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Style Manual

Social media

Social media can enhance your engagement with users and stakeholders. Identify the audience, purpose and platforms and design content for them.

Use social media to listen and engage

Social media allows government to increase understanding of users and keep them informed.

Use a social media monitoring tool to track conversations online. Find out what people are saying about your topic. Understand their problems and concerns.

You can use social media to:

  • help people find information about government services and policy
  • encourage people to engage with your agency by commenting and sharing
  • share updates on important work
  • promote other content, such as blog posts
  • promote and encourage participation in events
  • build a network of people who are interested in your agency’s work.

Anything published on social media should follow your organisation’s social media strategy. Never rely on social media alone to engage with the community.

Get posts approved according to your organisation’s social media or communications policy.

Australian Government employees must follow the Australian Public Service Commission social media guide.

Information management requirements

Content that you create as part of your work for the Australian Government becomes a record. Records provide evidence of what your organisation has done and why.

Managing and disposing of records properly is a requirement under the Archives Act 1983. You must follow your organisation’s information management requirements. Visit the National Archives of Australia website for information management standards.

Define the audience before you write

Find out who will engage with your post and why before you start writing. Each social media platform has a different audience. 

Each platform has its own analytics tool to help you learn about them. 

Ensure there's capacity to engage with comments and enquiries on your post.

Design for each relevant platform

Prepare content specifically for each platform. Check that a social media platform is the best option before you publish.

  • Will it help the people who use your services and products?
  • Will it help them understand the people and processes of government?

Not every platform is appropriate for every message.

Content needs to be accessible no matter which platform you use, including video and audio content.

The following platforms are currently popular in government and the Australian community.

LinkedIn

Business, government and industry use LinkedIn for professional networking. LinkedIn is suitable for publishing:

  • job openings and career opportunities
  • professional insights
  • case studies
  • information about training and other opportunities
  • industry news.

Twitter

News media, industry and government use Twitter for networking, news and public commentary. 

Twitter is a platform for current content. Use Twitter to tap into current events, news and positive stories. 

The maximum length of tweets is 280 characters. Write one idea in a short, attention-grabbing sentence. Most tweets have a key idea and a link to a webpage. Don’t use internet slang in government tweets.

Use keywords in hashtags, which have a # symbol. Hashtags help people find and follow topics of interest. If you are publishing a new topic, try to use an existing or trending hashtag rather than creating a new one.

You need no more than 2 hashtags. Too many hashtags makes your content difficult to read and less accessible.

Use ‘camel case’ for compound hashtags. The first letter of each word in the hashtag starts with a capital letter – for example, #SelfQuarantine.

Address other users with the @ sign before their username. Remember, these tweets are public and visible.

Facebook

People use Facebook for personal social networking, business promotion, entertainment and news. Do not publish technical content on Facebook.

Facebook is suitable for publishing:

  • human interest stories
  • profiles of staff
  • information for communities of practice
  • events
  • career opportunities.

Videos on Facebook should be interesting and as short as possible. They should have only one message that is clear in the first second.

Facebook content has less than 2 seconds to grab attention before people scroll past it, if they see it at all. Content needs to be compelling so it reaches the people you want to reach.

YouTube

YouTube videos cover entertainment, instructional and lifestyle topics, among many others.

Most videos on YouTube are between 3 and 12 minutes in length and can:

  • show people how to do something
  • explain a complex topic
  • share human interest stories
  • celebrate case studies
  • include people in events.

YouTube videos should:

  • be well produced
  • include a compelling title
  • include a poster frame – a still image that acts as a thumbnail for the video.

Instagram

People use Instagram for entertainment, news, lifestyle, social networking and business. It is popular in the technical and design communities.

Share photographs and short videos on Instagram. Showcase interesting people, places and technology.

Instagram content should either:

  • be visually creative
  • create a sense of intimacy with the people behind the account.

Links don’t work well on Instagram. Include all your information in the post rather than linking to websites.

Use plain language and the right tone

Use plain language and a conversational, positive tone on social media. Avoid jargon and acronyms.

Aim to be topical and timely with your posts, rather than workshopping them to perfection – but avoid obvious mistakes.

You can use an exclamation mark or a question mark after:

  • a web address (URL)
  • a tag
  • a hashtag
  • an emoji.

Don’t add a full stop after hashtags, emojis or handles.

Follow your organisation’s guidelines about appropriate use of emojis. Use them sparingly.

Accessibility and inclusivity requirements

Use emojis, not emoticons. Emojis are standardised pictographs. Emoticons display as punctuation marks in text and are not standardised.

Choose common emojis and make sure the user can understand the message if the emoji is removed.

Content needs respect all people, their rights and their heritage. Use inclusive imagery and inclusive language.

Include images and video that enhance the message

Social media is a visual-first, mobile-first medium. Plan content with this in mind.

Use video and images as the basis of your content wherever possible. Visual content needs to be timely, relevant and engaging. Set the video aspect and resolution for the user’s device.

Use alt text and closed captions, or provide a link to content with these elements. Also ensure you include any text in the image that is in the text of the post itself.

Follow your organisation’s branding guidelines. Official photography should carry your organisation’s mark or logo in the bottom right-hand corner.

You might need to use release forms before you use anyone’s image in any social media platform. Before you post, check if you have the right permissions.

Accessibility requirements

Include images, video and audio on a page only if they meet a real user need. Make sure the contrast is sufficient for all users.

Prepare alt text for images. Follow the requirements for video and audio.

WCAG quick reference:

Copyright requirements

You must get permission (a licence) to use copyright material. This includes video and images.

Some material is available under an open access licence, such as Creative Commons.

You must attribute copyright material.

Read the government copyright rules in the Australian Government intellectual property manual.

Post content at the times that suit the audience

Timing is a critical component of successful content. Post when something is still fresh and people are still interested. It is this immediacy that gives you authority when you publish something to social media.

Publish on a schedule that is appropriate for the platform, but only if you have something to say and can say it well. People may start to ignore your posts if:

  • you publish too often
  • your content is not well written or newsworthy.

Manage risk with a social media policy

Social media encourages people to engage in a discussion with your organisation. Have a social media policy with a clear framework for what is and what is not acceptable behaviour. 

Prepare a social media risk assessment to identify:

  • potential risks to your organisation’s reputation
  • the steps you will take to mitigate that risk.

Many organisations have talking points or standard responses for replying to comments.

Social media content is designed to be shared. Ask for your organisation’s social media strategy before you share other people’s posts. Sharing may imply endorsement.

Content that you post can also be shared out of context, and it is almost impossible to remove content once it is in the public domain.

Think carefully about how someone might interpret posts without any context. Be specific so the context is clear from the post itself. This helps people understand the message you intend.

Be aware of privacy concerns and offensive material on social media.

Privacy requirements

Your organisation has obligations under the Privacy Act 1988.

Privacy is relevant whenever it’s possible to identify someone. Treat things that can or might identify an individual as personal information. A social media post might feature someone’s picture as an image or in a video, for example.

When you handle personal information, you must comply with the Australian Privacy Principles. Personal information is any information that could identify an individual and apply to any format.

The Privacy Act and Privacy Principles also apply to any personal information you collect from a social media platform. People have the right to request access to their personal information under the Privacy Principles and the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

The federal regulator for privacy and freedom of information legislation is the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

Release notes

Guidance on social media is new to the digital edition. It covers why and how to use social media, including how to choose a platform, and how to manage it.

About this page

References

ACT Government (n.d.) Social media, ACT Government website, accessed 21 May 2020.

Arch A and Pulis S (2019) How to write more accessible social media posts, Australian Network on Disability blog, accessed 13 June 2019. 

Australian Government (n.d.) Social media, australia.gov.au, accessed 19 May 2020.

Australian Public Service Commission (2018), APS values, APSC website, accessed 9 October 2020. [Public Service Act 1999, s 10.]

Clement J (2020) Device usage of Facebook users worldwide as of July 2020, Statista website, accessed 16 September 2020.

Content Design London (2019) ‘Social media’, Content Design London readability guidelines, Content Design London website, accessed 16 May 2020.

Government of South Australia (2019) Electronic communication, Department of Premier and Cabinet website, accessed 20 May 2020.

Facebook for Business (21 April 2019) ‘Capturing attention in feed: the science behind effective video creative’, Facebook for Business, accessed 14 September 2020.

GOV.UK (2018) Social media playbook, GOV.UK, accessed 20 November 2019.

Government of South Australia (2020) ‘Social media’, Online accessibility toolkit, Government of South Australia website, accessed 20 May 2020.

Government of Western Australia (2019) Guidelines for social media, WA.gov.au, accessed 21 May 2020.

Lynch PJ and Horton S (2016) Web style guide, 4th edn, Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

NSW Government (2020) Social media, NSW Government website, accessed 21 May 2020.

Queensland Government (2020) Use social media, Queensland Government website, accessed 20 May 2020.

Social Media News Australia (2020) Social media statistics, SocialMediaNews.com.au, accessed 21 May 2020.

Tasmanian Government (2019) Social media, Tasmanian Government Communications website, accessed 21 May 2020.

Victorian Government (2020) ‘Use social media: digital standards’, Digital standards, Vic.gov.au, accessed 21 May 2020.

This page was updated Monday 12 October 2020.

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