Social Media

Making the most of your social media platform

Once you have worked with your regional digital strategist to create your official page or account, use these resources to help take your social media outreach to the next level.


Your digital strategist is here to help troubleshoot complicated or less-than-ideal social media scenarios that leave you asking “what should I do in this situation on behalf of the Service?” Government is a forum for the people, and we want to encourage open communication at all times. Our hope is to turn a potentially negative situation into something positive.

Checklist for a strong post

  • A high quality photo with caption and credit
  • 2 - 3 short, easy to read sentences
  • No internal jargon or acronyms
  • Written in a way that would make sense to someone unfamiliar with us or the topic
  • Some substance: facts, jokes, information - something beyond “have a great weekend!”

Common pitfalls to avoid

  • Images with words in them, including screenshots of PDFs or flyers - these aren’t 508 compliant
  • Uploading multiple images to your post - you'll need to go through and add a photo caption for each individual photo
  • Long links - use a URL shortener, but make sure the site is 508 compliant
  • “Welcome to our new followers!” - make your content appeal to everyone
  • “We’ve almost reached 10,000 followers!” - this is annoying and provides no benefit
  • “We’ll give away a hat to our 10,000th follower!” - this isn't allowed
  • Copyrighted photos without written permission from the photographer - this is a violation of Copyright Law
  • Photos of identifiable minors without a signed photo release
  • Posting or linking to anything that wouldn’t be appropriate to hang in a visitor center
  • Posts promoting or endorsing commercial businesses or non-profits raising funds
  • Sharing internally focused publications - the general public is not the intended audience
  • Liking your own posts as your page - this looks awkward

Writing for social media

Post length

Think about your own social media habits. People often check social media on their mobile devices when they have a few minutes of downtime. The most successful posts are short and sweet, with a link to provide additional information for folks who are interested. If your post is too long, Facebook will truncate it, forcing viewers to click "See More" to see the entire post. While some audiences may be highly invested and take the time to click "See More," the vast majority will not.

Aim for two to three short, easy to read sentences. Think about ways to shorten the text without reducing the information. Consider using a digit instead of writing out a number or abbreviating a state. If your post is longer, see if there is any information that can be cut or split into a second post for another time (this is also a great way to stretch content). These are just two examples of ways to cut length without cutting content. If you feel you must provide all of the information in one post, consider linking to a website with the appropriate information or posting a comment on your post with more information.

Let your content do the talking

A sure-fire way to turn away followers is by asking them to like or share your post rather than inspiring them to do so on their own. A well-written and engaging posts that incorporates a nice photo will naturally generate likes and shares.

Photos, captions and credits

Social media is highly visual and a high quality photo is the easisest way to grab your audiences' attention. Every photo must have a caption that describes it and a credit to attribute to the creator. Posting a photo without a caption is a violation of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

If you don't have a visual to illustrate your post, check out the digital media library, Service Flickr accounts or Creative Commons on Flickr.

Photo credits should be written as follows:

USFWS photos:
  • At the end of your post, write "Photo: Short description of the photo by Photographer Name/USFWS."
  • Example: Photo: Dark-eyed junco by Katie Goodwin/USFWS.

A screenshot depicting the example outlined above

Partner organization photos that you've been given permission to use:
  • Photo: Short description of the photo by Photographer Name/Organization. Short Flickr URL if applicable
  • Example: Photo: Bobcat by Bureau of Land Management.

A screenshot depicting the example outlined above

Creative Commons photos:
  • Photo: Short description of the photo courtesy of Photographer Name/Creative Commons. Short Flickr URL
  • Example: Photo: Red-bellied woodpecker courtesy of Jen Goellnitz/Creative Commons.

A screenshot depicting the example outlined above

What is considered a USFWS photo?

A Service employee does not own the rights to an image, video or audio recording created under any of the following conditions.

  • It was created as part of official or collateral duties.
  • It was created during work hours.
  • It was created using government equipment or supplies.
  • It was created on Service property in a location not normally open or accessible to the general public.
  • It was created under circumstances made available to the employee due to her/his employment with the Service, even if it was done on personal time.
  • To learn more about what is considered a USFWS photo, read the directive (PDF)

Photo release forms

These forms must be completed and kept on record at your local office.

Sharing posts from others

If you find a post from another account and think it would be valuable to share with your audience, use the share or retweet feature. Be sure to add some text to help connect the shared post to your specific audience.

Tips for sharing:

  • Start by ensuring that the post is 508 compliant. Most third party content is not compliant and anything we post, share or link to must be.
  • Be thoughtful about what you share. Avoid sharing content from commercial businesses or unrelated organizations. If the content isn't something you would post on a visitor center door, it probably isn't appropriate for your social media channel.
  • Sharing should not be your primary source of content and does not count toward the minimum page requirement of 3-5 original posts per week. People will unfollow pages that primarily share content created by others. Facebook's algorithm also tends to limit the reach of shared posts.
  • Sharing is a great way to help pages with a smaller following. Sharing a post from a field station on a regional, program or national page can help give the field station some much needed exposure.

Hashtags 101

A hashtag is any word or phrase prefixed by the # symbol. For example: #WildlifeRefuge

Hashtags are used as a way to group related topics. They originated on Twitter, but can now be found on Facebook, Instagram and other social platforms. When you click on a hashtag it will take you to a list of other posts using the same tag. If there is a lot of conversation going on about Florida panthers, and you hashtag #FloridaPanthers you are now linked into the conversation.

Hashtag tips:

  • Less is more: If you decide to include hashtags in your post keep them broad, idenfying 1-2 of the most relevant tags.
  • Avoid one word hashtags: Social media sites index based on content found within each post. One word hashtags aren't necessary because searches will already pull up your term without the hashtag. Example: No need to use #moose.
  • Keep it relevant: Avoid tacking on hashtags that aren't highly relevant to your content
  • Do a little digging: Let's say you're doing a post about Endangered Species Day and want to get the most bang for your buck with a hashtag. Which tag is more popular - #ESDay or #EndangeredSpeciesDay? In this case, you wouldn't want to use both because they're so similar. You can look up both tags in search boxes on Facebook and Twitter to find your answer.
  • Always research your hashtag before use. It may not mean what you think it means!

Consider your goal

If your goal is to reach people who are interested in the same topic, choose an existing hashtag that is used often. If your goal is to group only your posts (or posts from partners) together, creating a new hashtag would work. Keep in mind that creating your own hashtag generally does not result in reaching a more broad audience, but having a conversation with a specific group of people that you already know.

Video and photography training from NCTC