What does a vice chancellor or president need to know about social media?

We welcome this cross-posting from Tracy Playle of Pickle Jar Communications in the United Kingdom. It was originally posted on Tracy’s blog Oct. 12, 2010.

I’ve just this minute spotted a tweet from Danny Yoder of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in the U.S., urgently asking the Twitter community what a university president ought to know about social media. This is a question that I get asked a lot and to some extent advise on a fair bit in the strategy and training work I do on social media for universities. So, in the hope that I help Danny in time for his 2 hour deadline, and perhaps one or two others out there that are grappling with this question, here’s my top five, very much off the top of my head, thoughts on this…

  1. Vice chancellors and presidents need to know that social media is here to stay and not just a passing ‘fad.’ It’s very easy for them to get caught up in the notion that only small percentages of people might have a twitter or a social bookmarking account, and that Facebook may well die a death in two years time as something like Friends Reunited has (perhaps even MySpace). It is not, however, the sites themselves that are important in this trend, but the overall changes that this makes to the way in which we communicate and collectively work together to prompt change (see Clay Shirkey’s work in this area). Social media is here to stay. Social media revolution video is always a good starting point for making this point and drumming home the sheer scale of this (even if VCs/presidents don’t use social media themselves).
  2. Social media does not just provide another channel through which we, as universities, can ‘push’ out our usual corporate messages. Many marketing and PR people, and their managers/leaders, have jumped on the social media bandwagon as a means of ‘free advertising.’ Those who do this will only serve to upset individuals. Social media is about engagement and conversation, not about push messaging. See my blog post about the need to be useful, interesting and relevant to your audiences.
  3. Social media ‘buzz’ should reach the top table.Comments about your brand on social media sites are typically authentic and from the heart, often spontaneous, and here to stay.Listening to this is a great way to learn about flaws and improvements that could be made to your organisation (customer service, culture, products – i.e. courses, etc.) that you might not otherwise get through traditional means such as feedback surveys. Monitoring social media should therefore be a number one priority, and recurring comments should be fed back up to senior managers. Online comments are not so easy to brush under the table.
  4. Even those who don’t actively engage in social media sites (think ‘inactives’ in the Forrester Social Technographics Profile), can still be influenced by what is posted there. Think Wikipedia. If you do a search for Eastern Mennonite University (Danny – this one’s for your sake, but very much true of other universities, too) on google.co.uk, then the Wikipedia page for your university comes up at number three on the search results. Numbers one and two are from your own website. This pattern is true of most universities. This means that anyone, anytime, anywhere can update that page and say things about your brand and anyone using the internet to search for information on you will be easily directed to that page.
  5. Social media requires a strategic approach, time and resources to make it work properly. It is a common mistake to think that if we set up a Facebook page then they will come. Everything you do in social media takes time, and this cannot be done easily as a bolt-on to already-busy university administrator time. It requires a content strategy, ongoing commitment and the right voices to front it (better to be individuals rather than a faceless corporate ‘brand’ posting comments/updates). Furthermore, the last person that people really want to hear from in social media spaces is the marketing or PR representative of an organisation. If you’re thinking about student recruitment, then prospective students want to talk to current or past students. If you’re talking about journalists, to give another example, then they want to talk to the academic responsible for the research, or the leader of an organisation, not the press officer. The marketing and communications folks can develop the strategic thinking around how to use social media (and the e-learning team too, of course), but the whole organisation – as a body of individuals – needs to be engaged to make it really work well.

There’s so much more I could add here, but wanted to keep it short and sweet in the aim of helping Danny out for his meeting in less than two hours time!


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