Encouraging Academic Faculty to Start Using Social Media

Tracy Playle is founder of Pickle Jar Communications and specialises in strategy and training for the use of social media in education.

When it comes to social media, we can’t depend on our marketing or communications teams to create all the content. Organizations are the collective culture of the body of individuals that work there. Nowhere is this truer than in a university or college where we’re home to experts in all kinds of wonderful disciplines! Given the busy schedules of teaching, research, admin, families and hobbies, how do you persuade academic faculty to add social media into the mix?

My key advice: focus on them as an individual and how it will benefit and add value to their lives, not necessarily the organization (though secretly you’ll know that your organization will benefit too). Here are a few more thoughts…

1. Understand their needs
When running workshops for universities, I sometimes find a narrow understanding of social media. This typically is limited to blogs (“can’t do that, takes too much time”), Facebook (“I don’t want to be friends with my students”), and Twitter (“why on earth would I want to tell the world what I’m having for breakfast?”).

Focus on their individual needs. Faculty with demanding teaching schedules might find social bookmarking a useful tool for their students, while a research-intensive social scientist might find blogging, or just commenting on blogs, a good way to raise their profile amongst policy makers. Tailor your argument to every individual: they’ll feel flattered that you’re paying attention to them as an individual and you’ll find a solution that works for them. University social media handbooks are helpful but they can homogenise something that is actually very individual and niche so supplement them with one-to-one conversations.

2. Explain what they can get out of it
It’s easy to think that because we have to do something to make social media work for us that it becomes all about what we put into it. However, social media is as much about what we get out of it. Show them, for example, that hours spent trawling through Google search results can be reduced by asking your Twitter community or folk on Quora a question and have them do the filtering for you, or how RSS readers can save them time. In a recent podcast I recorded for HE Comms with Dr. Matthew Ashton, a prolific blogger from Nottingham Trent University, Ashton explained how writing a 500 word blog post every morning eases him into ‘writing mode’ for the day and as a consequence his academic writing output has actually increased.

3. Select and suggest the right tools for the right people
This is similar to point one, but here you need to think about how they already use social media and how they are, for want of a better term, culturally disposed towards using it. Think of Forrester’s Social Technographics profile and suggest tools and approaches that gradually move them up the ladder. Trying to encourage someone to go from being a spectator to a creator in one step is probably not going to work so think about where they start from and what baby steps can ease them upwards.

4. Show them others
Bring out their competitive spirit, inspire them, or reduce their fear of being the first to do something ‘different’ or ‘wacky’ by showing them what their colleagues are already up to. Find out who within your academic community (or within their subject area from other universities) is already using social media and be armed with those examples. Twitter lists are great for this. And getting academic colleagues to persuade them on your behalf might be more powerful than the development or marketing offices asking them to do it.

5. Massage their ego
Everyone wants to be thought of as interesting. Make them feel that way by simply being interested. It’s very motivating! In social media where niche communities exist with very specific interests, there is going to be a space for even the most complex thinkers to find a voice and people who are interested in what they have to say. So dropping them a line with a link to a blog post or online discussion that you think they could make a valuable contribution to might be a good starting point here to ease them in and make them feel that you and others are actually interested in them.

2 responses to “Encouraging Academic Faculty to Start Using Social Media

  1. Pingback: Pickle Jar Communications Encouraging Academic Faculty to Start Using Social Media » Pickle Jar Communications·

  2. I really like the approach of finding something that is of value to them and running with it. Once they start being practioners, chances are they will go deeper when they see value. Good solid stuff! Thanks.

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