Susan Evans is the director of creative services for the senior strategic communication team at the College of William & Mary.
Most blogs about social media assume that readers are already convinced. So the posts typically focus on how to get started with Twitter or how to measure results on Facebook or how to integrate several social media channels. But what’s the source for senior administrators who appreciate the importance of communication but don’t use social media? Why should they care? What’s in it for them?
During my time working for an IT organization, we used to brainstorm communication challenges by starting with, “how can we explain the benefits of this technology to an alien who just landed on campus?” As communication professionals, we may be called on to talk to aliens. It might be useful to have a few benefits about social media to hold in your back pocket.
Effective communication is personal. People expect your message to relate to their lives, their circumstances, even their universe. Social media is less formal, less serious, and more like a conversation. The ability for a large institution to regularly make a personal connection with an individual is powerful stuff. Consider the parents who comment on one of the William & Mary blogs I manage. With a few keystrokes, I can respond to those parents, proving what we assert in our marketing copy about a small, caring campus community. Likewise, on the William & Mary Facebook page, I can talk directly to a newly admitted student. I fantasize that the 17-year-old who posted a question on our Facebook site was about to enroll at UVA but decided to come to William & Mary because we used social media to communicate in a personal way.
The timing of the message delivery makes a difference. Through social media channels we can have a right-now conversation about a campus event or tradition while it is happening. Yes, Homecoming photos can be posted later on a university website. But if alums are following at-the-moment parade photos posted on Flickr or tweets live from the game, the experience is more real, and perhaps, more meaningful.
Social media offers a convenient way to include more impact when telling your story. Using a photograph, a video clip, or a compelling snippet of text might spark the imagination of your target audience. Still the most popular photo on William & Mary’s Flickr site is “There’s nothing quite like old campus in the fall.” A student shared the photo with us and we spent just moments uploading it. This photo was viewed 2,600 times and inspired a host of comments and likes from nostalgic alumni across the country.
It’s a buzz.
Social media is now solidly within the standard suite of communication tools because there is a critical mass of participants. One hundred million people representing a wide range of ages use Facebook, YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google…the train has left the station. When you use social media, you talk to your target audiences, your target audiences talk to you, and more importantly, your audiences talk about you amongst themselves.