An Informal Look at Social Media Practices

To frame their thinking about best practices in social media use, members of the CASE social media task force reached out to 22 institutions that they thought were using social media effectively to ask practitioners what they were doing, what was working, what they had tried that didn’t work, and what advice they had for colleagues who were just dipping their toes into social media waters.

This blog will feature many of these interviews in the coming weeks, but we thought it would be appropriate to provide an early look at what we learned overall.

The 22 institutions in this informal survey represented diverse types of institutions: independent schools, community colleges, small liberal arts institutions and large research institutions both in the United States and the United Kingdom. Here’s a broad look at what the task force found.

Current social media initiatives: Everyone’s on Facebook, most with a general fan page and some with alumni-focused pages. A number are using LinkedIn, with fewer on iTunes U and YouTube.  Some institutions are using Twitter casually, while other have staff members who are responsible for Twitter activity. Some institutions are hosting their own online communities. While there were mentions of mobile applications and streaming video, there was very little mention of mySpace, Wikipedia or other networks.

What’s working: The practitioners reported a good amount of measurement in terms of numbers of fans or members. Some are finding LinkedIn to be effective in tracking lost alumni and promoting events to special interest groups. Intentional efforts to engage users, such as encouraging students to post photos or videos, are highly successful.

What isn’t working: Some institutions are fumbling with LinkedIn, while others are having trouble with stagnant blogs and developing their YouTube and Flickr sites. Several have dropped MySpace. What’s the biggest challenge? Many respondents said a lack of time and resources prevent them from fully developing their social media networks.

What’s next: When asked to look ahead, many respondents say they’ll be focusing on better deployment of existing social media tools and on mobile applications. Several mentioned the need to hire a staff member to coordinate the institution’s social media presence.

Policies: The responses to a question about whether the institution has policies or guidelines for the use of social media were all over the map. Some have them, some don’t, some are developing them, and some say they don’t need them.

Planning: While a few respondents have integrated social media into their communications plans, most haven’t. Some indicated that they have a social media plan that has been added to but not necessarily integrated with their strategic communications plans.

Organization and resources: In most cases, social media responsibilities have been added to the institutional communications toolbox without staffing or budget. Where does the buck stop on social media decisions? Typically, it’s with a director of communications, although in some cases it’s with someone in the alumni relations or admissions offices or on the website staff.

Advice: When asked what advice they would give to someone planning to launch social media initiatives, respondents said that it takes time and staff to keep up with it. Some suggested diving in because you can’t break it, while other suggested being thoughtful about aligning target audiences with tools.

In addition to posting some of the individual interviews, CASE Social Media will explore some of the issues the interviews raised, such as staffing and policies. We’ll also look at the results of a formal survey of more than 900 CASE members conducted by mStoner and Slover-Linett strategies in collaboration with CASE. Find a sneak peek on Michael Stoner’s blog.

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