An Interview with Sara Adamson, University of Sussex

Members of the CASE social media task force are interviewing colleagues at institutions they thought were using social media effectively. Below, Marina Pedreira-Vilarino, deputy development director at the University of Sussex, interviews colleague Sara Adamson, corporate editor with the university’s publications and branding team.

MP-V: What social media initiatives is the University of Sussex currently engaged in?

SA: We have a presence on Facebook, including a general Sussex fan page, an alumni fan page and a library page. We also have a YouTube channel and a number of Twitter feeds, including a general Sussex feed, a feed for staff
and a feed for students.

We are currently developing a Flikr stream, and will be adding digg and reddit buttons to our website soon. We also have our own internal social networking site, SPLASH.

The Development and Alumni Office (DARO) also has a group on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Within
Facebook, DARO has a fan page for the American Friends and also links to other other university pages and Sussex alumni geographical subgroups created by and large by alumni themselves.

MP-V: Which initiatives do you think are the most effective or successful, and why?

SA: Our Facebook pages are currently very popular, with a lot of alumni, prospective and current students interacting with the pages to ask questions, contact each other and start discussions. I think they’ve been successful because we keep them updated with interesting content and interact with our ‘fans.’

MP-V: What have you tried that you think hasn’t worked, and why?

SA: We do have a profile on other social networking sites (e.g. Bebo, Orkut) but it’s impossible to keep on top of all of these, especially since they can fall out of fashion so quickly. Using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is the most time-effective way we can use social media, as they are all such popular sites. The development and alumni relations office had a presence in Xin but it wasn’t as popular and we needed to focus resources on the sites that appealed the most to our audience.

MP-V: Looking forward, what social media initiatives are you considering or exploring?

SA: We’ve have recently formed a social media networking group from across the university so we can have a joined-up approach to our communication in this area. The group is made up of colleagues from the library, web team, other departments (e.g. student recruitment) and is fairly informal. We just get together and share knowledge, thinking about ways we can work together, and sometimes invite external guests in to share their ideas about what we could be doing in social media.

MP-V: Do you have social media policies or guidelines or common practices?

If there are any negative comments posted, for example, on our Facebook wall, we don’t delete or censor as this often causes many more problems than it solves. We try to reply to (and rub) the negative comment if we can, or in a pinch we add more content on top so it moves down the wall!

The Sussex Alumni Facebook group does not censor content either so that it is seen as a place for alumni to post anything they want openly. We respond to comments to show we listen and to create a genuine and meaningful dialogue with our alumni.

MP-V: How are your social media initiatives organized and resourced?

SA: There is no specific budget at the moment. It’s pretty ad hoc with different areas of the university managing their own social media presence. When revising the job description for the alumni officer post, the development and alumni office has made this area of work the responsibility of this post-holder. The director of communications has the ultimate responsibility for social media.

MP-V: What do you wish you knew when you were first exploring social media initiatives that you know now?

Not to be afraid! Embrace it — it’s not going to go away. Also, that it’s worth starting small rather than trying to have a presence in too many social media sites and not being able to maintain it and keep content fresh.

MP-V: What are the most important pieces of advice you would give to someone planning to launch any type of social media initiative today?

Have a think about who you’re trying to communicate with and what social media will be best to reach them so that you stay relevant and targeted. Tone of voice is also important – you can be more playful in social media than you would in other media. Don’t forget it’s interactive, so it’s a useful tool for listening to your audience as well and communicating to them.

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