Not Comfortable with Social Media? Now’s the Time to Start

Teresa Valerio Parrot (@tvparrot) is principal of TVP Communications, a boutique public relations agency focused on issues specific to higher education.

Recently, I was talking to a group of higher education senior executives when I mentioned a particularly funny Twitter string I’d read. I was surprised to hear, for the most part, they’ve delegated most, if not all, social media monitoring and posting to their staff members.

If you delegate the management of your institution’s social media efforts, I’m challenging you to spend a few minutes this summer getting comfortable with the various platforms and posting to each. Ask whoever is in charge of your online presence to spend an hour or two teaching a social media 101 overview—I guarantee that you aren’t the only one with questions.

As a start to your journey, I asked three staffers with social media responsibilities to share their top tips for beginners. Below is their advice:

Lauren Smith, assistant director of digital media at the University of West Florida, suggests:

  • “It is easy to become overwhelmed with all the changes happening in social media on a daily basis. If you’re like me and like to research things before getting started, be careful not to get stuck in the trap of researching instead of engaging. You can do both. Social media isn’t complicated—it just seems that way when you overthink it.”

Becca Ramspott, public information specialist: technology and new media at Frostburg State University, said a casual approach works for her institution:

  • “Treat social media like you’re hosting a party—be entertaining and memorable, respond to your guests’ questions/comments/ideas, and let them talk to each other. It’s much more interesting when an alum or student chimes in to answer a question someone posts on your Facebook page’s wall than when YOU (the official brand or voice of the institution) answer the question.”
  • “If they like your party, they’ll be back for more, and eager to ‘attend’ future events you host on your social media site. This also relates to your social media voice. At FSU, we try to keep things fun, light and casual with how we write and communicate on our social media sites, not overly official and stodgy. Check out our voice on our Pinterest account.”

Finally, Aaron Jaco, digital media specialist at Drake University, believes, “Your users will appreciate knowing that, behind your social media platforms, there’s a human who actually cares about them.”  You do this, Aaron suggests, by engaging with others through social media.

  • “Spend time getting to know the people who respond to your posts, mention your institution or otherwise show interest in you via social media. Learn what current students are studying, ask what prospective students are interested in studying and figure out where your alumni work. This is the first step in leveraging social media relationships for valuable relationships ‘in real life’—for example, arranging for an alum to speak to a class (in person or via Skype) about his/her area of professional expertise.”
  • “I once had a lengthy Twitter conversation (‘as’ Drake University) with a prospective student who asked about an admission deadline. Over the course of an hour, our conversation moved from the student’s preferred area of study, to his interest in pro wrestling, to professional use of social media. A few months later, the student was back in touch to let me know that he’d applied to Drake (…which reminds me to check in about whether he was accepted and enrolled!).”

My tips? Don’t be afraid to take a leap into the social media universe, but arm yourself with three things:

  1. Understand how to “undo” a posting (but know your post is still out there even if it no longer appears on your profile/page);
  2. Arm your campus with a social media policy or guidelines so that a campus-wide code of conduct/expectations exist; and
  3. Read sites like www.mashable.com to add to your knowledge.

Good luck with your summer tutorial and investigation. Use the comments to let me know what you learn and if you’re hooked once you stop overthinking your social media entry.

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