AP Style Updates: Social Media

AP Stylebook

[Editor’s Note: One of the most perennially popular articles on PRNEWS is one reviewing AP style. We took that as a sign and decided to deliver a new series of AP style updates. In addition to social media, we'll look at COVID-19, cryptocurrency, diversity, equity and inclusion, and more.] 

In light of our upcoming 2021 Social Shake-Up conference, we looked at social media terminology, to ensure proper use for important campaigns, announcements and releases. As always, up-to-date terms can be found in the “Associated Press Stylebook” online directory. The AP even includes a “Social Media Guidelines” section for journalists and other media. A full list of social media and technology terms is here

Social media 

An umbrella term for online services that people use to share posts, photos and videos with small or large groups, privately or publicly. Facebook is the largest platform. Other major services include Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook’s Instagram. Newer ones include TikTok, a popular video-sharing service owned by a Beijing company, ByteDance. Others, such as China’s Sina Weibo, are popular regionally.

While major companies report usage numbers, be careful about making direct comparisons as each uses a different measure.  For instance, Facebook counts accounts in use at least once during the past month, while Twitter averages the number of active accounts on a given day to figure daily usage.

"Social media" is not capitalized unless it comes at the beginning of a sentence. Also the singular and plural are "social media." When plural, use the verb "are."

You can also use prepositions “in” or “on” when talking about social media use. 


Social media (in reference to platforms, groups) are growing rapidly.

That social media post needs more oomph. 

The kids have been on social media platforms since birth. 


Short for application and acceptable on first reference. Typically used to refer to computer programs that run on phones, tablets and PCs, or as part of a larger online service 


Facebook apps enhance a user’s platform experience.

cookie, cookies

A small file that websites often place on phones, computers and other devices to save user-identifying information. The information can be used for advertising, saving login credentials and other purposes.


If websites disabled cookies, you’d never see an Instagram ad for your favorite sports team. 


A manipulated video or other digital representation produced by sophisticated machine-learning techniques that yield seemingly realistic, but fabricated, images and sounds. Deepfake videos can, for instance, make it appear that people said or did something that they did not. Deepfake or deepfake video is acceptable, but it must be explained on first reference.


Kanye West said he was not at the game yesterday, but a deepfake video appeared on social media, showing that he was. 

direct message

A private message sent via an online service such as Twitter or Slack. "DM" is acceptable on second reference. Can also be used as a verb: to direct-message or DM someone.


You can contact Sandra at The Times about the story with a direct message on Twitter.

emoji (singular and plural)

A symbol, such as a cartoon face, hand gesture, animal or other object, which might be used instead of a word, or as an illustration in text messages or on social media. 

Social media posts and text messages often contain emoji, GIFs or other imagery that need to be conveyed to readers using words. Treat the visual material as context or gestures when important to include, describing by paraphrasing.

Be aware that some GIFs, emoji or other images may contain hidden meanings and nuances requiring consideration and more than just a simple description of the image posted.

Do not use parentheses to describe an emoji within a direct quote, to avoid confusing readers by making it seem as if the person being quoted wrote out the description in text.


Chavis sparked a flurry of responses against the airline after tweeting a GIF of large crowds at the gate, with the message “#missinghoneymoon” and an emoji string of a worried smiley, a ring, an hourglass and an umbrella propped on a beach.


Company that owns the world’s most popular social network, with about 2.5 billion active users. Based in Menlo Park, California, the company also owns Instagram, a photo and video-sharing service; the WhatsApp messaging service; and Oculus, maker of a virtual reality system.


She created a Facebook event for her daughter’s upcoming birthday party. 

friend, follow, like

Acceptable in a social media context as both nouns and verbs. Actions by which users connect to other users on social networks and engage with their content.


You really need to follow that new peanut butter company on Facebook for some great dessert recipes. 

It was great to meet you! You can friend me on Facebook. 

That page got a like from me after posting more dog videos. 


Acronym for Graphics Interchange Format, a compression format for images. GIF is acceptable in copy but should be explained in the story. Use lowercase in a file name.


The new season of “Ted Lasso” released a dozen new GIFs on Twitter, mostly for use when expressing anger over sports losses. 


A self-selected, public-facing username on a social network. May be used interchangeably with username.


You can contact PRNEWS on Twitter, using its handle, which is @PRNEWS. 


A term starting with a number or hash sign (#) in a social network post. It conveys the subject of the post so that it can be easily found by users interested in that subject. A hashtag needs to be an uninterrupted string of characters, with no spaces.

The use of hashtags has evolved to also reflect a post’s tone. For example, a user may add #sarcasm or #feelingstupid to help describe the nature of a post.

In stories, write the hashtag as it would appear on a social network. 

For accessibility, capitalize words within a tweet such as #MajorLeagueBaseball. Those who use reading/interpreting software can more easily navigate #LetsGoOut than #letsgoout, for example.


The hashtag #UNGA is commonly used for the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. 

The #Jan25 hashtag was credited with spreading support for the Egyptian uprising in its early days.


A social media network owned by Microsoft Corp. It is used mainly for professional networking. Based in Mountain View, California.


You can find my business profile on LinkedIn. 

livestream, livestreaming

One word in all uses.


We will livestream the social media conference in the break room today. 


A piece of information or visual content that's shared verbally or transmitted widely, often via social media.


Did you catch the new meme everyone is sharing of the President’s dog having a case of the Mondays? 


The inclusion of someone's username in a social media post, to notify that user of the post and/or connect readers to the user's profile. However, do not start a sentence with an @ mention. Sentences should not be started with symbols. 


I refer to the @APStylebook as I edit stories.


A service in which users collect and share images in theme-based collections, also known as pinboards, or simply boards. Images that are shared on Pinterest — or pinned — are sometimes referred to as pins. Pinterest allows people to search for and pin images as inspiration for fashion, interior design, travel and more. Headquarters is in San Francisco.


My wedding planner asked me to create a Pinterest board so she can see my ideas for event designs and colors. 


A service that lets users capture and share photos or video clips, often with text, drawings or other adornments. Popular among younger people, it is best known for messages that automatically disappear a few seconds after viewing. Use lowercase snap for a Snapchat posting. The company name is Snap Inc. Headquarters is in Santa Monica, California.


Your snap about “Schitt’s Creek” received more than 10,000 views on Snapchat. 


Video service popular with teens and young adults. Many of the short videos are set to music and are distinguished by their lighthearted, goofy style. Parent company is Chinese tech giant ByteDance, which also has a version of the app for Chinese users, called Douyin.


The Washington Post now has a TikTok guy who explains the news in short, funny bits on the platform. 


A social network on which users share text, photos, video and links with their followers, in short messages, or tweets. Twitter is acceptable on first reference. The verb is to tweet, tweeted

Twitter is used by many influential people, including journalists, policymakers and celebrities. It is not necessarily reflective of the general population. Twitter can be a tool for gauging people’s moods and interests, but it should not be a substitute for traditional interviews and reporting outside of Twitter. Also beware of judging an account’s influence based solely on the number of followers. Some companies offer services to boost that number through the use of automatically generated accounts and other techniques.


The New York Times is a great follow on Twitter because it consistently tweets breaking news. 

User-generated content or UGC

User-generated content, or UGC, is the term commonly used in the communication industry for content with editorial value produced by anyone who isn't working for the company publishing it. 

User-generated content may be found via social networks or given to a brand or organization representative.

When publishing UGC, make every effort to give credit to the person who created the content. Use the person's name if he or she is happy for you to do so, or a username (from a social network or platform) if it is applicable or the preference of the individual.


A wireless communications technology often used to connect to home and business networks, which in turn connects to the internet. Wi-Fi has a shorter range than cellular technology but is convenient for sharing one internet connection among multiple devices. A Wi-Fi connection is sometimes called a hot spot.


Do you know the Wi-Fi password for this cafe? 


Video-sharing service owned by Google, which bought it in 2006. YouTube has helped promote videos ranging from educational to whimsical and made celebrities of ordinary people.


My husband learned a lot about home improvement by searching for, and watching, YouTube videos.

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal