A few months ago, I learned that Freeman Hrabowski, president of UMBC, would give a talk at TED2013 as part of a remarkable roster of speakers, including singer Bono and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. The theme was “The Spark.” We wouldn’t be able to access live video, which limited our options for turning it into a community event, but it was still an extraordinary opportunity to share UMBC’s vision for higher ed.
I moved forward with a classic social media plan: engaging our community online with targeted questions, sharing videos and reflections on past speeches, promoting #UMBCspark and preparing to retweet comments by #TED2013’s live viewers in California. Then, at 5p.m. EST, three hours before the event, TED announced that Dr. Hrabowski’s talk would be available for free via live webcast. Fabulous! Right?
Having recently taken a leading role in UMBC’s social media activities, I was (and still am) in the early stages of forming a support network for social media managers on campus. I had close relationships with a handful of major admins and a shiny, new spreadsheet with the contact information of a few dozen more. What I didn’t have was a close-knit group of social media managers from all corners of campus who could help me share this news—this incredible and incredibly time-sensitive news.
Like many universities, UMBC started down the path of “let’s-buckle-down-and-figure-out-this-social-media-business” by taking stock of our existing and vibrant, but disorganized, social media efforts. In 2011, we developed a baseline assessment, outlined our main challenges and proposed solutions. There were a few obvious first steps. We refocused our efforts on our primary Twitter and Facebook accounts, shifting resources over from less visible accounts. We convened a working group to draft tips for faculty and staff getting started on social media and a set of best practices.
We started tracking analytics for our major accounts, subscribed to an affordable social media management system and implemented a basic team workflow to post the well-balanced content we were seeking. But something was still missing.
It will probably not come as a shock that the major component our social media reboot lacked was, in fact, actually being social. To develop an effective, long-term social media strategy, to stay current on best practices and to sustain our enthusiasm, we needed to cultivate relationships with social media managers at other institutions and within our own.
We started developing external connections in January 2012 with UMBC’s Social Media Strategy Summit, inspired by Frostburg State University’s 2011 Social Media ReBoot Camp (thanks, @beccaramspott). The unconference drew 51 participants from 30 colleges and universities, and our conversation continues through the Mid-Atlantic Higher Ed Social Media Network.
The next step is our current challenge. How do you create a sense of teamwork among social media managers across campus—from academic departments to club sports to sororities? How do you make social media a more actively social endeavor on the administrator side in order to make engagement successfully on the user side? How do you create a nimble institutional structure?
I’m now working to build the UMBC Social (Media) Network on myUMBC, our internal social platform, but I realize that creating a new online “community” and cultivating a lasting community of friends and colleagues are different things. To grow our group, I look to people like Mark Lee (@therealmarklee), associate director of web communications and new media at Colorado College, for inspiration. He’s developed peer meet-ups and training opportunities for his college’s social media managers and is open to sharing both successes and ongoing challenges. But, instructive examples like his can be tough to find.
In social media shop talk, there’s often too much focus on one-shot, flashy campaigns and too little on the mundane labor of building organizational structures that can produce an effective social media presence. During my next few posts I hope to keep this thread going and I’d love to hear what other institutions are doing. It’s messy work, but important work. So, how do you build relationships with other social media admins on campus? How do you generate and sustain that network and a culture of collaboration?