An Interview with James Cooper, Brock University

Brock University’s “Both Sides of the Brain” social media campaign won a bronze medal for best uses of social media in communications and marketing in the 2009 CASE Circle of Excellence awards program. James Cooper, Brock’s social media coordinator, discussed the Ontario institution’s award-winning connectivity with Nancy Seideman, associate vice president for university communications at Emory University.

NS: What social media initiatives is Brock engaged in?

JC: I’ve been at Brock 3 years and its social media coordinator since September 2009. In that time we’ve grown our Facebook page and Twitter account, created a YouTube channel, collected photos on Flickr, and developed a solid presence on LinkedIn. I oversee all of these central operation accounts for Brock, and I also offer support and advice to Brock community members engaged in social media activities outside of the central operation.

NS: Which initiatives do you think are the most effective?

JC:  We provide training, either in groups or one-on-one, to go through applications and platforms, showing their capabilities and what can be most effective in the central office operation.

We’ve also fostered a culture of mutual support among members of our web communities, especially on our Facebook pages. Our community members often answer each other’s questions and share information.

We have a Facebook photo contest that features our “Both Sides of the Brain” campaign. This is the second year we’ve run the contest. In 2009, it received over 800 submissions and 35,000 visits. We’re on track to surpass those numbers in this year’s contest.

NS: But what does that mean? What is the conversion factor?

JC: It’s difficult this early on to know what the conversion factor is for our social media program. We expect that it will take about five years of running an extensive program and gathering data before we’ll be able to truly evaluate its effectiveness and success. Social media is organic. It takes time. And because of that, it can be difficult at this stage to prove success to a leadership that’s looking for hard numbers, a hard return, quickly.

However, we do know that, in the past year, Facebook has become the number 3 source of referral traffic to the Brock University website. We feel that this emphasizes the need for having a strong and growing presence in the social network.

NS: What have you tried that you think hasn’t worked?

JC: We’ve found that Twitter is not widely used among high school students so it doesn’t play much of a role in our high school recruitment program. That said, it is a useful tool for community outreach and communicating to other audiences, such as current students and alumni.

NS: What are the next social media initiatives you are exploring?

JC: We’re experimenting with mobile social media using tools such as foursquare and Facebook Places. We will also be looking into the development of a mobile app in the coming year.

We’re also developing instructional resources on how to use Facebook and other social media tools, and educating the community on how Brock uses these tools and what its policy is in responding to comments and inquiries. Continued education and knowledge transfer will be vital to our strategy as we move forward. To help in this, we’re creating a social media dashboard that will allow for aggregation and sharing of all social media across campus.

[Editor’s Note: Brock now has a wonderful social media strategy form for faculty and students to help them determine their audience and goals.]

NS: Do you have social media policies in place, and if so, can you share them?

JC: Yes, that was my first project when I assumed this role. You can find them here.

NS: Are social media initiatives integrated into your strategic communications plan?

JC: Yes, they’re within the strategic communications and marketing plans. We have multiple strategic goals related to donor and alumni relations, student engagement, etc. Social media changes and develops so quickly, though, that it can be difficult to keep strategic plans up to date.

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

JC: I wish I had a better appreciation of how rapidly information spreads through social media, and had been better prepared for how much it takes to monitor social media in regards to an institutional brand. All information, good and bad, needs to be monitored: the exceptional to lift up and apply; the negative that potentially needs to be addressed.

NS: What social media resources would you recommend to your peers?

JC: Hootsuite is useful to manage groups of people and assign permissions and update accounts. TweetDeck is another useful aggregator. And I swear by Google Reader to help monitor what is said about the brand. RSS feeds are invaluable, in terms of cross-pollinating multiple accounts with essential information originating on the institutional website. I read Mashable.com and BlogHighEd.org on a daily basis to stay informed on what’s new in social media.

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