Dan Klamm is the Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Syracuse University Career Services, where he leads social media engagement. Connect with him on Twitter @DanKlamm and @CareerSU.
Is your college or university really doing a great job with social media? Lists like Student Advisor’s “Top 100 Social Media Colleges” and USA Today’s “20 colleges making good use of social media” point out the growing role social media plays in higher education.
We’re now at a point where almost all schools have a social presence, but many have yet to fully embrace the spirit of social media and tap into its potential. Social media presents a wealth of possibilities for engaging prospective students, current students, alumni, and other community members.
Here are some big-picture ideas for taking your school’s social media presence from good to great.
1. Coordinate Your Strategy Across Campus
Social media management can’t occur in a vacuum. While social media roles are often housed in a central marketing or communications office, it’s imperative that social media managers have strong relationships with departments across campus and that they keep up constant communication.
When an alum announces on Twitter that he or she just landed an exciting new job, his alma mater’s social media manager might reach out with a quick, congratulatory tweet. But what happens after that? Does the social media manager alert the school’s career center that the alum has a new job and might be in a position to mentor current students (or even hire them)? Does the social media manager relay to the fundraising/development office that the newly successful alum might now have the financial resources to give money?
Imagine another scenario: A high school freshman asks a question on a university’s Facebook Page about an academic program, indicating that he or she can’t wait to apply for admission in three years. Does the school’s social media manager simply answer the question and offer a friendly, “We’d love to have you!” or does he or she alert the admissions office that a particularly enthusiastic high school freshman has made an inquiry via Facebook?
In these examples, many schools would just keep the dialogue on social media. Forward-thinking schools, however, have systems to mine the conversations already taking place and to proactively help departments across the institution to leverage the insights therein.
2. Invest in Education and Training
Having lots of Twitter followers and a high Klout score is great, but a more important measure of a school’s success with social media is whether its alumni and students can use the school’s social platforms to connect with each other.
Take LinkedIn, for instance. With the job market in such an unsteady state, professional networking is more important than ever. Students graduating from college should be able to easily connect with successful, established alumni. By that same token, alumni should equally be able to contact one another for job leads and business opportunities.
Despite the fact that some schools boast tens of thousands of alumni on LinkedIn, many may not know how to conduct advanced searches, join groups or ask for introductions. This makes networking difficult.
The answer to this problem? Training. Progressive schools offer workshops and webinars not only for their current students, but for alumni decades out of college. Sessions cover everything from searching for alumni to the etiquette of reaching out and writing an introductory message. Schools that offer education and training programs have strong, thriving networks where students and alumni can turn to each other for advice and connections.
3. Get Students Involved
Students are the lifeblood of academic institutions, so they should also be an integral part of any school’s social media strategy. Students have the ability to connect with their fellow students, compel prospective students to enroll and tug at the heartstrings of alumni who wish to relive their glory days on campus. They know the school personally, and they’re familiar with student activities and traditions, giving them an authenticity that resonates especially well in social media.
There are some great examples already out there. At Stanford, a team of digital media interns curates content for the school’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. Cornell features a group of student bloggers delivering an “uncut, uncensored glimpse at life on the Hill.” At Villanova, students star in YouTube videos promoting use of their school’s career center.
Think of other ideas like having students live-tweeting campus events, doing online Q&A sessions with prospective students, or interviewing successful alumni to feature on YouTube. Lots of schools already involve students, so there are plenty of strong examples to learn from. The key is for school administrators to loosen the reigns just a bit, allowing for students to express their own school spirit and get creative.
4. Put Your School’s President/Chancellor on Twitter
For the “old school” institutions out there, this must seem like an absurd suggestion. University presidents are too busy to eat meals, let alone tweet! But the truth is that dozens of presidents already have Twitter accounts and many of them are already tweeting effectively.
At UW-Madison, outgoing Chancellor Biddy Martin tweets to more than 5,000 followers about campus events and meetings, frequently responding to questions and comments from her community. Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee tweets to more than 18,000 followers about faculty and student accomplishments, university news and his perspective on happenings in the world.
There is a lot of room for growth here. University presidents might even start hosting “Town Hall”-style meetings (as Barack Obama recently did) to answer questions from students, alumni, faculty and parents.
When a president tweets (or blogs), he or she sets a tone of transparency and signals a genuine interest in communicating with the school’s community. Whether the president tweets about what was for breakfast, shares interesting tidbits from daily meetings or raises questions for the community to answer, just the fact that those comments are online makes the college seem friendlier and more open. Additionally, it sends the message that the school values innovation and modern means of communication.
These are just a few ideas for strengthening your school’s social media presence. As we look to the future of social media for colleges, what do you think is the next step? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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