Social Media Standards and Operating Guidelines

Updated March 2020

American Fisheries Society

Social Media Standards and Operating Guidelines*

March 2020


Does our social media planning build a sense of community? Does it help to improve knowledge or skills? Does it contribute directly or indirectly to the improvement of our processes, policies and mission? “If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then our participation in social media is adding value.” (Kivi Leroux Miller)

    1. Goals

The goals of having social media guidelines are:

      1. To use social media effectively to promote fisheries science
      2. To use social media effectively to communicate with the AFS community and the public
      3. To safeguard against misuse or misrepresentation of AFS
      4. To streamline AFS social media accounts and their administrators, so that the AFS Communications Director can interact with units, share information, and assist with unit social media accounts.

b. Rationale

This document should be used to guide to AFS staff and member Units (chapters, sections, student subunits, and divisions) on how to best use social media platforms. These guidelines should be considered a dynamic document and will evolve as AFS staff and members? work to build its social media presence through consistency, its digital “personality” through authenticity, and its key areas of focus, concentrating on quality over quantity. The AFS Communications Committee (CCmte) realizes that some of the guidelines may not apply to your Unit specifically, but we would like to show you examples of best practices regardless, in case you decide to create more social media platforms in the years ahead.

Once we have defined our presence and key areas of focus, we can then take the next systematic steps: building a cohesive, quality-focused social media management framework. Please note that we would recommend not taking these initial steps if your AFS Unit can only post on social media platforms sporadically. Twitter, for example, requires several postings a day and throughout the evenings and weekends. For infrequent postings, we would recommend using another media channels, like your website – or, for calendar items, an email alert. Most social media platforms require a lot of time and energy, so that is something a Unit will want to consider before creating a platform.

Setting up systems and administrators (see Section 4 for details) allows us to turn next to how to prioritize and prepare content. For example, we should promote our original content: post new science articles, meeting announcements, educational and job opportunities, etc. This is important, but it has its limits. To maximize social media’s impact, we should ideally add another dimension: monitoring, absorbing and sharing science from other organizations and individuals. Effective social media methodology is about being inclusive and broadening our dialogue with other organizations who are working on the same topic; so applauding other scientists’ research should be a strategic part of content management as well.

Why do we need a digital presence at all? We need social media because these methods of outreach and interactivity are changing the way we communicate, offering new models to engage with colleagues, groups, and the world at large. We believe that these kinds of platforms can help us build stronger, more successful professional relationships and partnerships, increase and/or strengthen AFS membership, and broaden our leadership scope in the fisheries science community. A strong social media presence allows us to take part in global conversations related to the work we are doing at AFS and, more broadly, to the issues we care about.

As stated above, these AFS Social Media Standards and Operating Guidelines are dynamic and will evolve as the overarching AFS Communications Strategy evolves. The document should complement any existing or future AFS guidelines regarding the use of technology, computers, e-mail and the Internet.

For the purposes of this document, “social media” means any facility for online publication and commentary, including blogs, wiki(s), and social networking platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Instagram and YouTube. [Please see Section 4 for more definitions on individual social media platforms.]

c. Concerns to Address

This document governs the publication of, and commentary on, social media by AFS staff and AFS members. Chapter-only members are not able to administer a Chapter’s social media account and do not have permission to speak on behalf of AFS. In general, AFS employees and Society members are free to publish or comment via social media in accordance with this policy. Publication and commentary on social media carries similar obligations to any other kind of publication or commentary.

Since AFS social media platform managers are representing the Society, all uses must follow the same ethical standards that AFS staff and Society members must otherwise follow. Again, if you are not a (full) AFS member, you cannot use the AFS logo or name on social media platforms.

 All Unit social media managers/administrators are required to read and follow these Guidelines.  They are also welcome to offer feedback and suggest improvements as the document evolves.

 d. Looking Ahead

The AFS Communications Team (CTeam), headed by the Senior Communications Manager and including additional staff as needed, will incorporate these social media guidelines into an overarching AFS Communications Strategy for consideration by the AFS  Communications Committee (CCmte) and the Governing Board. Longer-term, the guidelines will become part of a broader rebranding process which will impact Unit publications, web sites, and social media sites. Since any reconfiguration of the logo and brand will clearly impact the social media sites now and in the future, the AFS  CTeam will keep members apprised as these plans unfold.  


This section presents an operational structure for management of AFS social media accounts. This structure is binding with local AFS Units, under the overall guidance of the AFS CCmte.

 2.1. User Approval: Setting up a new social media account for an AFS unit

    • For all new social media accounts, Units will work with AFS CTeam, making initial requests to the Senior Communications Manager. That includes setting up the account and establishing their settings. Approved users will receive passwords for their AFS Unit social media accounts.

2.2 Security

    • Users should be responsible for maintaining passwords to AFS accounts in a secure manner and shall not disseminate passwords to non-authorized users.
    • Users should immediately notify the AFS Communications Director if security has been breached. If this occurs, the AFS CTeam will immediately change the appropriate account passwords.

2.3 Posting and Monitoring

    • Posts are made according to the guidelines that are provided for individual authorized users.
    • It is not necessary to have AFS CCmte approval for individual posts; however, users are expected to be professional, pertinent, and polite with their posted content (see Section 3).
    • Please follow the AFS Code of Ethics and the American Fisheries Society’s Policy Statement on Advocacy Guidelines. Failure to abide by them will put your participation at risk. Posted content not meeting these guidelines may result in removal of access privileges.
    • Serious policy violations by AFS staff may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination for cause. For Society members, serious policy violations may be subject to revocation of membership.

NOTE:  If there is no content posted on AFS social media platforms for six months, the CCmte will recommend that these sites be shut down.

2.4 Content Review Processes

If the AFS CTeam members are made aware, either through direct monitoring or from third-party reports, of inappropriate use or content of an AFS social media account by an authorized users, they will take the following actions:

    • Review the posted content in relation to the AFS Code of Ethics and the AFS’s Policy Statement on Advocacy Guidelines and the context in which the post was made (including other posts by that user, conversations, or other material that set the stage).
    • Review the complaint in relation to the posted material and the context in which the post was made.
    • Discuss the post with the user who made the post.
    • Determine if a violation of the Code of Ethics and the AFS’s Policy Statement on Advocacy Guidelines has occurred or if the user acted outside of this policy.
    • Based on the outcome of this review, actions will be left to the AFS Management Committee.

The following discussion assumes that a user is posting from an AFS account and therefore representing AFS.

3.1 Ethics, Disclosure

    • Represent AFS ethically and with integrity. Respect our audiences, which include internal ones (AFS coworkers and AFS Members). Don’t say anything contradictory or in conflict with the AFS website. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, but within reason, using common sense. Stay with your area of expertise. Write what you know.
      • This includes not only the obvious (no ethnic slurs, offensive comments, defamatory comments, personal insults, obscenity, etc.) but also proper consideration of privacy and of topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory – such as politics and religion. (Erin Hall)
    • Be respectful and considerate toward AFS stakeholders (professional fishers, partner organizations, government agencies, universities, donors) and make sure that content on them is approved. You can discuss general details about stakeholder projects and science, but make sure to link to their websites or blogs.
    • Be transparent: Though often not necessary with social media, when appropriate, use your real name, and clearly identify yourself as AFS staff, an AFS member, or an AFS volunteer. Do not say anything that is dishonest, untrue, or misleading.
    • Be truthful: If you have a vested interest in something you are discussing, be the first one to point it out and be specific. But also be smart about protecting AFS and the Society’s privacy. What you publish will be around for a long time, so consider the content carefully and be cautious about disclosing personal details.

3.2 Privacy and Legalities

    • Privacy: Privacy settings on social media platforms should be set to allow anyone to see information similar to what would be on the AFS website. Other privacy settings that might allow others to post information or see information that is personal should be set to limit access. Be mindful of posting information that you would not want the public to see.

Do not violate your own privacy or the privacy of others. Never reveal confidential information. When in doubt, call a member of the AFS CTeam. Remember: if you’re online, you’re on the record; everything on the Internet is public and searchable. Off-limit topics include: unreleased information, personal information, anything pertaining to litigation, and non-published financials.

    • Copyright issues: Authors “own” their papers and photographers “own” their images. It is extremely important, for legal and ethical reasons, to be vigilant, and to give individuals and organizations the proper credit.

It is critical that you show proper respect for the laws governing copyright and fair use or fair dealing of copyrighted material owned by others, including AFS copyrights and brands. Also, please respect overall brands and trademarks. [From 2017 forward, please work on AFS logos with AFS CTeam before starting up new social media platforms.]

You should never quote more than short excerpts of someone else’s work, and always attribute such work to the original author/source. It is good general practice to link to others’ work rather than reproduce it.

Note: This is where we separate the “evergreen,” Procedures section from the “working” document that will need to be updated annually as social media platforms evolve and dissolve. 

  1. SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT BASICS (adapted from Erin Hall’s blog)

These social media content basics build on Section 3 guidelines. Being strategic about our social media presence will enable us to capitalize on news opportunities while allowing for deeper engagement with our social community. [Note: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn specifics are detailed in the Appendix.]

 Be Consistent, Be Strategic about Timing:

 Our AFS “followers” want consistent, high-quality updates, information, content, and ideas from us. We don’t need to try too hard, just be consistent with what we do. Users who follow a brand, or in our case, a professional society, are following us because they derive value and information they care about and it gives them an easy way to connect with the things and causes they love. We shouldn’t set ourselves up for a commitment to our followers which we can’t maintain.

Here are examples of AFS consistency:  On both Facebook and Twitter (through Hootsuite calendar) the AFS CTeam posts “job of the week” listings every week. Other regular posts from the AFS CTeam include: the AFS biweekly newsletter; excerpts from the AFS magazine, journals and books (using corresponding photos and AFS website links); and AFS award and meeting news.  Note: Units are free to use content, photos and links from staff posts to share on their platforms.

Statistically, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter users are all active at night and on the weekends; Twitter is also active early in the morning and late in the afternoon. To keep our content fresh with audiences, AFS staff and members should post at least one or two messages during those times – and more with Twitter.

Note: You can repeat posts (like the AFS jobs and articles mentioned above) on Twitter since it is basically a newsfeed (see Appendix); in other words, if you post in the morning, people checking their Twitter accounts in the evening won’t see it. LinkedIn is most popular in the evenings and on weekends because people don’t usually look for other jobs while they’re at the office.

 Be Authentic, not #Trendy

Every post, tweet, piece of content, and conversation should be 100 percent true to AFS and our brand. Yes, it is often relevant to seize a timely opportunity when it presents itself, but capitalize on it in a way that’s authentic to AFS. Remember that perception is reality.

There is often tacit pressure, as a social media manager, to develop the next big viral campaign, video, or hashtag. The problem is that, if you work day and night to develop the next viral craze, social media efforts will be exhausting to maintain and eventually unsustainable.

Social media interaction isn’t just about going viral, and it doesn’t have to be about your engagement ratings, the number of Likes you generate, or the number of Retweets. In science outreach there are more important things than hashtags:  links to the science itself and corresponding photos are key. Find a dynamic image (from your work archive or the Internet) and a viable link. Always try to link back to your website or blog with strong content. [Note: At our Annual and Division Meetings, #hashtags within Twitter are an essential tool for keeping participants up to date on program changes, etc.]

#Hashtags are basically a filing system for our posts most social media platforms. They drive people to our platforms. For example, we could place a hashtag in front of #fisheries or #science or #AFS or #AFSannualmeeting or #climatechange or #KansasCity or #WashingtonDC. People looking on Twitter or other social media for these terms will find our posts. This is how we increase the number of our followers. We need to be strategic and consistent with #hashtags.

Be Quality-Centric, not Quantity-Driven

Even more important than frequency and focus should be the quality of the posts we publish. Upholding quality of posts is critical to reinforcing the trust we have built, through the consistency and authenticity. AFS staff can help you create content and enhance your photo and link quality. Contact us for help!

Don’t be sloppy. Use a spell-checker. Nothing ruins credibility in the academic community like careless spelling or grammar. Also, if you’re not design-oriented, ask someone who is whether your post (or blog) looks dynamic enough, and take their advice on how to improve it. Slow down: The speed of being able to publish your thoughts is both a great feature and a great downfall of social media. The time to edit or reflect must be self-imposed. If in doubt over a post, or if something does not feel right, either let it sit and look at it again before publishing it, or ask the AFS CTeam to look at it.

Add value: There are millions of words out there: make yours helpful and thought-provoking. Communication via social media is most effective when you remember that it’s a conversation. Build community by posting content that invites responses, and then stay engaged.

Share, Intelligently: Sharing (on Twitter, through ReTweeting, for example) other organization’s science and other people’s presentations is important. AFS becomes part of a news cycle and we enhance our credibility in the science community when we are inclusive and generous. Sharing and giving positive feedback (through Likes, Retweets, and “Following” others) is a key part of the social media experience.

Quality, quality, quality: Keep in mind that quality extends beyond the type of content we post. It includes our imagery, choice of words, and selection of hashtags and handles. Remember that, with consistency and authenticity as guiding pillars, our social media motives are likely not to include 70 hashtags in every post. Being selective and intentional will empower us to prioritize quality. (credit)

Mistakes and Misrepresentations: If you make a mistake on Twitter, delete the tweet as quickly as possible. If you make a mistake on a blog, admit it. Basically, be up front about your mistake and correct it quickly. If you choose to modify an earlier post, make it clear that you have done so. If someone accuses you of posting something improper (such as their copyrighted material or a defamatory comment about them), deal with it quickly. Better to remove it immediately to lessen the possibility of a legal action.

Distortions of AFS in the Media: If you see misrepresentations you may point them out. Always do so with respect and with the facts. If you speak about others, make sure what you say is factual and that it does not disparage that party. Avoid arguments. Don’t try to settle scores or goad competitors or others into inflammatory debates. Make sure what you are saying is factually correct.

Disclaimers:  Many social media users include a prominent disclaimer about their organizations, i.e., that they’re not speaking officially (e.g., “ReTweets are not endorsements”). This is good practice and is encouraged, but don’t count on it to avoid trouble; it may not have much legal effect. The AFS CTeam can provide you with applicable disclaimer language and help you determine where and how to use it.



Facebook is a free, social networking site that allows registered users to create profiles, upload photos and video, send messages and keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues.

Facebook has two options for membership organizations: groups and pages. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but we strongly recommend that you only have one to avoid confusion over which is the official channel for your Unit. Because of the content sharing ability and branding advantages, pages are usually a better choice for most Units.

A Facebook page includes fairly detailed contact and background information on your Unit. Facebook pages have the ability to “like” other Facebook pages and share content. Posts to a Facebook page can only be made by someone with administrative privileges, and will display as being posted by “AFS Unit Name” rather than being posted by an individual. No control is possible over who “likes” your page but posting by “fans” is limited to comments on official posts and a small sidebar for moderated visitor posts. Your posts will show up in the News Feed of those who have liked your page, though the number actually reached is determined by the current Facebook news feed algorithm.

 A Facebook group includes only barebones information about the organization and does not offer as much customization. Membership can be controlled and settings modified to allow for only members to see what is posted. Although posts will not be under the Unit’s name, any member may post to the group under their own name (posting can be set to be moderated). Groups cannot like or share with other groups or with pages. Group posts will appear in group members’ news feed or their notifications or both, depending on their account settings. Also, please read “Facebook user guidelines” on their website or app to help you with immediate questions you may have.


LinkedIn is a social networking site designed specifically for the business community. The goal of the site is to allow registered members to establish and document networks of people they know and trust professionally.

LinkedIn follows a similar structure as Facebook with both pages and groups. Because members are more identifiable in their professional capacity on LinkedIn, groups often work better than on Facebook, with many productive questions and discussions. Group posts are also emailed to their members by default, though some members may change these settings. Group membership and posts can all set to be moderated, but there are no longer private groups on LinkedIn; all posts are viewable by non-members.

 If your Unit needs a more private, secure online community than Facebook or LinkedIn, please contact AFS headquarters about using our Communities module, which offers many options for membership and viewing control. Communities include document sharing functionality as well. Also, please read “LinkedIn user guidelines” on their website or app to help you with immediate questions you may have.


Twitter is a free social networking microblogging service that allows registered members to broadcast short posts called tweets. Twitter members can broadcast tweets and follow other users’ tweets by using multiple platforms and device

For science organizations, Twitter is basically a fluid newsfeed, with followers seeing posts in real time (e.g., if you post a story at 6:00 a.m. EST, few Americans on the East Coast will see it because they won’t be looking at their Twitter account until a few hours later). Twitter users’ posts need to be brief: with 140 characters, you need write a compelling “headline” and include a photo, and a link. For AFS, it is really about linking others to a longer, science-based story.

Contrary to celebrity-driven, popular belief, Twitter is not a trivial diary but is used as a vehicle to share news and to applaud others. The more interactive you are on your Twitter account, the more “followers” you will have and the more impact you will have as an organization or individual. In the science realm, Twitter is important since you can keep on top of new science and anticipate trends. The best times to tweet depend on your audiences but, in the U.S., for the most part, Twitter is most active around 8:00 a.m. (before work), 3-4:00 p.m. (when work is winding down), and on the weekends. The reason users tweet a story more than once is so that followers in different time zones will see it. For example, when we tweeted a Fisheries article recently, we made sure to post it a number of times, including late at night EST so that our followers on the west coast would see it.

Sharing Tweets is an important part of Twitter interactivity. For example, when AFS Retweets a member’s cool, new science, it makes the member feel good, and it allows others to give that person a pat on the back. While not an endorsement from AFS, it is still a good thing for members and prospective members to be recognized by AFS and its 5,000+ followers. Cautionary note on sharing: Retweeting means you are protecting others’ content while sharing it, not re-writing it. If you must tweak/rewrite someone else’s content on Twitter (sometimes necessary to keep to the 140 character limit), simply start the tweet with “MT” (which means “modified tweet”). Tweets can be deleted (see “Mistakes” above) but, sometimes, can be retrieved, if a follower takes a screenshot of the tweet before it disappears. Moral of the story: Please slow down and think before you Tweet. Also, please read “Twitter user guidelines” on their website or app to help you with immediate questions you may have.


YouTube is a video-sharing social media platform. The site allows users to upload, view, rate, share, and comment on videos. Using hashtags and detailed descriptors will help people find you. Available content includes video clips, TV clips, music videosmovie trailers, and other content such as video blogging, short original videos, and educational videos.

As with the other social media, please follow basic guidelines to ensure that you are representing AFS ethically and responsibly. YouTube videos cannot be removed. So please think twice before you post it. When in doubt, please contact the AFS Communications Director. Please read “YouTube user guidelines” on their website or app to help you discover and share videos.


Instagram is an online mobile photo-sharingvideo-sharing, and social networking service that enables its users to take pictures and videos, and share them either publicly or privately on the app, as well as through a variety of other social networking platforms, such as FacebookTwitterTumblr, and Flickr. #Hashtags are important on Instagram to build your “follower” base. That’s why you will see a string of 10 or more of them under the photos. Please read “Instagram user guidelines” on their website or app to help you navigate the platform.

To update followers on recent events, post photos and short videos to your Instagram Stories.  This is a great way to highlight recent fieldwork, meetings, or other events where a lot of interesting content can be generated over a short period of time.  Stories are available for others to view for a 24-hour period, after which time the Stories are cataloged in a private archive.  To make your Instagram profile a more holistic representation of your group, consider creating several Highlights.  Highlights appear in your profile and allow for your archived Stories to be made permanently available within one of several “highlight categories” that you create.  For example, one could have a Highlight reel of field work adventures, another for AFS conferences, etc.  Highlights can help add depth and dimensionality to an otherwise image-driven profile page.


A blog (short for weblog) is a personal online journal that is frequently updated and intended for general public consumption. Blogs are defined by their format: a series of entries posted to a single page in reverse-chronological order. Blogs generally represent the personality of the author or reflect the purpose of the website that hosts the blog. Topics sometimes include brief philosophical musings, commentary on Internet and other social issues, and links to other sites the author favors, especially those that support a point being made on a post. The author of a blog is often referred to as a blogger. Many blogs syndicate their content to subscribers using RSS, a popular content distribution tool.

We will have more guidelines for blogs as these Guidelines evolve. The AFS blog serves as an example for the AFS Units interested in starting their own blogs.


There is an ever-changing pool of social media platforms, with SnapChat, Vimeo, Periscope, and others that may be relevant to your particular needs.  Furthermore, each platform is likely to have a slightly different userbase.  However, maintaining the proper amount of regular and consistent attention becomes increasingly difficult as one expands their social media presence across multiple platforms.  For this reason, regular activity on one, or a few, platforms may be more beneficial than intermittent activity across several different platforms.

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NOTE: These Social Media Standards and Guidelines have been adapted from the AFS Oregon guidelines (derived from IBM, INTEL), members of the Social Media Subcommittee, and from two blogs:  Kivi Leroux Miller and Erin Hall (both allow for public access and use). 



  • Social media platforms – Examples include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, blogs, and others developed in the future. (see more detail below on individual platforms)
  • Post – Any information (text, photos, videos) made public on a social media platform by an approved user.
  • Shared Post – When you post something from an outside person or organization because the message or science is consistent with AFS’s mission or the organization is an AFS partner or prospective partner.

 Roles and Responsibilities: 

  • Administrators – People authorized to have access to AFS social media accounts would include members of the AFS CTeam, the AFS headquarters communications staff who are responsible for the AFS website, social media platforms and overall media outreach.
  • Advisors — AFS Communications Committee (CCmte) will have advisory oversight, bridging between the Governing Board and the AFS CTeam as needed.
  • Advisors — Social Media Subcommittee members will have advisory oversight on overall social media account management, content, and security issues.