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Guidelines for Naming Conventions

Page history last edited by michelle springer 14 years, 10 months ago

Government Social Media

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Draft Guidelines for Social Media Naming Conventions



The Social Media Subcouncil is currently requesting feedback on the draft Guidelines for Social Media Naming Conventions.


Please review our draft guidelines and provide your input, either by commenting on the page, or directly editing the guidelines. Request access to the wiki.



Government organizations adopting elements of social media must consider many factors when establishing accounts on social media services and when developing in-house social media products.  These guidelines provide recommendations for government agencies to ensure trust and integrity are communicated and to ensure brand consistency is achieved.


Guideline 1: Account Names - Branding


When establishing an account on an existing social network (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.), the account name should reflect the agency's name and convey an official status, therefore leveraging the brand attributes of authenticity and trust.



  • Government sites usually have .gov or .mil URLs. Without these visual cues, communicating authenticity requires careful thought. The burden is on the user to establish the validity, authorship, timeliness, and trustworthiness of what they find.
  • Federal, State and local agencies may need different naming conventions.


Recommendation: Convey authenticity to your audience

  • Select a name that reflects your agency name
  • Avoid the use of acronyms, unless you are confident that your agency's acronym is easily recognized by your audience, or you are forced to abbreviate by naming constraints.  
  • Create complete profile information, indicating the agency and a description of the channel's content. Provide a link to your agency’s official web site. If your channel is the official outreach of a subset of your agency (such as the newsroom), link to the relevant page of that subset.  The profile is the appropriate place to spell out the description of your agency, if abbreviations or acronyms can not be avoided in the account name. Do not use acronyms in the profile data.
  • Provide links from your agency's web site to show official endorsement of the social network activity.
  • Use a name that is as specific as possible, but still indicates that it is the official channel of your agency. Sometimes the name is enough; sometimes it needs further explanation.
  • Be sure to check the names from other perspectives. Remember that users from all over the world may come across this site when searching within social networking/social media services. Can the name be misunderstood or misread? 


Recommendation: Secure your brand

  • Secure your agency name/brand on all services you anticipate using, even if you are not ready to go "live".  Naming is part of branding and vice versa--secure your namesake so you can use it, or prevent others from using it. Own your brand.
  • On some services, such as Facebook, it is possible for a name to be used more than once (i.e. for groups, pages, etc.).  For these services, it is even more critical for agencies to follow the guidelines relating to conveying authenticity, in order to reinforce the official nature of the content.



Guideline 2: Account Names - Consistency


Naming consistency across social networks is recommended for branding and name recognition.



  • Not all services allow the same number of characters in account names.
  • Not all services allow the use of special characters in file names/paths.
  • Some limited branding opportunities may apply; brandmark and account name may be all that can be customized. 


Examples of Name Variations Due to Naming Contraints: Library of Congress
Service Account Name
Website loc.gov www.loc.gov
Flickr library_of_congress (www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress)
YouTube libraryofcongress  and uscensusbureau   (in development)

librarycongress  www.twitter.com/librarycongress




  • Research the account naming parameters for each service. 
  • Create a plan for how your brand will be represented in each social network, if it can't be represented consistently due to naming constraints [See example above] 
  • Once you establish an account name that will appear as part of the URL, you usually cannot change it later without creating an entirely new account.  Choose wisely.


Guideline 3: Account Names - "Personalized" accounts created for work-related purposes vs. master accounts representing your agency



  • Not all agency authorized accounts in social networking services may be "institutional" accounts, in the sense that they are the single representation of the agency. Your communication strategy may call for individuals to represent your agency in a work-related capacity (e.g., blogs or Twitter accounts of individuals that are professionally-affiliated but are not the single social media voice of the agency.)
  • You may have a personal account on the same service on which you are asked (or ask to) develop a work related account and it may not be appropriate to mix the two.


Recommendations: Name accounts appropriately depending on the nature of the account


  • Acknowledge the difference between institutional accounts and "empowered" accounts in the name of the account. Accounts in which individuals have been authorized to speak in a professional capacity that is of interest because of their relationship to the agency vs. institutional accounts created to distribute agency content with an institutional identity, should be named differently.  Example: a Flickr account called "Library of Congress" vs. an account called Michelle_(LOC) would create different expectations of what a user would find on these accounts. The first account is the official conduit of agency content; the second account is used to respond to public commenters. The second account is associated with the first account through naming and selection of brandmark as buddy icon.

  • If there are likely to be multiple individual accounts on a service, create a convention of personal name+agency and follow it. (Example: Helena (LOC P&P), Barbara (LOC P&P), Phil (LOC P&P).

  • Do not convert accounts created for personal use to official use.


Related Information: URLs and File Names


The URL for government agencies helps to convey authenticity and trust of the content it contains by use of the domain suffix .gov or .mil.  

  • Leverage the trustworthiness/authority of the brand/agency name for the file naming conventions.

  • The file name alone can not be the only means of assurance to the user that the account is official, reputable and sponsored by the agency.

  • Tagging content on social networks can help improve findability of content, especially when filename constraints restrict fully descriptive naming conventions.


Examples of existing account names

(Note: Not all of the account names listed adhere to these guidelines)




  • Account names (user names) - sometimes your account name is the same as your channel name. In twitter, for example, your user name is the only name you have. In YouTube, however, your account name is what shows up in the address; it's the name you sign in with, but your channel name would be the "Title" of your channel

  • Channel names (and other official identifiers)  - the name that the public sees on the social media site, which identifies your content as your official presence on that site.

  • URLs - the address that people will type into their browser to see a web page. Unlike our primary web sites, which convey credibility through our .gov / .mil domains, social media services will not automatically convey the official nature of our content.

  • File names - the name of media files (photos, documents, videos, sound files, widgets, etc.) are often used by the social media service to convey information (Flickr and YouTube, for example). The file names used by your internal file system or directory structure may not be useful in this case – be aware of how each social media service uses file names.

  • Tags - keywords that help people find your content on social media sites.


For more detailed explination of domain names, subdomains, etc., see: "Understanding and Decoding URLs" Johns Hopkins University. http://www.library.jhu.edu/researchhelp/general/evaluating/url.html




"Users are used to trusting websites based on the name of the site, or the name of the company in

the URL. If they trust the URL, they will interact freely with the website. With many Web 2.0

technologies there is either no comparable context that the user can base trust on, or if there is a

context, it can be misleading." from Position Paper: Web 2.0 Security and Privacy, Decemer 2008. http://www.enisa.europa.eu/doc/pdf/deliverables/enisa_pp_web2.pdf:


Many higher education institutions provide guidance on how to determine if a web site is trustworthy or questionable.

"Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask."  UC Berkeley Library,


5 criteria for evaluating Web pages."  Cornell University Library, http://www.library.cornell.edu/olinuris/ref/research/webcrit.html 

"Evaluating Web Content/Social Networking Sites." Johns Hopkins University,



Comments (10)

Liz Rosas said

at 10:02 pm on Mar 15, 2009

A couple of questions under Guideline 3:

"If there are likely to be multiple individual accounts on a service, create a convention of personal name+agency and follow it. (Example: Helena (LOC P&P), Barbara (LOC P&P), Phil (LOC P&P)."

-> what does "P&P" stand for?

Under Related information:

"Tagging content on social networks can help improve findability of content, especially when filename constraints restrict fully descriptive naming conventions."

-> This feels like it is out of place to me... should we have a separate section on tagging, keywords, etc?

michelle springer said

at 7:54 am on Mar 17, 2009

"P&P" stands for Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress, since they are the folks that are responding to comments on our Flickr account. The Profile within Flickr spells that out, both on the master account and in the individual profiles.

Andrea Schneider said

at 4:42 pm on Mar 18, 2009

There is one important social networking technology missing, Ning.com. govloop.com is an example of a Ning network. Many of the issues brought up here apply, however, each can have it's own identity as well. It's different than Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. Ning social networks give people an opportunity to actually create a unique social network based on a community of interest. I have an idea of using the Ning technology in grant programs and administration. Each grant program could create its own community members (grantees) promoting collaboration, communication, etc. It would be related to the grant identity. I think this would pose some different branding issues.

G said

at 7:49 am on Mar 19, 2009

Under Guideline 1, Convey Authenticity, I'd recommend adding some quick language about integrating actual graphical branding elements to match your Web presence. People will have a sense that the social media site looks, feels and smells like the official .gov site (as much as social media sites allow, of course). I know this is about naming conventions, but if one of the goals is to achieve authenticity, then the visual helps, too.

Ellen Arnold said

at 9:54 am on Mar 19, 2009

I appreciate the recommendation under Guideline 2 to not use acronyms. I am sure that naming constraints will force me to abbreviate (plus www.flickr.com/photos/institute_of_museum_and_library_services would just be a little unwieldy). I noticed that a number of the agencies who are creating YouTube channels have started their channel names with "/us". Is that a recommended prefix for those that need to use acronyms?

Jed Sundwall said

at 4:13 pm on Mar 24, 2009

I agree with G, but that would perhaps change this wiki to a "branding guidelines" wiki—which I think would be fine. Research we've done w/ GSA indicates that verifying the authenticity of govt outlets on social media sites is of paramount importance to users, conveying authenticity should be accomplished by establishing a variety of consistent branding elements, such as logos, color schemes, and naming conventions.

Also, I appreciate the recommendation to avoid acronyms. We should avoid as much parochial language as possible.

Ellyn Ambrose said

at 11:01 am on Mar 31, 2009

The best definition I ever heard of a brand was from the former CEO of The Martin Agency (ranked #3 in the US by Ad Age in 2008) is: "A brand is an expectation in the consumer's mind." While millions are spent to "mold a brand" the actual brand comes from experience, either confirming or denying the brand. For example: Target - quality; Walmart - cheap. Both stores carry the same merchandise and are only pennies apart. But after a bad experience in DC's Target, I probably won't go back, no matter how much I love their TV spots.

So, for government, the brand will exist primarily in the consumer's mind, based on his exerience. So my thoughts are...

1. verifying authenticity is paramount!
2. keep the naming simple. Confusing consumers with too many names could hurt your brand. Can government us Marketing.urls? Everyone is likely to become more engaged when the site they're looking for is easy to remember. (www.NetworkSolutions.com is one.)
3. unfamilar acronyms make consumers glassy eyed.
4. integrating visual graphics (but they don't have to be identical - similar palette/feel) on all web presence is great.
5. don't forget about Google SEM to drive traffic to your specific pages.

Guess I agree with everyone!

Erin said

at 3:58 pm on Apr 2, 2009

Wondering if you have convention recommendations for creating a Facebook page that is not about our agency broadly, but rather is about a particular education campaign, focused on a specific issue we cover and believe is of high interest to Facebook users, based on our referrer metrics.

Ellyn Ambrose said

at 8:21 pm on May 26, 2009

Erin, I think the FTC has the potential for several Facebook campaigns which would be far more effective than a general "FTC" site. Search Pick 5 from EPA and see how consumers are engaging in their own conversations. Call me, if you like, and give me a better idea of what you're thinking of and we can brainstorm. (202-797-8251 or Email me at ea@wdmdc.com)

Mary Maher said

at 4:44 pm on Jul 22, 2009

URLS: I like the idea of using vanity URLs when possible (simply conveying your name/brand/title in the location bar, IF it fits and makes sense). I'd like to see some consistency around larger agencies and their smaller counterparts to denote relationships/dependencies where appropriate, as in /DOD/army/ (or DefenseDepartment/Army/). Same goes for channel names--there's many crazy spins of deparment/agency, department_agency, departmentagency, agencydepartment, agency, etc...

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