibly, will be the receivers of inappropriate communications often described as “trolling”.
Trolling is an activity that causes a range of emotions including fear, distress or anger for the receiver(s), is internet-based and happens in an online community. A troll is usually defined as an individual who deliberately provokes others by posting inflammatory or offensive content.
If you have been trolled
If you are the receiver of trolling behaviour, speak to your line manager. Read this guidance and consider your options in terms of reporting or closing down the content. Report the activity to the press office: email@example.com.
If the content is threatening, make sure you report this to your line manager. If you are fearful of your safety, contact the police and let your line manager know you have done so.
Once you have dealt with the situation, you may feel you need some help processing what has happened. You may wish to talk to a friend about your experience. Our Employee Assistance Programme includes a helpline you can call that will connect you with a professional counsellor.
If a colleague has been trolled
The most important thing to do is listen. The individual is likely to be distressed and possibly afraid.
Ensure they know what to do to close down/remove themselves from the activity. If they have been threatened, encourage them to report the incident to the police.
Make sure they have someone to talk to, in order to help them process their response, and remind them about the University’s Employee Assistance Programme.
Check in with them again to see how they are doing and encourage them to seek support. If they have been threatened, check in regularly to ensure they have reported the incident and to find out how they are.
If you need more advice or guidance, you can contact your HR Business Partner or the University’s press office: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re contacted by a journalist or other media source speak to the Communications team. They can give you guidance about how to respond.
Think we’re missing something important in these guidelines? Send your comments or queries to the Social Media Manager. We welcome all constructive feedback.