150  Social Networking and Media

Approved by President
Effective Date: June 5, 2017
Responsible Division: Marketing and Communications
Responsible Office:  Marketing and Communications
Responsible Officer: Vice President for Marketing and Communications

I. Purpose

Social networking sites are fast becoming a primary means of interaction and communication for many individuals and organizations. While these systems can be used positively to effectively promote ideas and innovation, they can also have a significant negative impact on organizational, professional, and individual reputations. Therefore, when an individual is using a public medium of exchange (such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Snapchat, MySpace, or a blog), the same standards of behavior that traditionally govern face-to-face interactions should apply. Employees and students of Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU or University) represent not only themselves, but also other MTSU students, administration, faculty, staff, and MTSU as a whole. As a result, MTSU has crafted the following guidelines to enhance and protect both personal and professional reputations of its students, employees, and organizations participating in online social media, as well as the University reputation as a whole.

II. Scope

This policy applies to all social media activities undertaken by MTSU employees, students, and other University constituents on behalf of MTSU, its colleges, departments, and registered student organizations on social media sites (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, YouTube, etc.). This policy does not apply to activities that take place on official University domains (MTSU sites that end in .edu).

This policy does not supersede any MTSU policy that specifically addresses a particular situation. Employees, contractors, and students should ensure that their conduct, while using social media sites, complies with all MTSU policies, not just this policy. Some potentially applicable policies to keep in mind while using social networking and media sites include, but are not limited to:

A. Policy 10 Ethics and Code of Conduct  

B. Policy 26 Discrimination and Harassment Based on Protected Categories Other than Sex  

C. Policy 121 Privacy of Information

D. Policy 140 Intellectual Property

E. Policy 500 Access to Education Records

F. Policy 851 Disciplinary Policy for Administrative and Classified Personnel

G. Policy 910 Information Technology Resources

H. Policy 920 Information Security

I.  Student Code of Conduct

III. MTSU Social Media Sites

A.  Prior approval required for social media sites representing MTSU, its colleges and departments.

Social media sites that are intended or appear to represent MTSU, including its colleges and departments, are reasonably interpreted as stating the official positions and opinions of MTSU as a whole and delivering official MTSU communications. As a result, it is necessary that MTSU maintain a greater level of control over such sites in an effort to protect its voice by requiring that such sites be approved by the Division of Marketing and Communications.

Although not intended to represent an exhaustive list, Marketing and Communications will consider the following criteria when deciding whether to approve the request:

1.  Whether participation in the social media outlet can be carried out in such a manner that positively supports the University’s values, missions, and goals.

2.  Whether engagement with the targeted audience adds value to both MTSU and the audience.

3.  Whether the chosen social media outlet is as effective or efficient as other outlets that might be used (i.e., if an existing MTSU social media site or the MTSU website accomplish the same goals).

4.  Whether the use of social media enables MTSU to offer services or information that it might not otherwise be able to offer.

5.  Whether sufficient resources exist to appropriately manage and maintain the site.

As a prerequisite to obtaining approval for operation of an MTSU site, the content owner of that site must provide any necessary user names, passwords, etc., to the Division of Marketing and Communications, to allow it to access the site if necessary.

B.  Prior approval is not required for social media sites representing MTSU faculty, staff, and student organizations.

The above-stated concerns about preserving MTSU’s institutional voice are less pronounced when considering individual social media sites that are maintained by individual MTSU employees and faculty in their capacity as MTSU employees and sites maintained by student organizations. As a result, as long as such sites are not intended, and do not appear, to represent MTSU, its colleges or departments, approval is not required for social media sites operated by registered MTSU student organizations or sites representing MTSU faculty and staff in their capacity as employees of MTSU.

Such sites, however, are required to follow the requirements set forth in Sections III. and IV. of this policy. In addition, such sites should clearly state that the views and opinions expressed on the site do not necessarily reflect MTSU’s institutional views. Faculty, staff, and student organizations that maintain such sites are expected to, and will be responsible for, ensuring that their conduct on such sites complies with MTSU policy and state and federal law.

C.  Content Owners.

Each site must have at least one (1) faculty or full-time staff member responsible for its content (content owner). The site content owner must be clearly identified by name and title as the content owner of the site. At a minimum, the content owner for each site is responsible for the following:

1.  Ensuring that the social media site complies with MTSU policy, state, and federal law, as well as the rules or terms of use for the particular social media outlet, and that the Division of Marketing and Communications is made aware of the site and its content owner.

2.  Monitoring and maintaining the content of the social media site to ensure that it is current and accurate.

3.  Obtaining the consent of all involved parties, as needed, for the right to distribute or publish recordings, photos, images, video, text, slideshow presentations, or artwork and maintaining documentation of that consent.

4.  Removing postings and comments that do not adhere to MTSU’s policies once such postings are brought to the attention of the content owner. The content owner does not have an affirmative duty to monitor the site for postings that violate MTSU’s policies.

D.  Guidelines for MTSU communications on social media sites. 

Those operating MTSU, faculty, staff, or student organization social media sites, and the content owners of those sites, have a duty to protect the interests of MTSU, and its students and employees, while participating in social networking activities on behalf of MTSU. As a result, the following guidelines apply to all social networking activities undertaken on behalf of MTSU:

1.  Acknowledge who you are. Postings by anyone representing MTSU on a social media platform should reflect that the poster is acting in his/her status as a representative of MTSU.

2.  Respect terms of service and other rules for social networking sites. Abide by the terms of service or other rules issued by the social media platform(s).

3.  Protect confidential and proprietary information. Data security is one of the primary concerns of MTSU. State and federal laws (i.e., FERPA) and MTSU policy require diligent care by MTSU employees and contractors with access to personal information about students, employees, alumni, and other constituents. Anyone publishing comments and other information to social networks must adhere to MTSU’s privacy and confidentiality policies. Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action.

4.  Respect copyright and fair use. Be mindful of the copyright and intellectual property rights of others and of MTSU. Violating any copyrights, including those held by MTSU, is not only a serious ethical and professional problem, but can also lead to legal penalties.

5.  Use links. Whenever possible, link to the MTSU web site or another source. Ideally, social media communications and posts should be very brief and, to the extent possible, redirect a visitor to more detailed content that resides on the MTSU web page or some other source. For instance, if a department wishes to make followers of its social media site aware of a certain article, do not provide a detailed description of the content of the article or quote extensively from the article. Instead, provide a link to the article, whether on the MTSU webpage or some other webpage.

6.  Protect the institutional voice. Posts on social media sites should protect MTSU’s institutional voice by remaining professional in tone and in good taste. No individual MTSU department, employee, or student organization should depict its social media site as representing the University as a whole. This should be considered when naming pages or accounts, selecting a profile picture or icon, and selecting content to post. Names, profile images, and posts should all be clearly linked to the particular department, employee, or student organization rather than to MTSU as a whole.

Obviously one of the primary benefits of using social media is to promote discussion about numerous topics, including some that may be controversial or even offensive. This policy does not seek to limit such discussions. It is expected, however, that all social media activity, even that which involves controversial subjects, will remain respectful and professional, and will not disrupt the educational or work environment at MTSU.

7.  Respect our representatives. While MTSU tries to recruit employees, vendors, and students who can work effectively as a team, some individuals will always have personal differences. If this occurs, the individual must deal with the problem courteously, respectfully, and responsibly. Social media users should refrain from publishing disparaging remarks about co-workers, faculty, staff, students, or any other MTSU constituents on any social media site.

8.  Respect MTSU time and property. University computers and time on the job are to be used for University related purposes as approved by supervisors and in accordance with Policy 910 Information Technology Resources.

9.  Use of MTSU name and iconography. Establishing and maintaining a positive University brand is a continuous effort. The process of branding builds strength through consistency, which ensures that the public perception of MTSU reflects its personality, mission, and educational offerings. Accordingly, MTSU’s name, logos, or other University images should not be used on personal social media sites or to endorse any non-University related and approved subjects including products, political goals, or personal values or beliefs.

E.  Guidelines for third parties on MTSU approved sites.

MTSU social networking sites may allow site visitors to post various forms of content on the page. Each content owner shall ensure that appropriate guidelines are in place governing such posts. There is no single set of guidelines that will apply to all potential sites. Instead, the guidelines should be drafted to fit the needs of the particular site to which they apply. At a minimum, however, the following guidelines will apply to all content posted by visitors to MTSU social networking pages, and these guidelines should be included in any set of posting guidelines developed by a content owner. These guidelines should not apply to content posted by MTSU, including paid advertisements.

1.  MTSU is not responsible for comments or postings made by visitors to the page.

2.  Comments from visitors express their personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of MTSU.

3.  Comments on any MTSU approved site shall be respectful, civil, and in compliance with Policies 10 Ethics and Code of Conduct, 26 Discrimination and Harassment Based on Protected Categories Other than Sex, and 540 Student Conduct (if applicable), as well as the social networking site’s terms of use and/or rules.

4.  Students, faculty, staff, and other visitors to MTSU approved sites are subject to discipline and revocation of posting privileges for actions that violate MTSU policies or the published rules on a MTSU approved site.

5.  MTSU, through the Division of Marketing and Communications, reserves the right to remove any comments, posts, photos, links, profile pictures, user names, or page names at its discretion, without notice or explanation, if such are deemed contrary to MTSU policies or the published rules on a MTSU approved site. Content owners, however, assume no responsibility to monitor the MTSU approved site for this purpose.

6.  Sales of off-campus products or services, or messages that promote commercial, political, or other ventures are prohibited. At the discretion of the content owners, however, MTSU may permit messages about products and services offered by MTSU organizations and entities.

7.  Individuals creating or posting on MTSU approved sites must obtain written permission from identifiable individuals before using pictures of individuals whose images are identifiable. Users shall not post images that might be embarrassing to an individual or that could be construed as placing an individual in a bad light. Images may not be posted that might cause someone to reasonably believe their likeness is being used for commercial purposes without permission. Images of health care patients and research subjects must never be used.

IV. Employee Interaction with Students on Social Media Sites

Staff and faculty members must use caution in their interactions with students on social media sites. Faculty members and staff often have access to sensitive information that may be protected by FERPA or other privacy laws. As a result, social media interactions between faculty and staff with students on any social networking sites could lead to the inadvertent disclosure of such information.

Faculty members who use social media sites as part of their classroom curriculum shall construct, or otherwise provide, information on such sites in compliance with federal and state student privacy laws, and shall clearly state the limited purposes for the use of the site.

V. Helpful Tips for Using Personal Social Media Sites

Helpful tips for individuals using personal social networking sites are available by clicking here

Forms: none.

Revisions: none.

Last Reviewed: June 2017.

References: Policies 10 Ethics and Code of Conduct; 26 Discrimination and Harassment; 121 Privacy of Information; 140 Intellectual Property; 500 Access to Education Records; 540 Student Conduct; 851 Disciplinary Policy for Administrative and Classified Personnel; 910 Information Technology Resources; 920 Information Security; Student Code of Conduct.