With more and more universities hiring a full-time social media expert, we think it is time to put the spotlight on these faces and give you a glimpse into their daily work. During the course of the next months, we will interview various social media officers in Switzerland in a new series of blog posts. Today we meet Katja Wenk, Web and Social Media Officer at the University of St. Gallen.
Still impressed with the professional launch of HSG’s official social media channels at the beginning of this year, I make my way up the hill to campus to meet one of the main players in that launch: Web and Social Media Officer Katja Wenk, who started in this newly-created position at the end of last year.
It has been a few years since I last set foot on the campus when I was still a student waiting to get my master’s degree in communications. Social media was definitively not the main topic of our studies back then. We touched on the subject and our professor pointed out that this would be the next big thing in communications, but that was five years ago and social media was basically nowhere. At least in Switzerland. I hadn’t heard of Twitter and official company or university Facebook pages were extremely rare to non-existant. Needless to say, at that time, my alma mater had no intentions to join Facebook or start tweeting. Today, 27 percent of Swiss universities and universities of applied sciences have a social media manager and 42 percent intend to hire one in 2012.
So here I am, approaching the campus and getting ready to meet HSG’s first full time social media officer. I am eager to ask questions about her daily routine, barriers she is facing, or which Facebook posts get the most comments.
My knock on her office door is answered by her co-worker Markus Zinsmaier, whom I met last fall during the first social media study tour. Katja is sitting behind her desk, concentrating on her screen and my first guess would be that she probably has Hootsuite open to quickly monitor or send tweets before we sit down for coffee and a chat. A few minutes later, Katja and I make our way towards one of the coffee spots in Building A, surrounded by students who grab a quick coffee before their next class begins at 10:15am.
Increasing awareness and knowledge
“I usually start with screening all social media channels to see what has been going on,” says Katja when asked about what she does first thing in the morning. But she quickly points out that her usual position is not in front of her computer screen, ready to tweet or answer comments on Facebook.” I have a lot of meetings to explain to my colleagues what my job entails and how we intend to develop the social media strategy.” Her calendar is filling up quickly with these meetings. Most of them are initiated by her colleagues from other departments, ranging from university professors to administration officers, which is clearly an indicator of the interest in social media on the campus and the high demand for more information about the tools.
Besides making others on campus aware of the new communication tools, she also spends a fair amount of time helping them get familiar with Twitter, for example. Many are eager to start using the channel and willing to learn, but some are afraid. For that purpose, the communications team also provides a handbook for everyone working at the university about how to use social media and how to set up a presence at the university.
Integration of existing presence by departments
HSG launched their official social media presence with a Facebook page, Twitter account, and YouTube channel that give information about the university in general, but they also introduced four hubs: HSG START, HSG CAMPUS, HSG PROFESSIONAL, and HSG RESEARCH. These hubs focus on different topics, target a specific audience, and are very much organized like a portal, retweeting and reposting content created by other official pages, such as the library or a faculty. The Facebook page of HSG CAMPUS, for example, frequently shares status updates by the official Facebook page of the university’s library.
The goal in the coming months is to integrate all official university social media channels for a cohesive experience. The HSG campus store’s Facebook page, for example, which has existed since 2010, was integrated into the HSG CAMPUS hub. It now appears in the same orange color scheme and style settings as the hub it belongs to, but it is still administrated separately.
Each hub is managed by a different individual or group of people, while Katja manages the official presence by the university and oversees the integration. She is mindful of each department’s independence, and emphasizes the fact that the integration is voluntary and that she is certainly not giving instructions to these departments. “I am more of a contact point or help desk if questions come up. But branding is obviously important and we support departments with guidelines,” she adds.
Facebook community taken by storm
Of course empowering colleagues throughout the university is a high priority for Katja Wenk, but just as important is building up a strong community around the institution on social media: “You have to get to a point where the social media community knows the university and its channels.” And the university has definitely gotten there quickly. The growth of the community around HSG since the launch of the official presence in December 2011 is almost unbelievable. In only six months, the official Facebook page has climbed to nearly 7,500 likes. Compared to some universities in the US, this number is not earth-shattering, but compared to the social media landscape in Switzerland, it is very impressive. The two Swiss institutions leading with regard to Facebook likes so far were EPFL, who launched their page in June 2010 (3,976 likes as of June 6, 2012) and EHL, who launched their presence in February 2011 (4,718 likes).
Secrets to success
When meeting the person responsible for such community growth, one has to ask for the secrets behind the success. “So what works best?” I ask Katja. She thinks for a second, but quickly names a few examples that have proven to create a lot of engagement. Just as Christina Sponselli, UC Berkeley’s director for social media pointed out a few weeks ago during our last study tour, “pretty pictures go a long way,” says Katja. Polls also get people motivated to interact, she adds. Another post that was liked by many community members was a news story about the “Best Teaching Award”, given out by the students to the most popular teacher at the university. They also ran a few Facebook campaigns to increase their reach and grow their community.
Growing the community with the right objectives in mind
But just increasing the number of Twitter followers or likes on Facebook is not Katja’s primary goal: “If that was my goal, it would be achieved rather quickly since you can acquire new followers and likes easily. It’s about building a meaningful community around the brand and we have yet to see if this new community is also our target audience.” This doesn’t mean that she is not measuring the impact of her efforts. She knows well what posts generate the most interactions and likes and uses tools such as Social Bro to analyze her Twitter community.
It’s 11am and the building is flooded with students again. Two actually interrupt our conversation to ask us if we would be willing to sign a petition. We decline and I realize it’s time to let Katja go back to her desk to tend to her community, internally and externally. I quickly take a picture of her in front of one the signs outside the building, with the tents from the recent St. Gallen Symposium in the background. The university campus has not changed much since I last visited, but the face of the university online has definitely changed from a collection of websites to a whole array of platforms on the social web.
The University of St. Gallen on Social Media
Follow Katja on Twitter.