The World Has Gone Viral: Get Busy Tweeting

Matthew Herek (@mherek) currently serves as the associate director of young alumni engagement in the office of alumni relations and development at Northwestern University. He works to integrate social media in ways that increase engagement and participation in the alumni community.

OK, perhaps that title is a little dramatic. I suppose it would be something if the plot of Contagion 2 centered on the one Twitter holdout who could retweet the cure for an awful disease, but instead destroys the world.

Now that it’s 2012, and five years since Twitter came on the scene, it’s safe to say the platform is way beyond the “early adopter” stage and has grown past its awkward “what everyone had for lunch” years. Twitter has become a national treasure. It can be used to topple political regimes, gauge reaction to major events and force telephone service providers to reverse course on fees. Many companies employ people to monitor Twitter and respond to questions and complaints.

With all of these functions, surely there must be a way for alumni and development professionals to use it. I offer the following observations:

1. You don’t have to be on Twitter to use Twitter:  Twitter is a very open resource and the search functionality alone makes it worth a visit. Go there and search for hashtags, like #casesmc or #higheredlive. Perhaps you’re a prospect manager heading into a huge meeting with a big shot from United Airlines—use Twitter search to see what people are saying about his/her company (if nothing else, you might know what kind of mood they’ll be in). This has potential for career services shops as well. Using Twitter search, you could teach job-seeking alumni how to research potential employers.

2. Growing Your Network: Would you ever think that following a presenter from a conference would lead to great restaurant recommendations? Is that even useful? Sure it is! As an alumni professional, you would be amazed at how connecting with professionals on Twitter can help you when you need a personal recommendation for the perfect place in a far-off city to take a prospect for dinner. Remember: Research shows we are far more likely to listen to recommendations from our friends than from strangers. This makes Twitter more useful than Yelp.

3. I sense much anger in this one: Do we even need Jedi knights anymore? Telepathy is not necessary to gauge the mood of your alumni base after big news hits. Just check in on Twitter after any major news event for your institution and there will likely be a dedicated base of promoters who are making statements about it. My feeling is that these raw 140-character primal screams are more of a mood indicator than one alum’s well-thought-out email sent five days later. You have to be on top of this.

4.    Filters are so 1990:  Remember when institutions relied on press releases and university communications were carefully crafted to “control the message”? Those days are dwindling. Arizona’s athletic director tweeted the announcement of the institution’s new football coach. Popular student athletes like Kirk Cousins at Michigan State and Alexander Netter at Northwestern are offering opinions on the events of the day without going through sports information directors. University presidents are developing dedicated fan clubs on Twitter talking about everything but the university.

As an alumni professional, you need to decide if you want your alumni to be more informed about the university than you are. If you want to wait until news is properly disseminated through your communications office, you may have to spend extra time addressing the rumors, false information and unconfirmed reports that have already piled up online.

If you have not used Twitter before, try it now. If you have some other ways professionals can use it, share them in the comments section.

2 responses to “The World Has Gone Viral: Get Busy Tweeting

  1. I spoke to a group of music ed students on Tuesday about the professional benefits of Twitter, and after I finished, one of the students said that he has always discounted everything regarding Twitter because it was boring, self-absorbed and/or filled with celebrity gossip. He’s seriously thinking about getting an account so he can network with other folks who work with K-12 students and music education.
    The two selling points I mentioned during that talk were that lists allow you to follow in an organized manner (with some margin of error) specific people or organizations that connect to your interests and hashtags (and by extension, Twitter chats) that allow to to more specifically find and contribute to conversations they would otherwise just have in person.

  2. Good info. Like your quote: “You have to be on top of this.” I would say the days of controlling the message are evolving instead of dwindling. We still want to “be the media” but the collaborative nature and multiple source phenomenon requires us to be more diligent and on top of the messages. One great thing about social media is that if we are present, we can set ourselves up as the media resource for our communities instead of relying on traditional media to publish our stuff. Certainly we can’t control what other people write, but we never could. Sidenote: I still think that anyone using social media on behalf on an institution needs to be trained (incl. student athletes) how to use it responsibly, or crisis communications will be the next big block of time that occupies our days.

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