Graphic of horns up emojis in various skin tones.

Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion Best Practices for Social Media

Social media serves an important role in helping to connect with our communities, both on and off campus, as well as increase awareness and strengthen our university’s reputation. It’s often one of the first places our prospective students go to determine whether they can see themselves at UB. It’s also where many of our current students, employees, alumni and the Buffalo community go to learn about UB events, news and updates. 

As social media practitioners, we all share the responsibility to ensure that our communications on these social media platforms are authentic and in alignment with our values of inclusion, diversity, anti-racism and equity so that everyone feels welcome at UB.

The guidance below will help examine some basic ways that we can start to evolve our social media communications by being conscious of the content and visuals we choose to promote on our pages as well as how we present them. 

What to consider:

#1. Look at the breadth of your content and plan

Social media content should be viewed holistically. Not everyone will feel included or represented in every post, photo, video or story that is published, so it is important that the overall breadth of content be inclusive. 

When selecting content, keep in mind that diversity can mean many things, from gender to race or ethnicity to age to experience or background. Social media practitioners should strive to publish a balanced portfolio of stories and visuals that a variety of audiences will be able to relate to.

As a litmus test, consider looking at the content published from your account(s) for the last week or month and consider whether or not the language, the people and the photos you are featuring are inclusive and depict an accurate representation of your unit and/or our community as a whole.

Consider creating a content plan to make sure that you are regularly featuring diverse populations in your content. Are there national or cultural days that you can incorporate annually into your social calendar that reflect your diverse audience and UB’s values? Is there a monthly or weekly student/club feature that you create that allows you to highlight various members of our community? Think about the content that you are already publishing and how you can make changes to your workflows and process to curate more inclusive content. 

#2. Be intentional with language

There is immense power in language: It can deepen understanding and strengthen relationships, or it can confuse or cause harm. For these reasons, it is critically important to carefully consider every word and phrase as well as the symbols, metaphors and subtext in a piece and where and how they are placed. Imagine how others could interpret or be impacted by what you’re saying, and remember that not everyone has the same experiences with language—inoffensive language to one person may be offensive, demeaning or harmful to another.

If you’re not sure how your words will affect others, speak with people of different backgrounds, abilities or experiences. 

Always remember to refer to UB’s style guide to ensure you are using the most up-to-date inclusive language.

#3. Consider (and reconsider) context

When selecting visuals, be mindful of what the images may be inadvertently communicating. These images can either contribute to or combat harmful stereotypes and affect the reputation of the university.

For example, images used to talk about financial aid and scholarships should feature students of all races and backgrounds to convey that all students may need — and have access to — financial support.

Context also includes representations of order and hierarchy. Though evaluating content for this type of context can be extremely nuanced, it is no less important. As an example, many of us as marketers are sensitive to unintended representations of order and hierarchy in stock photography (e.g., a woman at a computer with a man leaning over her shoulder). Always select and review with an eye for such representations.

​​For this reason, stock photography should especially be used with sensitivity, as it can read as inauthentic, and can depict these harmful stereotypes and representations.

#4. Avoid appropriation

Appropriation takes an aspect from a culture and uses it without knowing or honoring the meaning behind it, or respecting the people of a culture. Drawing from people’s cultures, traditions and personal experiences is both subjective and sensitive. While the intention behind using an aspect of a culture may be admiration, if done without respect or awareness, appropriation may perpetuate stereotypes or exploit groups of people.

We can all lead with cultural respect and awareness by being mindful of nuance and historical context, learning and honoring the culture, seeking guidance and diverse opinions, evaluating intent and impact, and elevating authentic voices.

#5. Make content accessible

To truly be inclusive, social media practitioners must follow accessibility best practices to ensure that the content is available for people of all abilities. While we cannot control what accessibility features are on each social media platform, we can leverage the existing features to optimize our content, by following these best practices:

#6. Put historical content into context

Using archival footage or photos can be challenging when trying to balance inclusivity as some materials reflect a time when UB was less diverse. 

When deciding to use historical content, such as photos, ask yourself what message you are sending by publishing it. If the photo does not reflect diversity, consider: 

  1. Finding another photo that does reflect diversity, as appropriate to the content.
  2. Putting the photo into context with additional photos that reflect diversity. That could include publishing a gallery of images from past and present to show how the university has evolved to be more inclusive.
    • This could also be achieved by adding context to the post copy or caption to recognize the growth of the university over time.
  3. Reviewing the tone. Historical content is often presented in a celebratory fashion. Sometimes this is appropriate, but other times a more explanatory tone may be required.

If reflecting diversity cannot be achieved using these tactics, consider taking a pass on the content. 

#7. Don’t misrepresent or overuse content

Avoid utilizing photos of students or employees on social media that do not correlate to the content. Images of students and employees should not be used to promote units or departments that they aren’t affiliated with. For example, if you are trying to promote the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, a photo of art students should not be used because it reflects better diversity. It’s important that our content is authentic and accurately represents our community.

It may not always be possible to know for certain if you are featuring students, faculty, etc. who are from your unit, but when utilizing shared image repositories like SmugMug, look for context in the photo tags or descriptions to help eliminate misrepresentation. Additionally, when searching for images on SmugMug, do not rely on keywords for diversity. Instead search the appropriate content and use a critical eye to find the image that will work best.

Additionally, try not to overuse photos on your pages because they convey diversity. It’s acceptable to use the same photo more than once, but if that image is used repeatedly over time, it can have the reverse effect and instead convey a lack of diversity to your audience. Overusing these images commoditizes the people depicted within them and may harm their relationship with the university.

To find updated photos to use on your social media accounts, sort the SmugMug photo database by “most recent” to view the newest images available. If you need help finding images or are in need of new photography within a specific area, contact University Communications for assistance.

#8. Understand how to use emojis and symbols

Consider the sensitivity around symbols and emojis that relate to culture, race and gender. Make sure that you understand the meaning of an emoji before you use it to avoid accidentally posting something that is insensitive or inappropriate. If you are unsure if a certain use is appropriate, consult with your Social Media Lead or University Communications before moving forward.

Additionally, it is important to showcase diversity through the use of emojis. Don’t always use the default emoji shade in your keyboard when utilizing people emojis. Use every shade that is offered as you engage and post your content.

For more information, and considerations to take, when utilizing emojis in your social media content, review UB's Emoji Best Practices.