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Social Media Policy and Guidelines

Last updated: 5/18/17

Social Media Policy and Guidelines

The City of Boston encourages departments and agencies to actively engage on social media and use those platforms and tools to better serve City residents. 

Social media is an important way for the City of Boston to connect, engage, and listen to residents online.  City departments and agencies should use social media to communicate with the public about their message and mission and to to increase engagement, openness, and transparency. While this policy is live, it is not complete. We will continue to edit and update based on the changing nature of social media.

 

Still have questions? Contact:
Digital Team
1 City Hall Square, Room 703
Boston, MA 02201
United States
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Social Media Core Mission

Contact: Digital Team
UPDATE

Provide timely and relevant updates about citywide and/or departmental events, policy, or initiatives. Social media is ideally suited for rapid response, emergency management, and similar situations where timely updates are critical.

INFORM

Seek to use social media to educate and inform residents on the mission and message of City departments and proactively post links to relevant City resources and services.

ENGAGE

Social media gives the city of Boston the opportunity to better understand the communities we serve, answer questions, and make government more accessible and friendly. We should seek to increase engagement, provide a platform for listening, and foster transparency and openness.  

Social Media Mission

Do's and Don'ts of Social Media

Contact: Digital Team

City of Boston official social media accounts should not:

  • Engage in vulgar or abusive language, personal attacks of any kind, or offensive terms targeting individuals or groups;

  • Endorse commercial products, services, or entities;

  • Endorse and oppose political parties, candidates, or groups;

  • Editorialize in social media posts by adding in personal opinions about posted topics;

  • Make negative statements about residents, either generally or referencing specific interactions with residents you may have had.

  • Discuss any agency or City related information that is not considered public information. The discussion of sensitive, proprietary, or classified information is prohibited.

As such, City of Boston official social media accounts are should:

  • Post timely and relevant content about the work their department is doing;

  • Be responsive to questions and comments from residents and reply within a timely manner (we recommend no more than 24 hours);

  • Seek to educate residents on City policy, services, events, and other information;

  • Share or retweet posts from other agencies, Mayor Walsh, stakeholder and community groups, and the City of Boston main account.
COMMON SENSE

Common sense and your best judgment should be used at all times when posting from official City of Boston channels.  If you are unsure if a piece of social media content be appropriate to post from an official City of Boston channel, don’t post it.

ONLINE AND OFF

As City of Boston employees engaging with social media, we hold ourselves to the same standards of professional practice and conduct associated with everything else we do as City employees in-person or online.  

PUBLIC INFORMATION

Do not discuss any City information that is not considered public information. Any discussion of sensitive or non-public information is prohibited. Always seek guidance from your supervisor if you are unsure prior to posting content on social media. Otherwise non-public personally identifiable information of should never be released without consent.

Do's And Don'ts

Principles of Engagement

Contact: Digital Team
PLAINLY WRITTEN

City of Boston social media channels are for everyone. The content they contain should be as straightforward as possible. We should use strive to keep language simple, including only using words people understand,  avoiding jargon and excessively complicated sentence structures, and omit acronyms here character limits permit. For more information on Plain Language, click here. 

ACCESSIBLE 

Everyone uses the internet in a different way. As a result, City of Boston social media managers should understand usage habits and seek to create digital experiences for everyone. This includes providing additional department contact information on social channels, posting content across multiple platforms, having the information available on social media also be available on Boston.gov or you department website, writing in plain language, avoiding confusing acronyms and jargon, and using inclusive language and imagery that is representative of the City we serve. Facebook provides resources for accessibility here. Twitter resources can be found here.

OPEN AND TRANSPARENT

City of Boston social media channels should provide accurate information about City government and seek to create an open and transparent face to Government when interacting with residents.

RESPONSIVE

The internet moves fast and social media users engaging with the City are accustomed to that pace. City agencies should be responsive to resident requests received via social media and seek to provide answers in as timely manner as possible.

Personal Use of Social Media

Contact: Digital Team

City of Boston employees, or those working on behalf of the City of Boston, who use social media for strictly personal use outside of work do not require approval to do so.

However, the City of Boston employees should recognize and understand that these types of tools can sometimes blur the line between professional and personal lives and interactions. Because of this, employees are reminded that the City’s social media guidelines and existing standards should be taken into consideration when participating in these services at any time, but particularly when identifying themselves as employees of the City of Boston or when that conclusion could be drawn.

Any activity using Government equipment (including access to the Internet) is governed by City of Boston’s guidelines on the Department of Innovation and Technology's Information Technology Resource Use Policy.

IT'S ALL PUBLIC

All city of Boston employees should understand the public and transferable nature of social media, regardless of security settings. Private communications posted on the internet can easily become public and City of Boston employees are responsible for understanding the rules and privacy settings of the sites they use.

If you don't want something to become public, do not put it on the internet—regardless of your security settings.

CONSTITUENT SERVICE

City of Boston employees should manage constituent service conversations using official social media channels. If you use a personal account to manage constituent service, the account will be subject to all expectations of a City of Boston social media account as explained within this document.  

If using a personal social media account on behalf of the City, clearly identify that you are doing so by stating your name, title, and department in the conversation at that time and/or in your 'About' or 'Bio" section. 

BUSINESS AND PERSONAL

City of Boston employees should be aware that there may be a chance that their posting on social media could be misconstrued as a position of the City government you materials while using their official title, or posts material with a description of their work at the City. Always consider how something may be interpreted misunderstood before posting.

The following should be understood when using social media in a personal capacity by City of Boston employees:

  • Employees should have no expectation of privacy when using social media tools.

  • Be aware of your City of Boston association on social media. If you identify yourself as a City of Boston employee or have a public facing position for which your City of Boston association is known to the general public, ensure your profile and related content (even if it is of a personal and not an official nature) is consistent with how you wish to present yourself as a City of Boston professional and conforms to existing standards.

  • If you are unsure of whether or not to post, don’t post. Hold off until you free of doubt that what you are posting is correct and appropriate.

  • In a publicly accessible place like social media, do not discuss any City or department information that is not already considered public information. The discussion of sensitive, proprietary, or classified information is strictly prohibited.

Social media resources and guides

resources
Contact: Digital Team

City of Boston social media accounts should be properly secured to avoid unauthorized access. Since settings and standards often change rapidly across platforms, City employees who manage social channels are responsible for staying current with the security settings and features of the platforms they use as well as regularly reviewing you accounts for potential unauthorized access attempts.

We recommend reviewing and implementing as many of the following security best practices as possible. If you have any questions about account security, contact the Digital Engagement Strategist in DOIT.

WHAT IS 2-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION?

Two-step verification or two-factor authentication (2FA) means that you will sign in with both something you know (your existing password) as well as adding a second factor of something you have (usually a mobile phone, but there are other options as well).

ACCOUNT SECURITY RECOMMENDATIONS 
  • Set up two-factor authentication for Boston.gov email and social media accounts:

  • Set up two-factor authentication for any social media management software you use (Hootsuite allows two factor authentication through Google Authenticator).

  • Review and monitor which third party applications have access to your social media accounts (these can be access points for intruders)

  • Take into account two things when creating a password: length and complexity:

    • Password length is most important when creating secure passwords and we recommend creating passwords that are at least 12-15 characters long.

    • In terms of complexity, passwords should not be easily guessed. They should not contain information that can be found publicly like your name, birth date, or other information that can give clues to the password.

    • Try mixing in different cases, characters, numbers, and symbols in random sequence. Do not bunch special characters ($%^&*, etc) together, but spread them out over the length of the password.

  • Do not use the same password for multiple accounts.

  • Do not write your passwords down on paper or leave them in an unprotected digital location like a word document or notepad.

  • Use a secure password manager (software) to store passwords for your different accounts. (City of Boston does not currently endorse a specific third party password management service).

  • You do not need change your password too frequently. There isn't conclusive evidence that this improves account security. You are better off thinking of a different, long and hard-to-guess password that you can store in a secure password manager.

  • Limit the number of people in your department who have access to passwords.

  • Since Facebook grants access to Brand pages through your personal Facebook account, anyone who is an Admin of a City page should have two-factor authentication set up for their own Facebook account. As that is a weak point and how our Pages could be compromised.

  • Administrators of Facebook pages should be aware of how many people have access to their Page and remove anyone who is unnecessary or who has left City Hall (Former employees, interns, vendors, etc).

  • Use our Hootsuite Enterprise Account, which allows City employees to be granted access to their social accounts without having to reveal the password to them.

  • If you believe there may be an attempt to access your account, alert your supervisor, contact DOIT, and elevate to City Hall security.

The Department of Innovation and Technology has published a resource for cyber security on Boston.gov

Sometimes, despite all best efforts, accounts are compromised or hacked by an authorized party. There are steps you shoud take immediately when this happens.  The first step is to determine if the City of Boston Twitter account that you manage has been compromised in some way.

HOW TO KNOW IF YOU ACCOUNT IS COMPROMISED:
  • You notice unexpected posts by your account;

  • You have seen unintended DMs/messages sent from your account;

  • You’ve observed other account behaviors you didn't make or approve (like following, unfollowing, Liking, sharing, or blocking);

  • Your have received a notification from the social media service stating that your account may be compromised;

  • Your have received a notification from the social media service stating that your account has been logged in from a location other than your own;

  • Received a notification from the social media service stating that your account information has changed, and you didn't change it;

  • Noticed that passwords are no longer working and you are being prompted to reset it.
IF YOU TWITTER ACCOUNT HAS BEEN COMPROMISED:
 
Change your password

Please change your password immediately from the Password tab in settings or click on request a password reset from the logged out page. Please select a strong password you haven't used before. If you can't login to your account, please see this troubleshooting page.

Note: Changing an account's password does not automatically log the account out of Twitter for iOS or Twitter for Android applications. In order to log the account out of these apps, sign in online and visit Apps in your settings. From there you can revoke access for the application, and the next time the app is launched, a prompt will request that the new password be entered.

Make sure your email address is secure

Make sure that the email address attached to your account is secure and that you are the only one with access to it. You can change your email address from your Twitter app (iOS or Android) or by logging in on twitter.com and visiting the Account settings tab. Visit this article for instructions, and see this article for additional security tips.

Revoke connections to third-party applications

While logged in, visit Apps in your settings. Revoke access for any third-party application that you don't recognize.

Note: If you use the teams feature in TweetDeck, we strongly recommend you check the members list to remove any users you don’t recognize. You can learn more about teams here.

Update your password in your trusted third-party applications

If a trusted external application uses your Twitter password, be sure to update your password in that application. Otherwise, you may be temporarily locked out of your account due to failed login attempts.

Your account should now be secure, and you shouldn't see the unexpected account behaviors moving forward. If you're still experiencing issues, please file a Support request for assistance.

Let us know so we can help

Contact Collin Gately, the Digital Engagement Strategist at collin.gately@boston.gov and Greg McCarthy, the Chief Information Security Officer at Greg.McCarthy@boston.gov.

Let your followers know

If you lose control, even briefly, of one of your social platforms, it's important to use whatever means you have avaialble to spread the word and let your followers know what is happening. Post on your other channels that you are aware that your Facebook page has been compromised and you are working on fixing it.  

IF YOUR CITY OF BOSTON SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNT HAS BEEN HACKED

Sometimes, despite all best efforts, accounts are compromised or hacked by an authorized party. There are steps you should take immediately when this happens.

HOW TO KNOW IF YOU ACCOUNT IS COMPROMISED:
  • You notice unexpected posts by your account;

  • You have seen unintended DMs/messages sent from your account;

  • You’ve observed other account behaviors you didn't make or approve (like following, unfollowing, Liking, sharing, or blocking);

  • Your have received a notification from the social media service stating that your account may be compromised;

  • Your have received a notification from the social media service stating that your account has been logged in from a location other than your own;

  • Received a notification from the social media service stating that your account information has changed, and you didn't change it;

  • Noticed that passwords are no longer working and you are being prompted to reset it.
IF YOUR FACEBOOK PAGE HAS BEEN COMPROMISED:

Unlike Twitter, there is less you can do as an administrator of a brand page to regain control of that page when compromised.

Get help immediately

Contact Collin Gately, the Digital Engagement Strategist at collin.gately@boston.gov and Greg McCarthy, the Chief Information Security Officer at Greg.McCarthy@boston.gov.

  • Let them know what has happened

  • Include screenshots of error messages, evidence of a hack, or the account activity that you did not authorize (tweets you didn’t post, accounts you didn’t follow, etc)

Contact Facebook directly

In the event your page is compromised, we need to contact Facebook and engage their team: Collin will contact the City of Boston’s Facebook account representative and begin the process of trying to reclaim the account.

Let your followers know on other platforms

If you lose control, even briefly, of one of your social platforms, it's important to use whatever means you have avaialble to spread the word and let your followers know what is happening. Post on your other channels that you are aware that your Facebook page has been compromised and you are working on fixing it.  

 

 

The below information relates to terms of use for external users as well as community guidelines for City of Boston employees to moderate comments online (mostly Facebook.) We recommend putting the following disclaimer, or something similar, in the About section of your department’s Facebook page:

We expect conversations to follow the rules of polite discourse and we ask that participants treat each other, as well as our employees, with respect. Read our full external user agreement: http://bit.ly/soctos

FULL TEXT OF TERMS OF USE

City of Boston agencies offer the following guidelines for comments. Social media terms of service can be found here:  http://bit.ly/soctos.

Your engagement makes the City of Boston a better place. The City of Boston welcomes conversation but reserves the right to moderate comments in accordance with City policies.

All social media comments and messages exchanged with the City of Boston are public record.

CONDUCT

We expect conversations to follow the rules of polite discourse and we ask that participants treat each other, as well as our employees, with respect.

Comments may be monitored and maybe subject to removal based on, but not limited to, the following qualities: comments featuring profanity and vulgar or abusive language; sexually harassing content; obscene content; threats of physical or bodily harm; discriminatory language on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity,national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, age, marital status,or religion; and content of a commercial nature. Comments straying from the designated topic may also be subject to removal.

The following will not be tolerated and will be deleted immediately:

  • File transfers containing nudity, pornography, or other lewd content

  • Profanity or vulgar language

  • Sexual overtone or innuendo

  • Personal attacks, hostility, threats or violence against any person or group; libelous harassing or abusive statements

  • Attacks on ethnic, racial, gender or religious groups

  • Spam including solicitations, advertisements, and or endorsements of any financial, commercial, non-profit, or political entity.

COPYRIGHT

Users agree to grant a non‐exclusive, irrevocable, royalty‐free license to the rest of the world for their submissions to this site under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. A copy of this license is available online.

The City of Boston respects the intellectual property of others, and we ask users of our Social Media sites to do the same. In accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and other applicable law, we have adopted a policy of terminating, in appropriate circumstances and at our sole discretion, users, subscribers, or account holders who are deemed to be repeat infringers. We may also at our sole discretion limit access to our site and/or terminate the accounts of any users who infringe any intellectual property rights of others, whether or not there is any repeat infringement.  

If you believe that any material on this site infringes upon any copyright which you own or control, or that any link on this site directs users to another Web site that contains material that infringes upon any copyright which you own or control, you may file a notification of such infringement with our Designated Agent as set forth below. Notifications of claimed copyright infringement must be sent to the City of Boston’s Designated Agent for notice of claims of copyright infringement.

PRIVACY

With respect to content collected through this site, the City of Boston follows its Privacy Policy. For content collected via external sites, please refer to a social media platform’s respective Terms of Service policy.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, financial account numbers, credit or debit card numbers, or phone numbers in your comment.

 

Community Moderation

Contact: Digital Team

City of Boston departments are at their discretion to moderate comments online by external users and followers.

DELETING COMMENTS

City of Boston employees who manage online communities should understand that, deleting comments and moderating discussions can lead to blow back from those communities and draw criticism for appearing to cause a chilling effect on discussion or engaging in censorship. Because of this, we recommend being very thoughtful and intentional about when you decide to delete someone’s comment from your page.

COMMUNITY GUIDELINES 

That is why we have created and recommend posting on your social channels a Community Guidelines and External User Terms of Service document which outlines expectations for community members engaging on your channel and will provide you guidance on if/when to moderate a comment and also allow you to use it as justification for your actions when questioned.

OPEN FORUM

A comment voicing a negative opinion of your department or policy does not in-and-of-itself warrant removing the comment. In fact, it often does not. In addition to being a source of information about the City, these online communities and forums are a place for residents to exercise their first amendment right to express their thoughts about City government.

COMMON SENSE

That said, there is a line that is often clear and can be determined by applying common sense and your best judgment.

Examples of when you could seriously consider deleting or moderating a comment or user post:

  • The content goes against something expressed in the Terms of Use;

  • Comments featuring profanity and vulgar or abusive language;

  • Sexually harassing content;

  • obscene content;

  • threats of physical or bodily harm;

  • discriminatory language on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, age, marital status, or religion;

  • and content of a commercial nature.

 

Addition reasons to consider comment deletion or moderation include:

  • The revelation of another person’s personally identifiable information (identify, address, contact information, etc) that is not already public;

  • The posting of copyrighted content that neither City of Boston nor the external user holds the rights to;

  • Information that is not already public knowledge or classified in some way;

  • Using language that is intended to incite violence;

  • Information that is knowingly incorrect or edited with the intent to cause confusion or spread misinformation.

LINKING, LIKING, FOLLOWING, AND ENDORSING

Contact: Digital Team
BEST PRACTICES

Managers of City of Boston social media accounts should actively follow other users on those platforms, share content from third party sources, and link to Boston.gov or other, non-government sites when doing any of the above is relevant and appropriate for your department's mission. As with all aspects of social media, common sense and best judgment should be applied to deciding who to follow or what to share. 

LINKING

Character limitations on social media make linking away to additional information a best practice.  Providing links to important information on another site is also helpful for reasons of accessibility. City of Boston social media channels may link to non-government sites when information provided on those sites is relevant and necessary to the mission of the department or agency. Be sure that the information contained on the website you are linking to is accurate and appropriate for your audience. 

SHARING, RTing, FOLLOWING, AND ENDORSING

Be intentional and thoughtful about liking or following another person, group, or organization from your City of Boston account and what that may convey to your audience. While we do not mandate who to follow or who not to follow, we recommend connecting with community members, residents, relevant stakeholders, partner groups and allied organizations, as well as City of Boston official accounts.

ARE RTs ENDORSEMENTS?

While we may never settle the debate "does an RT = an endorsement," we do advise that you be mindful of the content that you share from other sources on City of Boston social media channels and understand what doing so will convey and imply to many of your followers.  If there is a question as to whether or not a piece of third party content, when shared by a City of Boston social media account, could be taken in a negative wa, don't post it.

Social Media Style Guide

Contact: Digital Team

The City of Boston has a set of brand guidelines that most all City of Boston social media accounts must abide by in terms of tone, design, and assets. There are some departments and agencies that have their own brand and style guides, but for the most part, the below will apply to your department. A detailed overview of the brand guidelines can be found at boston.gov/brand.

There are five (5) key pillars of our brand guidelines to think about and follow. Below each pillar we have expanded with context specific to social media:

 
CONFIDENT 

The City of Boston social media accounts are a source of accurate and timely information. Because of this, you should speak with a confident voice. Your content should be clear, unambiguous, and easily understood statements of fact when needing to share information.  While we are confident, we are never arrogant. 

CITE SOURCES

Whenever possible, cite sources by including links to information on Boston.gov or trusted and reputable third party sources. Because of character limits, you are not always able to provide as much information as you need on social media. Linking to Boston.gov or other sources helps provide additional information and improves the accessibility of your content. 

LESS IS MORE

Avoid excessive adjectives, additional words, or overly complex phrasing. This is not only on brand, but aligned with social media best practices and accessibility standards. Reading levels vary and not every social media user comprehends what we say in the same way. We recommend continually evaluating your content to look for ways to simplify and streamline how you are communicating.  

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HELPFUL

Being responsive to users online is a core function of social media management at the City of Boston. All managers are expected to reply to serious inquiries and requests as soon as possible and provide as much assistance to residents as is available. If you do not know the answer to a question raised by a resident online, that’s ok. But make every effort to find that answer or connect the resident with the appropriate agency.

RELEVANT AND TIMELY

Content should always be informative, relevant, and timely to the needs to constituents and in-line with the mission of your department. It is fine to post content not immediately related to your core mission - in fact we recommend you take a break every now and again and have a little fin on your channel - but remember that your audience follows you deviate from your mission too much too often, you risk alienating your audience. 

SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTS

Do not assume that your audience knows as much as you know about your department or the City of Boston. You, as social media managers for the City of Boston, are subject matter experts, your audience is not. In fact, that is why your audience is here: to learn from you.  Err on the side of providing additional clarification and context when creating content. 

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