Chasing the Social Media Dragon

Tristana Nesvig Trani (@tnesvig) is a social media strategist at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The best thing about social media is that we can be in the trenches with our audience.

The worst thing about social media is that we have to be in the trenches with our audience.

I know I’m not the only social media strategist working in higher education who lies awake at night wondering…

Where are they now?

I’m talking about teenagers—a fickle, fast-moving bunch. When did they leave my trench? In my mind, I sound like a social media grandfather.

“When I was a kid, we only had Facebook and we felt pretty dang lucky! Quit trying all of these newfangled sites. Facebook was enough for me and it should be enough for you.”

Now, teens face a barrage of social media sites. They Snapchat, Vine, tweet, Instagram and feed the Pheed. Facebook has been placed in a position it isn’t quite used to—second best.

Last week, 13-year-old Ruby Karp wrote in Mashable that she and her friends don’t use Facebook. Of course, this isn’t the first time any of us that are in the business of attracting the younger crowd have heard such talk, but Ruby’s article struck a nerve. The article was shared nearly 50,000 times!

What does this mean?

It means, as a marketer dealing mainly in new media, I’m exhausted.

What happened to the good old days when new, major forms of marketing communication only emerged every 20 to 50 years or longer? Marketers had a good 60 to 70 years to master television as a medium before the Internet came along as a viable option. Now, new forms of audience communication seem to surface daily. We have no idea what will stick and what will quickly fade away. We finally reach the Jedi Master admin level on Gowalla, Digg + or Google +, just to find the latest trend losing favor with our audience after only a few months or years.

What can we do?

I think we should look to the investment industry for answers. Yep, new media has many similarities to the stock market.

  • It can be volatile.
  • It’s incredibly transparent.
  • There is a tendency for boom or bust.

In dealing with the ups and downs of social media, it’s a good idea to see how investment experts weather the stock market storm. What are the rules for putting together the perfect investment portfolio? Can we apply those same rules to create our own effective social media portfolio? Let’s see.

  • Diversify. Diversify. Diversify. Don’t put all of your eggs in the Facebook (or any) basket. Don’t be afraid to add a few other platforms to your mix. Social media has a great return policy so throw platforms such as Instagram or Tumblr into your social media shopping cart.
  • Don’t be emotional about investments. If you’ve spent a lot of time nurturing your Google + account but still only have 100 people in your circle, it may be time for you and Google + to part ways. Remember, it’s business. It’s not personal.
  • Don’t buy all at once. I just told you to diversify, but you also need to be smart about it. There are only so many hours in the day and resources can be limited. Have a few solid options and slowly wade onto other platforms.
  • Don’t own too many names. See above. The University of Joneses may be on 50 social media platforms but that doesn’t mean that you should be. Don’t tax your resources.
  • Be flexible. Higher education has a varied audience. We communicate to students, parents, alumni, potential faculty and staff, media and the community that surrounds us. Flexibility is key.
  • Do your homework. There is no sense starting a Pinterest account if your audience has no interest in Pinterest. Make sure you research the typical audience for a platform and the platform’s growth rate before you make the investment.
  • Don’t forget to own a few rock-solid stocks. Facebook may be in the middle of a slow down, but it has staying power with 1.11 billion active monthly users. Ruby may not like Facebook right now, but at 13, she also might not like kissing, vegetables or arthouse films. Things change quickly after age 13.

How do you decide which social media platforms are best for your institution and which to ignore?

4 responses to “Chasing the Social Media Dragon

  1. Excellent and well-written post, Tristana. I couldn’t agree more that it’s vitally more important to wholly BE in a mere handful of places than to be superficially engaged in many. Thanks for the fun-to-read tips (I especially loved that last one) on maintaining that distinction.

    And to answer your question, we decided to start using Tumblr a couple years ago after hearing about its potential from several student interns. One of them had a vision for the site (to use it as a student’s view of the university and surrounding area by essentially reblogging student photos and comments), so we let him run with it. In this format it’s a pretty low-maintenance platform, so it’s been quite successful when you consider how little time we put into it day by day.

    • I’ve really enjoyed our tumblr site. Since our facebook and twitter audiences runs the gamut of life stages, Tumblr has become a place where we can loosen up a bit and be purely student focused. I agree. It is fairly low maintenance. We picked a template that shows the post we have liked. It’s been a great (and easy) way to pull in user-generated content from our students.

  2. As a law school, we need to be a little more conservative. We have ramped up our Twitter and Facebook presence in the last six months, and we are trying out an Instagram contest for first-year students in September. We will see how it goes. Even though law students are typically a bit older than the average first-year student, they are very plugged in and connected so I think the contest could work well.

    • We’ve been trying to ramp up our instagram presence at VCU. We had secured the name a few years ago, but hadn’t posted much. We then realized that we had a fast growing number of followers regardless of any content! It was truly an audience leading the participation situation. (Wow, those two words together sound like something from School House Rock.) I would love to learn more about your contest. A law school instagram contest sounds intriguing!

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