Want to Stand Out on Social Media? Create a Personality.

Tony Dobies (@DOBIEST) is a senior writer and social media manager at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.V.

There are hundreds of millions of Twitter accounts out there, so how can institutions push through the noise and make sure people hear them?

In my opinion, you have to do something that makes your school really stand out.

As the trend on social media becomes that of superficial jokes and posts, I’d rather just be real. To do so, you have to know your institution, your goals and who you are as a school.

That’s why I’ve created a social media personality for the accounts that I run at West Virginia University—it helps us to focus on what matters and find the best way to say it. It can also help multiple people posting to the same account maintain one institutional voice.

Personality shows who we are, what we want and where we’re headed.

When I created West Virginia University’s social media personality, I wanted to channel my inner Vince Gilligan (producer of Breaking Bad, for those not into pop culture). Seriously, how cool would it be if science teacher Walter White, and not drug mastermind Heisenberg, was running your Twitter account? I ended up developing key questions to help me create our institutional personality, pulling from readings by writers about character development. I also added in questions to help develop a more social media-specific personality. The questions we asked (from an institutional perspective) are:

  • Who are we now?
  • Who do we want to be in five years?
  • Who are we trying to reach?
  • What do we want people to do when connecting with us on social media?
  • What are the qualities and character traits (e.g. funny, demanding and compassionate) that make us special?
  • What are the qualities and character traits that people think of when they think of us?
  • What content do we know works or doesn’t work?

Based on the answers to these questions, I developed a personality for West Virginia University.

“We are proud Mountaineers. We wear the Mountaineers’ signature colors of gold and blue on our sleeves at all times and yell it atop every mountain … whether it’s about a sporting event, trip abroad, big visitation day, etc. We act as all Mountaineers do and present a friendly and welcoming attitude to life and education. If you’re touching or have been touched by the University in some way, we want to know your story. We embrace every open door and open as many as we can for those who may be seeking opportunities as part of our land-grant mission. It’s OK to poke fun at ourselves, too, because we know we’re not perfect. When it comes time to be serious … a crisis on campus for example … we are prepared and will take it seriously. And Woodburn — we love Woodburn.”

I also have a list of words and phrases that I pulled together to help maintain our institutional personality on social media when I’m not feeling creative or when I am busy with other projects.

Do I reference the list every day? No. Do I look at it once a week? Probably not. But, I do remember it when I need a refresher or when giving advice to others around the university on being creative through social media. It’s constantly in the back of my mind as I post —whether I need the perfect word to describe something or I’m looking for the right way to respond to an admitted student on Instagram who just posted a photo from a campus visit.

The list and the personality build consistency, which people like. They add to the brand, which we like. They make everything a bit more focused, which we all like.

Here is an example of how our institutional personality works. We have a student-run Twitter account: @WVUStudents. Each week, a new student takes over. It’s hard for conversations not to be genuine, since it’s about students being themselves. One week, a student who was very passionate about space took over the account. It led to this interaction:

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 8.34.15 AM

It is exactly the type of real conversation we want. In those two tweets from @WVUStudents, the student showed just how passionate he was about space and the opportunities the university had provided to him (and, we only prompted him with the first tweet, he just took over after that).

In the end, we’re trying to build relationships on social media. So why not build real relationships?

Instead of taking the time to think of something creative that might make it to Buzzfeed or Reddit, why not just be genuine? It might make it there anyway.

That’s how we’ll make our mark despite all of the noise on social media — by engaging with our constituents in real-life conversations that make a person feel wanted, interesting and involved.

It’s time to go back to the basics. That’s the way I see success in the future. The relationships we build with people —including prospective students, current students and alumni—help make West Virginia University stand out to the people that matter to us.

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