A Quick-Start Guide to Social Media for College and University Presidents

Michael Stoner (@Mstonerblog) is the president of mStoner Inc. (mStoner.com), a communications consulting firm based in Chicago; St. Louis; and Woodstock, Vt.

Although I don’t believe that college and university presidents must have a social media presence, I think there’s a compelling case to be made for it. “Hail to the Tweeps,” in the November/December issue of CURRENTS magazine, provides a good overview of why presidents use social media and how tools such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs fit into their lives and work. The interviews I conducted for the article with seven university and college presidents provide additional personal insights.

But, I realize that many presidents and other advancement professionals may want the CliffsNotes version. So here’s a quick-start guide to being social.

1. Consider Twitter and a blog. The combination of a personal blog housed on your institution’s website and a Twitter presence offers distinct advantages—in essence, you get the best of both worlds. Twitter offers considerable reach for important audiences, including media. A blog allows you to share more nuanced thinking, in more detail. Twitter is easy to update when you’re on the go. They both afford opportunities for you to interact with people. And, best of all, you have more control over these two platforms than over many others.

Two presidents who I think do a particularly good job combining Twitter and a blog are Paul LeBlanc, president of SNHU (on Twitter: @snhuprez; blog: “The President’s Corner“) and Ferdinand von Prondzynski, the principal and vice-chancellor of Robert Gordon University in Scotland (on Twitter: @vonprond; blog, “A University Blog”).

2. Be wary of Facebook. Robert Wyatt, president of Coker College, has been very successful in using Facebook to nurture and expand relationships, particularly with students. But I’m not a fan of Facebook, especially if you don’t have someone on campus following its changing rules and the way it periodically tweaks its algorithms to privilege larger brands and those who pay for placement of content. There’s nothing wrong with this, mind you, but it does mean that you have less control unless you’re paying close attention.

3. Remember that the rules of engagement differ on different social networks. Twitter and Facebook are very different and followers and fans expect different kinds of posts and interactions. Don’t tweet your Facebook updates or auto-share tweets with Facebook. If you can’t commit to updating both regularly, pick one and do it very well.

4. It’s OK to be a sporadic poster, tweeter or blogger. Some presidents have been able to integrate social media into their lives to a rather amazing extent. I’m particularly impressed with how prolific Walter M. Kimbrough, Dan Porterfield and Anne Kress are on Twitter. But I also follow many presidents who tweet less often and do a terrific job.

5. You have to be able to take failure in stride. Don’t let the fact that you might make a mistake (in public) in a tweet hold you back from participating. It has happened to all of us and it’s not a big deal.

6. You’re never too old to learn. Most presidents I’ve met know how to communicate and do it very well. The real barrier to using social media is deciding that it’s important enough to commit to doing it. Once you’re over that hurdle, you’ll find that you already know most of what you need to know. The mechanics are easy.

7. Follow first, tweet later. If you want to learn, follow other presidents first and see what they do. I follow everyone I interviewed for “Hail to the Tweeps” and admire them all. Andy Shaindlin (@AlumniFutures) has a list of EdLeaders on Twitter. It’s a good place to begin—you’re sure to find a few people you know (or know of) on the list.

Is there a president you follow on social media who you think does a particularly good job?  Do you have any advice for presidents starting out on social media?  Let me know in the comments section.

One response to “A Quick-Start Guide to Social Media for College and University Presidents

  1. Good tips in here. I especially second the recommendation that people follow other university presidents to get an idea of how others make this happen.
    Another tip I would recommend here, one I experienced recently when I followed a university president out of curiosity: Don’t automatically DM followers with a link to your latest blog post somewhere, etc., once they follow you. Not a fan of the automatic DM feature when people follow anyone on Twitter.
    And SO glad you point out distinctions between how engagement happens on different social media … that’s something all of higher ed can benefit/learn from/do … they’re all different conversations …
    Cheers and happy anniversary, mStoner crew! ; )
    Becca Ramspott

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