Social Media Brand Guidelines

Creating and maintaining high-quality and cohesive social media accounts for the university is critical to our brand and reputation. The following guidelines should be adhered to as closely as possible. Our goal is to create social media accounts that provide value for our audiences and tell the Illinois story in strategic and coordinated ways.

1. Developing a strategic plan

Before creating a new account, it is important to outline the goals, audiences, and purpose of the new account. Developing a strategic plan will ensure your accounts are efficient and effective.

Do your research

Do you need an account? What audience(s) are you trying to reach and can you do it through this platform? Are you already reaching this/these audience(s) in another targeted, more effective way? If so, how will the account complement those existing strategies? Do you have time to regularly maintain the content on this account? Creating a new account is a big step; make sure it’s the right one.

Identify your audience

The university has a variety of audiences that we are trying to reach with social media. Identifying who your specific audience groups are and what they want to hear from you will help tailor your social media accounts and posts to better serve them.

Examples of content considerations to provide value to Illinois audiences:

Current students:

What are their hopes, fears, pain points, and questions they need answered? What will make them feel connected to Illinois? 

Alumni:

What do they want to see or hear from their alma mater? What will make them proud? What might move them to engage more with the university.

Parents:

What do they need to know about their current or prospective student and campus life?

Prospective students:

What do they need to know to make their decision to come to Illinois? What sets Illinois apart from their other choices?

Community:

How can they connect with Illinois? Why should they care about Illinois? 

Donors:

What information will motivate them or set the groundwork for them to give to Illinois?

We create unique posts for each platform, and we choose relevant content for each platform and audience. We tailor the language, tone, and perspective to meet the needs and values of our most engaged audiences on each platform. 

Set strategic goals

We want to tell the broad, diverse, exciting Illinois story. We share content that builds pride. We want to make sure everyone feels they’re part of the Illinois story.

Identify what specific goals will help you tell the Illinois story and experience in your unit or college on social media.

Example of our strategic goals, pulled from the University’s Strategic Plan:

We share content that showcases our excellence in these mission areas:

Scholarship, discovery, and innovation, Transformative learning experiences, Societal impact, Resources and strategic investment

We share content that aligns with our strategic focus areas: 

Arts, Data Science, Diversity, Energy and Sustainability, Food Security, Globalization, Health Sciences, Humanities, Public Engagement, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Undergraduate Education

We share content that showcases our diverse stakeholders and audiences:

Undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, community and prospective students.

We record all of our social posts and categorize them by how they fit within our missions, focus areas, and audiences using Airtable. You can see the number of posts to-date by choosing the appropriate field in the tab navigation. This data measures the diversity of our content and allows us to make adjustments based on areas where we need more content or areas that perform well.

Develop a tone & style

Our main goal on social media is to tell the Illinois story. We do that by cultivating a warm, friendly tone while striving to be authentic and using language that’s straight-forward and easy to understand. We use emojis and share fun, engaging content, but we don’t veer into trends without relevance.

We share high-level accomplishments, big research breakthroughs, campus life and pride points, while also prioritizing nostalgia-related content, resources and news.

Specific tone and style might differ between platforms. For example, because current students are the primary audience on Instagram, our tone tends to be more casual and refers to followers/students in the second person “you.” On LinkedIn, our primary audience is alumni, so our tone might be more professional and geared toward alumni.

Each unit has a unique audience and voice, but all university accounts should have a tone that is smart, kind, thoughtful, proud and deeply supportive of and excited about the university.

You can find additional best practices here.

2. Account naming conventions

While the university doesn’t require verified social media accounts to adhere to a specific naming convention, we do suggest the following if they make sense for your account:

  • Include “Illinois” in both your account handle and display name, if possible
  • Match names on all platforms for consistency, if possible
  • Keep handles short and concise
  • Keep punctuation to a minimum

Handle vs. display name

An account handle is totally unique to your account. It follows an @ sign in your profile. Think of it as your account identification. Your display name may be a longer version of your handle. This is the prominent text displayed at the top of your profile or feed.

Ex. The University of Illinois Twitter

Handle: @uofillinois
Display name: University of Illinois

Consistency and recognition

Your account names are how users will find you. Keep that in mind while brainstorming your account names. They should be clean, simple, and reflect how people talk about your unit.

Ex. University Verified Accounts

@UIPD | U of I Police
@uofiadmissions | UIUC Admissions
@LASillinois | U of I College of LAS
@ACESIllinois | College of ACES
@uofigrainger | The Grainger College of Engineering

3. Account Bio recommendations

There is a lot of information you can give to your audience through your account’s bio. This is where you can provide a description of what your department is and the work/services you offer. Consider adding the following to your bio:

Links

Links are an excellent way to provide a call-to-action or relevant information to your audience. Links should continuously be updated to reflect current events and the unit’s missions/goals.

Link tools that organize multiple links within your bio are helpful to add to your profile. Your audience will be able to access all of your relevant links by clicking the one URL in your bio. From there they can choose a specific topic to learn more about. We use LinkTree to organize links on the University of Illinois Instagram account.

Example of directing users to links in Instagram captions: “To learn more about the university’s COVID-19 policies, click the link in our bio!”

Locations

Providing a location for your unit, college or office can be helpful information to have in your account bio, especially for prospective students.

Brand language

Let your brand personality show through your bio. Your account bio should make it easy for a user to determine whether or not they want to follow your account. Provide a simple, one sentence description of your department or unit that showcases who you are. See example bios below.

University of Illinois:

All the latest from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Urbana, IL | illinois.edu

Grainger Engineering:

Leading global engineering education and research at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Urbana-Champaign, IL | grainger.illinois.edu

Illinois Alumni:

Welcoming all University of Illinois graduates, former students, faculty, staff, friends and supporters to share alumni news, photos and updates.
Urbana, Illinois | uiaa.org

4. Profile and cover photos

We encourage all university accounts to use profile and cover photos consistent with the social media brand standards.

Profile photos should include the Block I. Do not use profile pictures with the column I or a logo other than the Block I. You can find a template here.

5. Internal and external audiences

At the university, we have a multitude of audiences, including: prospective, current undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff, alumni, parents, fans, donors, legislators, community members, media, etc. These audiences influence what content we post on social media, but it’s important to define who our internal and external audiences are.

Internal audiences

Internal audiences are those who share our values or common points of reference. They possess common vocabularies and have some institutional knowledge. When messaging to an internal audience, it is acceptable to use university specific terminology, acronyms and shared experiences.

The Illinois internal audiences can include current undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff.

Examples of internal messaging points: on-campus events, news, protocols, opportunities, etc.

External audiences

External audiences often do not have the inside information or common background shared by internal audiences. In messaging to an external audience, it’s important to spell out acronyms and use terms that are universal and easily understood. They may be hearing about an idea, campaign or project for the first time, so you might need to provide them with extra background information that internal audiences wouldn’t require.

The Illinois external audiences can include prospective students and parents, legislators and community members.

Examples of external messaging points: admissions deadlines, alumni and community events, prospective student information, etc.

Framing your messages for internal vs external audiences

Before you create content, decide which audience you are hoping to engage with. Do they already follow your page? Are they on specific platforms? Will you need to create a paid advertising campaign to reach them?

As a general rule, you will often find internal audiences make up the majority of your followers. External audiences are more likely to be reached through paid advertisements.

Whoever you are trying to reach, be sure you are using appropriate channel, language and tone to engage directly with that audience. Catering your information to specific audiences will help them feel part of your community. What language should you use to reach them where they are? Think about what your goal is and if there is a call to action. 

6. Post building

While there is no exact formula for how to build successful social media posts, there are considerations when creating content, including: language, images, links, mentions, readability, and more.

Language and messaging

What you say is as important as how you say it. The language and messaging you use in your posts creates a voice for your account. We want that voice to reflect the university brand and mission. When users read your posts, they should feel the university and your unit is:

Empowered
Uplifting
Courageous
Bold
Self-Assured

Here are a few examples of Illinois brand powers to incorporate into your content: innovation, inclusion, individuality, involvement, impact, integration, and inspiration.

Ex. The heart of Illinois innovation is having the courage to try.

Images

Images, graphics, and video are how you get a user to stop scrolling and engage with your content. Your images should be high quality, vibrant, attention-grabbing, and reflective of the message you’re trying to convey. The Illinois Image Database is a great resource for choosing high-quality campus images.

In addition to creating strong individual posts, it’s also important to think about your profile’s feed as a whole—specifically on Instagram. With each image choice, ask yourself if it flows with your past content. Creating a feed aesthetic will elevate your brand and make it easily recognizable by your audience. Consider having a specific filter or series of edits to use on all of your images to either make them more vibrant or attention-grabbing. This will provide cohesiveness in your feed and overall make it more appealing.

Ex. On the University of Illinois Instagram account, we primarily choose photos that are bright, vibrant, and have some orange and blue coloring. When posting, we’ll often bump up the saturation, contrast, and brightness.

Graphics

As a general rule, still images tend to outperform graphics or illustrations. Depending on your unit goals, you might want to primarily use images and avoid graphics. 

If you do use graphics to share information about rankings, events, updates, etc. you will want to keep them clean, simple and accessible. Consider adopting a similar process to selecting your still images by always using the same set of colors, fonts, illustrations, and language in your graphics. This will help the graphics fit in with your overall brand.

Try to keep text to a minimum on your graphics. Pick out the main idea or piece of information you want to share on your graphic, and then include the remaining details in the copy or body of your post. This will help the accessibility of your graphics. For accessibility, make sure you use alt text to write out the graphic text.

By intentionally curating images and graphics, your feed will feel more authentic, personal, and engaging.

Social media image size guide

Facebook:

Profile photo: 180 x 180
Cover photo: 820 x 312
Event cover photo: 1920 x 1005
Shared post image: 1200 x 630

Twitter:

Profile photo: 400 x 400
Header photo: 1500 x 500
Shared tweet image: 1200 x 675

Instagram:

Profile photo: 110 x 110
Shared post image: 1080 x 1080
Instagram story: 1080 x 1920

LinkedIn:

Company logo image: 300 x 300
Company cover image: 1128 x 191
Shared image: 1200 x 627

Links

Your posts should often provide users with an opportunity to learn more or continue engaging. Whether it be a news story, application, or form, YouTube video, or webpage, you will likely want to include a link. Link text can be messy and take up a lot of space in your copy. To make your link text simple and easy to consume, shorten the text using bitly.com, go.illinois.edu, or another link shortening tool, and include the link at the end of your post. See the examples below.

Original link: https://grainger.illinois.edu/boomtown/campus-instructional-facility
Bitly link: bit.ly/3Bd45Y7 

To help drive traffic and make the link more accessible, consider providing a call to action followed by the link. See the example below in bold.

#ILLINOIS students, faculty, staff and guests celebrated the grand opening of the Campus Instructional Facility.

The new building invites the sharpest minds across campus to teach and learn in the state-of-the-art spaces. Explore CIF ▶️ bit.ly/3Bd45Y7

Mentions

Tagging other university accounts is a great way to interact and celebrate with other units while also reaching new audiences. When tagging units, specifically on Twitter, consider tagging the account in your photo rather than your tweet copy. This will free up character/text space while also keeping your copy clean and concise. This also allows you to tag multiple accounts.

Mentioning other university accounts builds our community. It’s also helpful for all units if we all engage by retweeting, liking, and sharing their content.

Readability

No one wants to engage with messy, hard-to-read content. A great way to clean up your copy is to utilize paragraph breaks. Instead of displaying your copy in one large text block, break it into smaller chunks of information. This is proven to increase engagement because it is easier to consume.

Bullet points or numbered lists are a great way to share a large amount of information in one post. If the caption is starting to get long, start off with a strong, attention-grabbing one liner, and then move into a segmented chunk of more information.

Example:

Keep hashtags to a minimum—the shorter the better. Hashtags can be hard to read and can make a tweet look clunky. Consider limiting your hashtag use to one per post.

If a hashtag doesn’t directly fit into your post, don’t force one. Hashtags are not essential to each post, but they can be helpful for added context in some situations. If you are going to use a hashtag, try to incorporate it into a sentence. See examples below.

“Welcome to the #ILLINOIS family!”
“Four years. Free tuition. That’s #IllinoisCommitment, and it’s a standing offer.”

Link to the university hashtag list: https://bit.ly/3DiNenk

7. Holiday guide

There are many holidays that are recognized by different religions and cultures. We want our content and celebrations to be accessible and welcoming to our entire community, not just a fraction. This means we share holiday content very sparingly.

Choosing which holidays to acknowledge can be a difficult decision to make. There are countless events to celebrate each and every year and we cannot make a post dedicated to each one. 

We want to showcase holidays our whole audience can participate in, appreciate, and enjoy. 

Referencing Holidays

Oftentimes when referencing a holiday, like Halloween, we will create content that reflects the main theme of the holiday or time of year as opposed to explicitly saying “Happy Halloween.” This helps ensure the posts are respectful and engaging to our entire community.

Examples of past holiday posts: 

Fall Break:

We’re thankful for you, Illini.

Thank you for all your hard work. Thank you for your dedication. Thank you for doing your part. You earned this. We hope you have a safe and restful Fall Break!

Winter holidays: 

Merry & bright. ✨ 

Wherever you spend winter break, we hope it is filled with health, happiness and plenty of holiday cheer.

(We also usually have the Chancellor’s holiday video.)

Pride Month:

This month, and all year, we stand with our students, artists, athletes, faculty, scholars, innovators, staff, alumni, fans and all of our Illini in the LGBTQIA+ community. 🏳️‍🌈

Juneteenth:

Juneteenth is the time to reflect on the abolition of slavery and raise the voices of our Black community.

Last year the Altgeld Chimes held a Juneteenth concert titled “Amplify Their Voices: A Celebration of BIPOC Musicians,” which included the rendition of “We Shall Overcome” from the concert.