Social media is a powerful tool for disseminating the School’s public health messages. As of 2021, the Office of Communications maintains social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. The office continually evaluates new platforms to determine whether they should be incorporated into our overall social media strategy.
School flagship accounts
The focus of the Office of Communications–managed flagship social media channels is to share information about the depth and breadth of knowledge at the School with a wide audience. Content on these social media channels falls into three categories:
Original social content
The Office of Communications creates original text, video, and images intended for exclusive distribution on social media. This content may be shared by other School-based social media accounts (for example, departmental accounts).
We post links to Harvard Chan School news and to outside media sources. All opinion articles will be labeled as such. We do not link directly to academic journal articles but will link to articles that summarize research for a lay audience.
Only events that are open to the public will be promoted on social media (with exceptions for high-profile events such as Admitted Students Day or Commencement). Events that are accessible to nonexperts will be prioritized over those that have a primarily academic audience.
More than 30 Harvard Chan School centers, institutes, departments, and programs maintain their own social media accounts. The Office of Communications advises Harvard Chan School staff and faculty on best practices for social media, but each office is responsible for generating and editing its own social media content and for complying with all accessibility policies.
Please note the following requirements regarding social media accounts at the School:
- Students, temporary staff, and visiting faculty at the Harvard Chan School may not serve as the primary administrators for official Harvard Chan School social media accounts.
- Students, temporary staff, and visiting faculty may compose content for official Harvard Chan School social media accounts only with appropriate supervision.
- Two-factor authentication must be enabled on all accounts.
- More than one individual in a department, center, or other School entity must have access to the account.
- The department, center, or other School entity must create a written plan for handing off ownership of that account should the primary account holder leave the School.
Creating a new School-affiliated account
When creating an account, you must use your officially designated entity name (e.g., your department name). Please note that creating a new logo for a department, center, or other School entity is expressly prohibited.
Before creating a new social media account for a department, center, institute, or program, please take the following steps:
- Research whether there are already social media accounts for this entity (the Office of Communications can provide you with a list of known social media accounts at the School).
- Research social media platforms and only open accounts on those platforms that you are committed to maintaining over the long term.
- Avoid creating new accounts for short-term, temporary projects. Instead, use larger departmental accounts to promote these projects.
- Create a written plan for account ownership, content review, and posting frequency. At the same time, you may wish to write down a procedure for dealing with emergency situations (times when it may be inappropriate to post content) and make a plan for how to respond to comments (if at all).
Social media voice and style
Our posts on the flagship social media accounts must maintain an appropriate balance between Harvard Chan School’s voice and the culture of any given social media platform. The following guidelines also apply to School-affiliated accounts:
- Social media posts should be brief and informative.
- Internet-only abbreviations and acronyms should be used sparingly, and only when they are commonly understood by a wide audience. Appropriate examples: ICYMI for “in case you missed it,” “QOTD” for “quote of the day.”
- Hashtags and @ tags should be used sparingly and only in a targeted, strategic manner.
- Emojis should be used sparingly or not at all.
- GIFs or memes should not be used. Stickers (particularly on Instagram stories), which are typically used to emphasize particular calls to action, should be used sparingly.
- Avoid using all-caps in social media posts.
- It is acceptable to break Harvard Chan School style guide conventions on Twitter in order to meet character count limits—for example, using “US” instead of “U.S.” However, you should do so only when necessary.
Antisocial online behavior
Public health work frequently involves issues that touch on people’s personal lives, experiences, and behaviors. As such, individuals may respond to social media messaging on public health topics with concerns, questions, negativity, or even hostility.
Not all negative comments on social media constitute “trolling,” or antisocial behavior intended to disrupt conversation on social media. Dissent and disagreement are an important part of social media discourse.
When a commenter raises a question that the Office of Communications believes to be in good faith, we attempt to address that question, either by pointing the commenter toward other Harvard Chan School resources or by contacting a content expert for a response.
A New York Times article about Harvard Chan School research used the term “aerosols” in a confusing way. A commenter asked whether the terms “aerosols” and “small airborne particles” were interchangeable. We reached out to the original researcher, who provided clarification in response to the commenter.
When a commenter posts a dissenting opinion about our social media content, we do not delete, hide, or block that comment.
But when a commenter uses foul language or hate speech, we hide or delete the comment, depending upon the capabilities of the specific social media platform.
When a commenter uses threatening language against an individual or institution, or repeatedly disrupts conversation by posting comments that use foul language or hate speech, we block and/or report the commenter to the social media platform. We also report violent threats made against our School and its faculty, staff, or students to the Harvard University Police Department.
We delete spam comments, or unsolicited comments that appear to be selling a product or service unrelated to the Harvard Chan School. We also block users who repeatedly post spam comments.
At our discretion, we may elect to block, delete, or report comments from social media accounts that appear to be maliciously spreading misinformation about public health issues.
Social media accessibility
Those who post to Harvard Chan School’s flagship social media accounts and affiliate accounts must follow these accessibility best practices:
- Write alt text or image descriptions to describe photos on all social media platforms. Auto-generated alt text is not very accurate at this time, and social media managers should write their own text.
- Put important information in the text of your post, not only in the image. For example, if you post an event flyer, make sure you have written appropriate alternative text for the flyer, AND make sure the text of your post has all of the important information about the event date, time, location, etc.
- Provide closed captions for all video content. For platforms that do not provide the ability to add a closed caption file (such as Instagram), we recommend open captions, also known as “burned-in” captions, that are embedded in the video itself. This wiki explains the Harvard Chan School styles for captions.
- Use “camel case” for hashtags—i.e., capitalize the first letter of each word in a hashtag so that screen reader software will read the hashtag correctly:
- Use emojis only sparingly. Screen-reader software will read each emoji symbol aloud. Make sure the emojis you use make sense even if you were to hear the name of the symbol, rather than see its image.