Michael Stoner is president of mStoner. He co-presented the key findings of the 2011 social media survey at the CASE Social Media and Community conference in April 2011.
Organizing social media in .edu sounds like an oxymoron if there ever was one.
Many institutions have some degree of difficulty managing marketing and brand activities. Social media is much newer and some leaders doubt its value—and perhaps don’t see a reason to manage it.
Participation in social media is baked into the culture on many campuses, with faculty, staff and students participating in social media via blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and many other tools. This cacophony of voices shares many disparate views, using social media for personal and professional purposes, mixing it up, incorporating it in learning and teaching activities, and conducting research via social media.
It’s more important than ever that institutions find ways to manage some of this activity.
Successful Institutions Manage Social Media
The 2010 Survey of Social Media in Advancement found that institutions that considered themselves to be successful in social media generally spent more time managing their social media presence. Our 2011 findings are similar.
A major area of focus for our 2011 white paper will be exploring how institutions organize their social media activities. We’ll focus specifically on social media for marketing, advancement, recruiting and other external relations purposes.
To guide my thinking, I’ve relied on work done by the inestimable analyst, Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang), a partner in the Altimeter Group (with Charlene Li, the author of Open Leadership). Jeremiah has identified five different models for managing social media. Three in particular apply in education: the distributed (organic) model, the centralized model and the coordinated model.
This model of social media management is typical of organizations where social media activity develops in many areas at once and empowered staff members throughout the organization would find other types of social media appealing, too, and be free to explore them. In this kind of organization, there isn’t much “management” of social media—it simply happens, bubbling up from everywhere.
In .edu innovations begin at the edges and may flourish there long before they are taken up by the institution as a whole. This is the way social media developed on most campuses: individuals or offices began to blog, then launched Facebook pages or groups or began tweeting. There was no thought to coordinating or asking from input from anyone with overall institutional responsibilities for marketing or communications.
Many institutions continue to function this way today. Other institutions haven’t been able to come to terms with the importance of social media and therefore don’t see a need to manage it, or have difficulty managing anything across units.
In contrast to the organic model, the centralized model reflects organizations where social media is controlled by a central office, often a marketing department.
The major advantage of this model is that by adopting it, an institution can achieve an incredible amount of consistency in tone and voice across social media.
But you can see the problems inherent in adopting this model in education.
First, there aren’t many institutions where it would work.Too many people would question the control that the central team would have over social media and many of them would simply continue to do exactly what they’re already doing. It would be very difficult to police or shut down rogue social media accounts—the result would be too much ill will.
A major drawback with this model is that it won’t scale: large institutions like Ohio State or the University of Michigan will never be able to staff a centralized office to manage social media and even colleges would find it difficult.
Finally, while the centralized model may seem appealing to some, it could easily result in social media that appears way too controlled and inauthentic: too much like advertising or broadcasting rather than engagement.
In this model, one office develops policies, guidelines and other procedures and is responsible for communicating them across the institution. The central unit may continue to play a role as a coach, helping to establish and communicate best practices.
You can see the appeal of this model immediately. Because various units control their own social media, there’s likely to be less push-back against guidelines but there can be quality control over messages, usage, frequency and tone. This model is the only one that is likely to provide any ability to scale—it can work equally well at a small college or a large university.
What’s Your Model?
What model does your institution use? How’s it working? What are its advantages and drawbacks? We want to know: we’ll include information from institutions that have a story to share in our 2011 white paper. Please leave a comment below.
An expanded version of this blog post is cross-posted at mStonerBlog.com.