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Guidelines for Naming Conventions

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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   (* both 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 - "Personal" 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,



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