“Who thought that after five years, social media is still as important”. This is how Keith Hannon, Associate Director for Social Media at Cornell University opened this year’s CASE conference on Social Media and Community. The first CASE SMC conference was held in 2010 in Philadelphia. Five years later, the conference attracts university communicators and marketers from all over the United States, and as far as Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and of course, Switzerland!
Here are our key takeaways from CASE SMC 14:
You Are All Change Managers
If you are managing social media accounts for your university, you are most likely involved in change management. Considering that 500 terabytes of data is uploaded to Facebook on a daily basis, and 175 million tweets are sent every day, the world has changed tremendously in the last years. We are in the midst of a social disruption that your students have already embraced, but some of your colleagues may not.
Advocating for a social presence at your institution has been uncomfortable at times. But as Andrew Gossen mentioned in his opening speech: “I rather be uncomfortable than irrelevant.”
You Are All Politicians. At Least a Little Bit.
Gene Begin and Vanessa Theoharis from Babson College talked about integration and busting silos. The goal should be to have clear communication of your brand message to all your audiences via all channels. Chances are that your institution consists of many departments that all have different objectives, which can be an obstacle for consistent messaging.
Begin and Theoharis argue that to move that obstacle out of the way, you need to feel the pulse of your community and find out what their goals and objectives are. In order to do that, you need to be more like a politician. Mingle with your colleagues across campus, build relationships with those on campus as well as stakeholders outside (e.g. parents), and hear them out. But in the end, you have to deliver. Don’t just give out empty promises, or you’ll lose their trust.
Another good way to build relationships across campus is to share success stories and positive feedback you receive through social media.
Become A Problem Solver
If you are in the lucky position to have a lot of social media advocates at your university, you are probably often asked to set up a Facebook page, create a video, or a new website. But as Georgy Cohen ingeniously wrote in one of her recent blog posts, the person with the request is leading with the solution, and not articulating the problem.
What sounds easier said than done, should actually be at the core of your work: Find out what the real problem is that the requester is trying to solve, even if it involves more work than to just follow the initial request.
Identify their goals, define the strategy, and then decide on the tactics used to reach the goals.
Embrace New Voices
Prior to social media, the institution was the only voice to tell its story. This is no longer the case with student blogs and other outlets. But we have to accept that other voices are telling our story and sometimes it is a good thing if there is no institutional voice. Don’t you agree that an institutional voice is even more credible when it is not claiming to be the only voice?
Hire Students, But Do It Right
Hiring students to tell your stories can be a great way to complement your institutional voice. This doesn’t mean that you should leave your social media accounts entirely up to students. You are still the one to oversee them and make strategic decisions.
If you do hire one, consider the following tips:
- check their “digital footprint”
- Set expectations for the student and for your team
- Provide them with proper training
- Decide what level of access you give them (e.g. are they able to tweet without your permission?)
The pros are obvious: They can be relatively low cost, they know the institution well, and they are well versed with new media. But don’t forget the cons. You have to be aware that students may have other priorities, such as upcoming exams, and there are always permission and privacy concerns.
Last but not least, we saw many great examples of how universities use social media to tell their stories:
- The University of California system is using Tumblr to talk about their research
- Do you know Humans of New York? Focus on the people and make it about them. Take a look at Oberlin College and the stories about the people on their campus.
- Take a leap and hand over one of your Twitter accounts to a student. Visit this Twitter account by the University of Michigan to see how one university is handling this. They change the password before handing it over to a new student.
Lastly, consider checking out Sprout Social. There was a lot of talk about this social media management tool, which is similar to Hootsuite.
Wait, there is more! Matthias Geering from the University of Basel created this video with takeaways from attendees and panelists:
Lead picture: courtesy of Matthias Geering, University of Basel