The Gateway Statement to Conversations on Social Media

Ma’ayan Plaut (@plautmaayan) is the social media coordinator at Oberlin College.

Part of my position as social media coordinator at Oberlin includes fielding inquiries from departments and other groups about how to dip their feet in the social media tributaries. Inevitably, the email, phone call or chat starts with:

“We are thinking about getting a Facebook page, and we’ve been told you can help us set it up.”

Every time I get the above inquiry, I take it as an opportunity to take two steps back. Yes, Facebook has more than 1 billion users, but are they the right users for what you want to do? Thinking about Facebook is a great gateway to conversations about social media, but it’s not necessarily the answer to everything.

When I meet with a department staff members in person, we tackle the following questions:

  • Why are you considering using social media for your office, department, organization or initiative? Generally, I hear a combination of any number of answers —including, we’ve seen other offices at other schools do it, we’ve been told this is the way to get hip and connected with the students or I LOVE social media and want to try and use it in another way. Identifying the answer to this question allows you to think about how your audience might perceive your presence in social media and how you will begin to work in this space. The answer to this question usually identifies different kinds of information a department needs to convey—and not just announcements, but ways to enhance the overall mission and offerings of a particular group. Yep, you heard it here first. Content first, social media second.
  • Who are you trying to talk to? This tends to be a bigger question of who do you support on campus and in the greater community but then we dig into the more specific details. Who needs what you want to share and why do they need it? Do you wish to inform, engage  or create a community? Knowing who you’re talking to means you can better frame your message.

Once we identify why a group is doing what it is doing and who it is trying to connect with, we ask:

  • What social media platforms should you consider using? Sometimes, Facebook is the answer, other times  it’s Tumblr, Twitter, a blog, a video, a set of photos or perhaps something low-tech rather than online. There’s no cookie-cutter answer to this question because it is so closely tied to who and why you want to dive into this pool of tools.
  • How often will you make updates? This question is a must, because it makes you plan ahead and think about ways to sustain a social media presence, regardless of platform. An additional follow-up question involves who will be updating the channels —and more often than not, consideration plan needs to include a full-time staff member in addition to student assistance.

Even more questions bubble up in the course of these conversations, but these four biggies are ones we always ask when we first start to explore the possibilities.

A version of this post was originally published on the Oberlin College Webteam blog.

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