Cite Right in 2011: How to credit your social media sources

Citation: the word itself sounds evil. In college, I always completed the reference section of my papers at the eleventh hour. Undoubtedly, I would be coming down from the caffeinated high of an all-night type fest. My mind would be swirling with citation minutia. 

Does the comma go here or there or not at all? Do I need to write the author’s full name? Is that a hanging indent? Why does this matter?!

Clearly, there are better ways to go about the citation process, but is it necessary to cite your social media sources in the first place?

Yes Virginia, you should cite your social media sources

Bloggers, researchers, and students should commit to citing their sources, but it is good practice for everyone that shares information to give credit where it is due. Citing your sources through in-text URLs or reference lists can benefit you, your readers, and the original author. Citation of your sources accomplishes three objectives:

  • Allows you to avoid accusations of copyright infringement
  • Gives your followers and friends a means to discover information
  • Grows your network through others that identify with your sources

Best practices for social media citation

I have not seen any definitive guidelines emerge from the documentation organizations, such as the American Psychological Association (APA) or the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA). However, the APA Style Blog offers a great Q&A page on such issues. Chelsea Lee’s (2009) two-part posts “How to Cite Twitter and Facebook” provides tips for citing Twitter profiles, unique tweets, and Facebook status updates.

According to Lee, you can simply include a URL in text in parenthesis if you are writing about a Twitter user or Facebook page as a whole. For example, I can write, “The Social Media Club’s Twitter page has 82,977 followers as of January 13, 2011, 10:44 CST.” As with an APA website citation, the Twitter account is general information about a topic, so you can include the in-text URL and not worry about including it on your reference list.

What happens when you want to cite a specific tweet or Facebook status update? Both of these items are subject to changing with their dynamic platforms. You can create a social media citation that resembles one that you might create for an online resource. Take a look at the screenshot below of the Social Media Club’s tweet.

How would you cite this particular tweet? You cannot simply give the Twitter handle (@socialmediaclub) or the profile’s URL because neither of these methods will reflect the piece of information. Based on Lee’s suggestions, here’s an example of how I would cite the tweet in a reference list:

socialmediaclub. (2011, January 13). Check out #smcedteam member Katy Bailey’s
(@katy_bailey) post The Rise in Social Gaming [Twitter post]. Retrieved from

Do you think that we should cite our social media sources in this way? Have you found helpful tools or guidelines? If so, I encourage you to comment below or on Twitter (@socialmediaclub, #smcedteam).


[Image credit:,]