Social media use policy, standards and procedures policy statement

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Revised: July 2010


To address the fast-changing landscape of the Internet and the way residents and businesses communicate and obtain information about the City of Palo Alto online, the City of Palo Alto’s (the “City”) departments may consider using social media tools to reach a broader audience. The City encourages the use of social media to further the goals of the City and the missions of its departments, where appropriate.
The City has an overriding interest and expectation in deciding what is “announced” or "spoken" on behalf of the City on social media sites. This policy establishes internal procedures for the use of social media.
What is “social media”? “Social media” and “Web 2.0” are terms used interchangeably to refer to activities that integrate technology, social interaction and content creation. This media allows people to generate, organize, share, edit and comment on web content by means of RSS and other web feeds, blogs, mashups, widgets, wikis, podcasts and photo- and video-sharing, to name a few.

  • All of the City’s social media sites that are posted by departments and offices will be subject to approval by the Communications Manager or designee.

  • The City's website ( will remain the City's primary and predominant internet presence.

  • The most appropriate uses of social media tools are as informational channels to increase the City's ability to broadcast its messages to the widest possible audience.

    • Social media will not be the primary tool used for disseminating emergency information. The CANS system will remain the primary source of that information. Emergency information may be released on social media sites, but not before release on the CANS or other emergency information systems.

  • Wherever possible, content posted to the City’s social media sites will also be made available on the City's website.

  • Wherever possible, content posted to the City’s social media sites must contain hyperlinks directing users back to the City's official website for in-depth information, forms, documents or online services necessary to conduct business with the City of Palo Alto.

  • As is the case for the City's website, the department’s director or designee will be responsible for the content and upkeep (including maintenance and monitoring) of any social media site that department may create.

  • Wherever possible, the City’s social media sites shall comply with all appropriate City of Palo Alto policies and procedures, including but not limited to:

    • 1-08; 1-17; 1-19; 1-24; 1-30; 1-35; 1-40; and 1-52.

    • Any exceptions will be approved by the IT Division (CIO or designee) and/or the City Manager’s Office and the Communication Manager dependent on the policy.

  • The City’s social media sites shall comply with the City’s conflict of interest code and applicable ethics rules and policies.

  • The City’s social media sites are subject to the California Public Records Act and Proposition 59, amending Article 1, Section 3 of the California Constitution. Any content maintained in a social media format that is related to City business, including a list of subscribers and posted communication (with certain exceptions), is a public record. The Department maintaining the site is responsible for responding completely and accurately to any public records request for public records on social media; provided, however, such requests shall be handled in collaboration with the City Attorney’s Office. Content related to City business shall be maintained in an accessible format and so that it can be produced in response to a request (see the City’s Twitter, Facebook and Video Posting standards). Wherever possible, such sites shall clearly indicate that any articles and any other content posted or submitted for posting may be or are subject to public disclosure upon request. Users shall be notified that public disclosure requests must be directed to the relevant department’s director or designee.

  • California law and relevant City records retention schedules apply to social media formats and social media content. Unless otherwise addressed in a specific social media standards document, the department maintaining a site shall preserve records required to be maintained pursuant to a relevant records retention schedule for the required retention period on a City server in a format that preserves the integrity of the original record and is easily accessible. Appropriate retention formats for specific social media tools are detailed in the City’s Twitter, Facebook and Video Posting standards.

  • Users and visitors to the City’s social media sites shall be notified that the intended purpose of the site is to serve as a means of communication between City departments and members of the public. The City’s social media site articles, posts and comments containing any of the following forms of content shall not be allowed and shall be removed as soon as possible:

    • Profane language or content

    • Content that promotes, fosters, or perpetuates discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, age, religion, gender, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, national origin, physical or mental disability or sexual orientation

    • Sexual content or links to sexual content

    • Solicitations of commerce

    • Conduct or encouragement of illegal activity

    • Information that may compromise the safety or security of the public or public systems

    • Content that violates a legal ownership interest of any other party

Users shall be informed by posting to the City’s social media sites that the City disclaims any and all responsibility and liability for any materials that the City deems inappropriate for posting, which cannot be removed in an expeditious and otherwise timely manner.

  • These guidelines must be displayed to users or made available by hyperlink. Any content removed based on these guidelines must be retained, including the time, date and identity of the poster when available (see the City’s Twitter, Facebook and Video Posting standards), in accordance with the City’s policy on the retention of such information.

  • The City reserves the right to restrict or remove any content that is deemed in violation of this policy or any applicable law.

  • The City will approach the use of social media tools as consistently as possible, enterprise wide.

  • All new social media tools proposed for City use will be approved by the IT Division (CIO or designee) and the City Manager’s Office.

Administration of the City’s Social Media Sites

  • The IT Division will maintain a list of social media tools which are approved for use by City departments and staff.

  • The IT Division will maintain a list of the City’s social media sites, including login and password information. The department’s director or designee will inform the IT Division of any new social media sites or administrative changes to existing sites.

  • The City must be able to immediately edit or remove content from social media sites.

  • For each social media tool approved for use by the City the following documentation will be developed and adopted:

    • Operational and use guidelines

    • Standards and processes for managing accounts on social media sites

    • City and departmental branding standards

    • Enterprise-wide design standards

    • Standards for the administration of social media sites

    • Social Media Standards

The following social media tools have been approved by the City and standards have been developed for their use:

Twitter - Twitter Standard

Facebook - Facebook Standard

Video - Video Posting Standard
The use of other sites must be approved by the IT Division and the Communications Manager or designee.
Twitter is a micro-blogging tool that allows account holders to tweet up to 140 characters of information to followers. By procuring and maintaining Twitter accounts, City departments will communicate information directly to their Twitter followers, alerting them to news and directing them to the City’s website for more information. These standards should be used in conjunction with the City's Social Media Use Policy, Standards and Procedures.

  • A department’s director or designee shall hold and maintain that department's Twitter account.

  • Each department will have only one Twitter account, unless otherwise approved by the Communication Manager. Account information, including usernames and passwords, shall be registered with the IT Division.

  • A department's Twitter biography and/or background information will include a link to City’s website where the following disclaimer information will be posted:

    • “This is an official City of Palo Alto Twitter account. For more information about the City of Palo Alto please visit This site is intended to serve as a mechanism for communication between the public and the department on the listed topics and as a forum to further the mission of the department. Any direct tweets to this page and its list of followers may be considered a public record which is subject to disclosure pursuant to the California Public Records Act. Public information requests must be directed to the Communications Manager.”

  • Twitter usernames shall begin with "Palo Alto" (PaloAltoPD, PaloAltoFire and PaloAltoMgr). In cases where the username consists of too many characters, begin with "PA."

  • The main image shall be the Department logo or an appropriate photo. It may also be the City's logo which will be provided by the Communications Manager or designee. If the City logo is not used as the main image it should be in the background section.

  • Twitter accounts shall serve three primary purposes:

    • Disseminate immediate interesting or important information to residents of which a news item on the City’s website is not necessary or possible

    • Promote City-sponsored meetings, events, programs and facilities

    • Refer followers to a news item or content hosted at the City’s website and the department’s Facebook page

  • Information posted on Twitter shall conform to the existing protocols the City and the department that is posting the information. Tweets shall be relevant, timely and informative.

  • Twitter content, as much as possible, shall mirror information presented on the City’s website and other existing information-dissemination mechanisms. The department’s director or designee shall ensure that information is posted correctly the first time.

  • Departments will use proper grammar and standard AP style, and will avoid the use of jargon and abbreviations. Twitter is more casual than most other communication tools, but communications must still best represent the City at all times.

  • The department’s director or designee shall be responsive to those constituents who communicate via Twitter's @reply or direct message functions. Communication with followers will be timely and consistent with existing protocols.


  • The department’s director or designee will maintain an electronic record or printout of any information necessary to retain for the purposes of public records retention in accordance with applicable City policy regarding retention of such information that is not available from the application.

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