Coordination and Decentralization of Social Media at the Emory University Alumni Association

We welcome this cross-posting from Michael Stoner’s blog.

The goal at the Emory University Alumni Association (EAA) is to make all staff proficient enough to participate in social media. “We think it should be part of everyone’s job, just like the telephone or email,” said Stacey Gall, assistant director of technology and information management. She’s responsible for developing social media strategy for the EAA, which is part of the department of development and alumni relations at Emory.

Her colleague, Eric Rangus, remarked, “We want to get to a place where all of the alumni association is comfortable communicating through social media and using it to encourage alumni to get involved with us.” Rangus, the EAA’s director of communications, works with Gall and Cassie Young, coordinator of alumni programs and student development, to manage social media strategies, model best practices, manage key channels, and help their colleagues understand how to use social media effectively to do their jobs, market and promote EAA programs, and engage alumni.

It helps that the EAA has done its research and knows what its audience wants. Young, who also manages the social media strategies for homecoming weekend and commencement, said, “We don’t have to worry about covering all EU’s academic information. So we can be more selective in our content. We know our audience and what they like.”

It also helps that this team has set up some guiding principles for their social media presence:

  • Identify and address issues.
  • Listen to people, respond, and improve engagement over time. Learn their interests.
  • Customize your message accordingly.
  • A sustained presence in social channels develops credibility and trust.
  • An integrated online presence is key to successful delivery of messages.
  • Diversify. Any online network could disappear tomorrow.

How the channels work

Rangus manages EAAvesdropping, the alumni association’s blog, which is updated daily with posts about the EAA staff, alumni, and other Emory-related subjects, as well as posts about events. Content from the blog is automatically fed to Facebook, LinkedIn, and a few other social sites, and is cross-promoted on Twitter. They encourage blog posts from EAA staff and alumni and run photos of the day. “Alumni love photos!”

EAA has three Twitter feeds. Young manages two of them (@EmoryAlumni and @EmoryTravel); a third is alumni-run (@EmoryAlumNash). These feeds are primarily used to promote new blog content or events, or as a way of cross-promoting other EAA activities or events on campus. “For example, we might communicate about a VIP visiting Emory or if the science department has an interesting article they just published,” Rangus said.

Emory has nine LinkedIn groups. EAA’s, which is open to Emory alumni only, has 3,448 members.

EAA’s main Facebook page launched in 2009. Gall, Rangus and Young schedule posts and promotional tweets, as well as blog posts. But EAA has a lot more going on on Facebook: three fan pages (for the EAA itself, the Emory Travel Program, and Emory Cares International) and 70 Facebook groups, (mainly based on events or city-specific networking). For these, other EAA staff members are empowered to post and engage with fans, as are key volunteers. In fact, Gall reports, “All of the 26 full-time staff members contribute to the EAA’s social media strategy.”

The EAA is particularly invested in using social media to promote their events. They sketch out the calendar of events and locations and then work to develop a message and communications strategy around key events. Young said, “First we select events and then determine how to communicate and what to communicate about the event. Then we gather content from our staff. We want to involve everyone we can, so those who like to write can write blog posts. We reach out to students, too. One of our lead bloggers is a student intern.”

Emory content strategy

Managing all the editorial content at an institution like Emory is challenging, he says. Not only because of the volume, which is large and requires a great deal of thought to manage, but because the less formal nature of social media content and discourse runs counter to the kind of content that many colleagues are used to producing for other university channels, even online channels.

Rangus said, “We learned early on that the key is to be human; to be conversational and approachable. This kind of attitude and tone is something we try to put into all of our communications. We want to talk to alumni the way we talk to our friends.”

They’re constantly looking for a type of content that Young called “offbeat stuff” like student videos or elements that one wouldn’t expect from a university news feed. And EAA attempts to break news to alumni so they feel as if they’re getting the inside scoop: “It makes alumni feel like they’re back on campus,” Young observed.

Memorial pages are also very popular. “This is because these sites are the only place where alumni can leave thoughts and messages about departed friends,” Rangus observed.

In order to establish a share responsibility for social media, Gall and her colleagues do many presentations and talk to staff about the nuts and bolts of social media. “We find that the more people understand how to use each social tool, the better they’re able to generate content and help to plan for the different event campaigns,” she said.

Looking ahead, the team is exploring development of a mobile app for alumni and is looking at multiple new social media channels, including Scvngr, an app that bills itself as “a game about doing challenges at places.” Gall sees possibilities for using this app to provide a challenge for alumni visiting campus or doing something with it to enliven homecoming.

As Cassie Young pointed out, “The key for us is to diversify our social media efforts—not to put all our eggs in one basket, but to be aware of the networks that our alumni are using. If it’s the next best thing, we want to be there already.”

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