How to cite social media in academic writing


Referencing and citation is an important part of any writing. This post looks at some recommendations and consideration when citing social media. Citations have several important purposes:

  • to uphold intellectual honesty (or avoiding plagiarism),
  • to attribute prior or unoriginal work and ideas to the correct sources, to allow the reader to determine independently whether the referenced material supports the author’s argument in the claimed way,
  • and to help the reader gauge the strength and validity of the material the author has used. (Wikipedia)

At Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) the Guide to Referencing offers detailed guidance for producing citations and references according to the Harvard method in the Harvard-SHU style recommended by the library. You may be asked to use another method, or a variation of the Harvard style. If this is the case, you may wish to refer to guidance that matches this style. However the recommendations below provide useful pointers to consider when citing social media and personal communications.

Citing social networks and blogs

If the site or discussion list is closed (restricted to friends or members only), it is good practice to request permission from the author before referring to a post in your work. Due to the dynamic nature of social networks, it may be appropriate to include a screenshot of the information you have used in an appendix to your work. However, permission may be required from the service provider and permission should be obtained from the authors and anyone personally identified in the screenshot.

Wiki article or page

  • The information required: Title of article or page, year article last modified, [online], day and month last modified, URL
  • Example of reference: Apprenticeships and advanced apprenticeships. (2013).
    [online]. Last modified 11 November.
  • Example of how to cite the reference in text: Apprenticeships and
    advanced apprenticeships (2013) is a useful …

Discussion list/discussion forum post

Blog post

For a social network post or page use the title of the social network page as the first part of your reference and in the citation. If the site is restricted to friends or members only, it is good practice to request permission before referring to a post in your work.


  • The information required: Title, year, [online], name of network, day, month and time of post (if appropriate), URL
  • Example of reference: Tesco. (2014). [online]. Facebook post 13 July 11:30pm.
  • Example of how to cite the reference in text: Tesco (2014) provides an
    example of…


  • The information required: Title, year, [online], name of network, day, month and time of post (if appropriate), URL
  • Example of reference: Richard Branson (2016) LinkedIn profile.
  • Example of how to cite the reference in text: The LinkedIn profile for Richard Branson (2016) says…


  • The information required: Title, username, year, [online], day, month and time tweet posted, URL
  • Example of reference: Nick Robinson @bbcnickrobinson (2012). [online]. Tweet
    posted 13 June 12.03pm.
  • Example of how to cite the reference in text: Nick Robinson (2012) reports that…

There is no consensus in the wider academic community on the best way of referencing tweets. However, the following format is suggested:

  • When viewing a tweet, use the expand link […] to find the URL link (web address) for a specific tweet.
  • For a retweet (RT) use and reference the original tweet where possible. If you need to refer to the fact that the original tweet has been retweeted then you may want to mention this in the main body of your text, but only reference the original tweet in the bibliography or reference list.
  • If the retweet includes an additional comment or is actually a modified tweet (MT), where it has been altered or paraphrased, treat it as an original tweet.


  • The information required: Creator/author, year, title, [online], any other credits, URL
  • Example of reference: Barack Obama: yes we can. (2008). [online].
  • Example of how to cite the reference in text: “together we will begin the
    next great chapter in the American story” (Barack Obama: yes we can 2008)

Personal Communication

Any information received in person from an individual (and otherwise unpublished) should be acknowledged as such, by including pers. comm. or personal communication in your citation and reference. You must also obtain the individual’s permission before citing them. Personal communications are often unrecorded, which makes the information very difficult to verify. Therefore, it is not usually appropriate to include a reference to personal communication in your bibliography. Unless your work is mainly based on such communication, a citation in the text is normally sufficient. It may help to include transcripts of personal communications in your appendices if you have permission from the individual to do so.


  • The information required: Author, year, role, position or status of the author, title or subject, type of communication, identify of recipient, day and month, “personal communication”
  • Example of reference: DAVIS, Rebecca (2006). Media Relations Officer,
    Hampshire Constabulary. Crime Figures. Email to the author, 15 March. Personal communication.
  • Example of how to cite the reference in text: Hampshire police were unable to confirm the figures (Davis 2006. pers. comm.)

SMS text message

  • The information required: Author of SMS, year position, role or status of the author, type of communication, identity of recipient, day and month, “personal communication”
  • Example of reference: JONES, Michael (2003). Secretary, Sheffield Metal
    Detecting Club. Text message to the author, 4 August. Personal communication.
  • Example of how to cite the reference in text: The treasure trove was
    discovered at 6am on 4 August 2003 (Jones 2003. pers. comm.)


The full SHU Guide to Referencing can be found here.

About Sue Beckingham

A National Teaching Fellow, Educational Developer and Principal Lecturer in Computing with a research interest in the use of social media in higher education.
This entry was posted in Social Media and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How to cite social media in academic writing

  1. telescoper says:

    Reblogged this on In the Dark and commented:
    I have often wondered how to do this properly. Now I know!

    I am told my blog has been cited in the literature a few times but I have been unable to find any evidence for this as I don’t think there’s any mechanism for tracking citations to blogs. Or is there?

  2. Now a days when everybody use social media and i think its become an important part to communicate and convey your message to others i recommend this because this kind of wide platforms give you all which you want to say.

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