Reining in the outliers for a university-wide cohesive social media presence

image of social media iconsEarlier this week we talked about a cohesive university-wide Web presence. Today we’re going to take that same theory, but explore it in the social media space.

The ease of access of social media tools, including blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc. have enabled people with little to no Web development or marketing experience to create an online presence for your institution. Most do this with the best intentions in mind, but many don’t have the skills or knowledge needed to make them truly useful and successful.

I believe the central Web and/or marketing units of a university should also be the campus experts to create and maintain a strong and effective social media presence. They should coordinate campus-wide efforts and serve as consultants to individual departments to help them with their efforts.

In recent months I’ve led social media workshops for our athletics department, which included just about every coach and administrator, and for faculty and professional staff who attended a full day of technology-related workshops.

The goals of these workshops were to:

  1. educate them about the tools available
  2. show them examples and best practices of these tools in use related to their specific interests
  3. have brainstorming sessions to determine which tools would help them better connect with their constituencies 
  4. develop 1-3 short term goals and implementation schedules

Secretly (or not so, since I’m saying it here in such a public forum), I also lead these workshops to establish my office as the a resourceful unit that others will come to for assistance in learning more about social media, and to help in determining how and if they can best leverage it. Others on campus have heard about these workshops, and I am now in the process of scheduling them with other units.

Whether you reach out to the first unit that you think could utilize social media, or whether they approach you – the ultimate goal is to not have competing efforts on various social networking sites. In addition, not every department/program/unit needs to be using social media. Take a step back, listen to what their goals are, and help them find the right mix of tools that will implement them. This may or may not include social media.

For most small- to mid-size universities, I think a tool like Facebook can be seen structurally as the university Web site. There is one main home page, otherwise known as a Fan Page on Facebook, for the university. That hub should provide easy access in a box on the Page with links to other university outposts on Facebook. Most of these are best done as groups, but there is becoming more and more value for other units establishing Pages, such as being able to view Insights (statistics) and target messages (updates).

Be a partner. Assist other units in setting up their outposts. Encourage them not to duplicate existing efforts. Help them think of ways to be unique. Social media is not a space to treat like Times Square or the bulletin boards scattering your campus. It’s not for the “hey look at my program,” or “hey, look at this awesome event we have coming up.” It’s for building relationships around them. Alumni who have graduated from the program and feel a strong allegiance to it are likely to talk about their experiences, and look to network with others that have previously gone through the program to assist in future career opportunities. If the event is a reunion, they may be more likely to rally around it to catch up with classmates in advance of the actual event. A one-time concert may not have that kind of pull into social media.

Regardless of the tool used and the way it is implemented, it needs to be done in a cohesive way that doesn’t create multiple outlets for very similar purposes and further disjoints the community using these tools. We have a discussion related to this going on the cuweb.ning.com site, as well.

Is it a wild, wild west show when your prospective students search for your university on Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, etc.? Is it easy to tell which is the official university presence vs. individual units within the campus, or other user-generated content? Or, do you think having a central presence is not even necessary? Let’s talk.

5 comments

  1. I think the real beauty of your social media presence is the “non-official” content created by the user (fan or enemy). They are the destroyers of cohesion, and I salute them!

    My “official” University X presence on Flickr/YouTube is no more (or less) valuable than any other users University X tagged pics/vids. Of course, all of my “official” content must be positive, whereas the “non-official” stuff can actually be negative, or dare I say REAL (keg stands FTW!).

    AND, as Student Affairs Webmasster (not a typo), I think this line needs some edits:

    “I believe the central Web and/or marketing units of a university should also be the campus experts to create and maintain a strong and effective social media presence.”

    Here’s my attempt at a revision:

    “I believe the people who live and play in the social media world should also be the ones responsible for creating and maintaining a strong and effective social media presence.”

    Thanks for all of your posts this week! I’ve really enjoyed reading them and sharing my views.

  2. I think the social media aspect of the web can be a make or break deal. I know that after a few months of working at my current university I started efforts to “buy” up all the real estate in the social media areas so that we can develop a cohesive idea, integrate into the main site and then release it in a controlled and targeted way.

  3. @todd you are clearly an anarchist.

    @rachel Thank you again, for sharing your thoughts. You bring up wonderful points!

    There seem to be two themes in the post: control vs. empowerment. These are themes that come up a lot in tech and social media – it’s the institution vs. the mob. Clay Shirkey has been writing about this for years. As you mention, now anyone can do it, even if they are bad at it.

    Clay says:

    “Web logging is a classic example of mass amateurization.
    It has de-professionalized publishing.”

    Social media de-professionalizes marketing.

    (Check out the video here: http://dotsub.com/view/18cf2835-2b92-4516-927d-b4d324606bbf )

    The headline’s focus is on “reining in” – as in exercising some centralized authority over others.

    But the body of the post talks about how you are empowering the mob with more knowledge, while, at the same time, positioning your department as an expert partner. This is a great example for other schools.

    Multiple outlets will happen. The nature of “anyone can do it” is going to continue to break and diffuse centralized taxonomies. The anarchists like Todd will continue to flourish, completely immune to any reining : )

    Reining in, as tempting as it is, will mostly serve to damage your relationship with all your potential contributors.

    Educating, as you are doing, will definitely help increase the quality of your (now and forever distributed) marketing.

  4. Great post!

    I think having an official and unofficial presence is the best combination. The benefits of the official presence are obvious, but the unofficial presence means that other people are talking about you and there’s more honest, user-created content to turn to for prospective students.

  5. Working in the central Marketing Unit we’ve created accounts on the main social media networks and are now in the process of garnering relevant content and figuring out exactly how we can best leverage these mediums to fit into our existing marketing. I like the idea of educating colleagues and to an extent we’ll be starting that very shortly.

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