Matthew Herek currently serves as the associate director of young alumni engagement in the office of alumni relations and development at Northwestern University.
It had been a while since my last blog post. This time, something funny happened on the way to the laptop. A new school year was upon me, and with it, the requisite events that I’m sure all of you also have on your calendars—including welcoming new alumni across the country, student orientation on campus and football games.
During this time frame, I realized that social media was not a priority for me in the context of my job. Postings were less frequent. I did not have time to personally welcome each new Twitter follower. The Facebook fan page became more dependent on other people to provide material.
Why did this happen? I’m a champion of these technologies. If I’m not a ninja, I’m at least a blackbelt. Is it possible I’m burned out already? If I’m burned out, what do the other people around me think about the effectiveness of social media?
I have good news and bad news for those of you reading this. The good news is that after further diagnosis, I’m not burned out on social media. The bad news is that my temporary social media shutdown may be indicative of just how far we have to go to make social media an integrated part of our alumni engagement and fundraising strategies.
I propose that the best way to measure how dedicated your institution is to social media is assess how important it is during periods of perpetual whitewater. When every staff member is pitching in to make sure that a wealthy donor’s visit goes well, who is making sure that new Facebook content is being posted? When the gigantic alumni leadership event that requires every staff member (and possibly their relatives and pets) to drop what they are doing for a week comes to campus, who is banging the drum to make sure that event has a Twitter hashtag?
You can call it burnout or blackout, but either way it points to a real gap in social media strategy. If you know that for the immediate future, your institution will not have a team dedicated solely to social media, then you have to take these busy times into account when creating your social media strategy.
- Remember that social media does require time, sometimes a lot of it. Social media is not something you can just get to when you have a minute. It is very nimble, but also highly disruptive. Do you allcoate time to regularly focus on your social media efforts? If not, you should at least consider scheduling blocks of time when you have advance notice that things are going to be absolutely crazy around your institution.
- Would you ever let your phone go to voicemail for two weeks without checking it? I’ll assume the answer is no, and if not…I’m probably a little bit jealous of you. Remember that social media is communication, and you probably have a percentage of alumni who look to your social media presence for news about your institution. You simply cannot vanish for an extended period of time. Some people say that you shouldn’t post when there is nothing to talk about. I question how there can be nothing to talk about? You work at an educational institution, a vast buffet of items perfect for social media. At Northwestern, we’ve started posting a picture each week and asking alumni to identify the location on campus (credit for this idea goes to Greg Block at San Diego State). Colleges and universities do world-changing work—there must be something to talk about.
- Share the social media load. Unless your job description says you need to be the sole curator of all things social media, consider bringing on another person (or two) to do some of the posting and content management. The speed of social media makes this a practical necessity.
- Look at the calendar in advance. Don’t be surprised by your calendar. Every institution has a busy opening week at the same time every year. How many of us can say, with genuine surprise, “I really didn’t expect yesterday to be such a long day?” This is somewhat repeating my first point, but you must treat the curation of social media content as a task on par with checking email, checking voicemail or communicating with your volunteers. Check your calendar and do not use being “busy” as an excuse not to be present on your social media channels.
Through this blog post, you have read my confession and what I plan to do about it. For social media to gain further traction and credibility at our institutions, those of us responsible for the upkeep of the channels must first treat it as integral to our own jobs. Perpetual whitewater is an apt description for the type of work we do. Even when water is splashing you directly in the face, you have to keep paddling.