Matthew Herek (@mherek) currently serves as the associate director of young alumni engagement in the office of alumni relations and development at Northwestern University. He works to integrate social media in ways that increase engagement and participation in the alumni community.
OK, perhaps that title is a little dramatic. I suppose it would be something if the plot of Contagion 2 centered on the one Twitter holdout who could retweet the cure for an awful disease, but instead destroys the world.
Now that it’s 2012, and five years since Twitter came on the scene, it’s safe to say the platform is way beyond the "early adopter" stage and has grown past its awkward "what everyone had for lunch" years. Twitter has become a national treasure. It can be used to topple political regimes, gauge reaction to major events and force telephone service providers to reverse course on fees. Many companies employ people to monitor Twitter and respond to questions and complaints.
With all of these functions, surely there must be a way for alumni and development professionals to use it. I offer the following observations:
1. You don’t have to be on Twitter to use Twitter: Twitter is a very open resource and the search functionality alone makes it worth a visit. Go there and search for hashtags, like #casesmc or #higheredlive. Perhaps you’re a prospect manager heading into a huge meeting with a big shot from United Airlines—use Twitter search to see what people are saying about his/her company (if nothing else, you might know what kind of mood they’ll be in). This has potential for career services shops as well. Using Twitter search, you could teach job-seeking alumni how to research potential employers.
2. Growing Your Network: Would you ever think that following a presenter from a conference would lead to great restaurant recommendations? Is that even useful? Sure it is! As an alumni professional, you would be amazed at how connecting with professionals on Twitter can help you when you need a personal recommendation for the perfect place in a far-off city to take a prospect for dinner. Remember: Research shows we are far more likely to listen to recommendations from our friends than from strangers. This makes Twitter more useful than Yelp.
3. I sense much anger in this one: Do we even need Jedi knights anymore? Telepathy is not necessary to gauge the mood of your alumni base after big news hits. Just check in on Twitter after any major news event for your institution and there will likely be a dedicated base of promoters who are making statements about it. My feeling is that these raw 140-character primal screams are more of a mood indicator than one alum’s well-thought-out email sent five days later. You have to be on top of this.
4. Filters are so 1990: Remember when institutions relied on press releases and university communications were carefully crafted to “control the message”? Those days are dwindling. Arizona’s athletic director tweeted the announcement of the institution’s new football coach. Popular student athletes like Kirk Cousins at Michigan State and Alexander Netter at Northwestern are offering opinions on the events of the day without going through sports information directors. University presidents are developing dedicated fan clubs on Twitter talking about everything but the university.
As an alumni professional, you need to decide if you want your alumni to be more informed about the university than you are. If you want to wait until news is properly disseminated through your communications office, you may have to spend extra time addressing the rumors, false information and unconfirmed reports that have already piled up online.
If you have not used Twitter before, try it now. If you have some other ways professionals can use it, share them in the comments section.
Jen Doak is the online communications specialist at CASE.
Most media professionals are now familiar with some online tools—if they don’t at least read blogs or participate in social networks, then they have had articles or press releases published on their institution’s website. But how can new media like blogs and content-sharing sites help advancement folks with an issue as old as parchment and quill pens: getting a general audience excited about academic research?
Menachem Wecker, formerly a writer and editor for George Washington Today, The George Washington University’s online news site, is now an education reporter with the U.S. News and World Report. He is also the conference chair for CASE's Annual Conference for Media Professionals, which will be held in Washington, D.C., next month. While there, Menachem will be moderating a panel on using new media to translate faculty work for a broader audience. He was gracious enough to answer several questions on the topic.
What are the common challenges for media relations professionals in promoting faculty research?
I'd say the primary challenge is that there isn't necessarily a common language. Many faculty members speak a language called "academic," which may be foreign to media relations professionals.
On the faculty side of things, if you've devoted your entire career to studying something narrow, like the sociology of Elizabethan cutlery, the chances are very good that you are going to resist having to collapse the research in your magnum opus to small sound bites that work well for reporters. Even if the media relations professional is well versed in a particular academic discipline, she or he is increasingly called upon to be a generalist as well, and how many people can follow a scholarly conversation in law, medicine, business and the arts?
There's also another issue, which is one of scope. New research--under certain conditions--can be newsworthy, but it also might be too technical or too focused for many journalism outlets. It becomes the media relations professional's task to find a way to make that research more accessible and more relevant to larger audiences.
What advantages do new media tools have over traditional media approaches to these challenges?
One topic that we are going to address on the [Media Relations Conference] panel is the potential of blogging. Many professors' email boxes are goldmines of information. One professor I used to work with--a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso--used to exchange thousands of words over email with reporters covering East Africa and the Horn. We started publishing those email exchanges on the blog, and just by repackaging existing content and posting it to the [publication sharing] site Scribd.com, we got tens of thousands of fresh eyeballs.
The only investment many "new" (though they're hardly new!) media tools require is time; many of them are free. Professors—if they write accessibly, blog regularly and construct their sites properly and strategically--can sometimes achieve digital followings that overshadow many of the reporters that they used to pitch.
What new media tools or platforms work best for promoting faculty research?
With the caveat that I'm on the payroll of none of these companies, I'd say the following tools/platforms are essential, in descending order of importance:
1. Scribd (for posting transcripts and then embedding them in other sites)
2. Twitter (for driving traffic to your site or as a microblogging platform if you don't have a site)
4. Facebook/Google+/Tumblr (if you've got the time)
5. BlogTalkRadio or any of the other web-based radio stations.
How can media relations professionals collaborate with faculty, either using new or traditional media approaches, to ensure accurate translation and effective promotion?
When I worked at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, I was charged with raising the profile of 300 faculty members (about half were full-time and half were part-time). Of course, that was too many to actually collaborate with. My thought was that I would start with the ones who really wanted to be engaged in social media and to connect with reporters, and in the unlikely event that I actually could help all those professors, I would then resort to begging/bribing/threatening/or in any other way cajoling the others to enlist.
Needless to say, I more than had my hands full with the ones who were already excited about social media—and it turns out they were the ones who were willing to work hard at building online presences and audiences. That'd be my advice to media relations professionals: Work with the folks who are already interested in the power of social media. And don't be surprised if those who used to be nay-sayers change their minds when they see their colleagues' success.
How do you use new media to promote faculty achievements? (You can also use the hashtag #casemrp to discuss these and other advancement and media relations issues.)
Ma'ayan Plaut is the social media coordinator at Oberlin College.
Social sharing site Pinterest is an interesting creature. There are a bunch of websites that allow you to publicly bookmark sites, either for future reference or to tell folks what you're reading or seeing on a daily basis. Pinterest has a distinct advantage over these other services, though: it is entirely visually driven — that is, you can only bookmark if the site contains an image, and a big one at that.
Upon signing up for Pinterest (it's still in an invite-only beta launch), you're prompted to follow people based on your interests. From there, you can create a variety of boards — digital bulletin boards where you pin all the things you find great, interesting and beautiful in the world (wide web, that is). You're encouraged to pin practically anything you find online to your themed boards and to follow other pinners with similar interests to you, comment on their pins and repin to your own boards.
When it comes to thinking about Pinterest for institutional brands, there's one significant difference between it and other social networks: your pins and boards on Pinterest are NOT central to your content or content creation. In its etiquette section — which is, of course, created by the community that uses Pinterest — they encourage avoiding self-promotion. What? Why would we want to use a site like this in higher ed if we're not promoting our own stuff?
The truth is that your story isn't just what you have to say about it. Much like Storify — a curation site that allows you to tell a story about something through social media — Pinterest is based on what else is out there that can help you tell your story. I think of it the same way that I think about the role of stock art when it comes to self-promotion, but with Pinterest, it's not stock. It's linked from an original source and with credit. A community like this can be self-sustaining and build upon the boundless options the Internet gives us but with a distinct focus.
This shift in mindset from self-promotion to using other means to define your views in the context of the great world: that's a challenge. And I think it's a really great one for higher ed; it shifts the perspective of promotion from things we want/need to tell folks about ourselves and rather, highlight other creators and collaborators who support similar ideas, causes and creations to us.
As of now, I'm seeing Oberlin's Pinterest as a way to better visually represent what we care about and connect with people who care about these things, too. We can aggregate alumni creations (music, art, jewelry and more), collaborate on boards with students to see how they'd design their future dorm room, source good locations to buy winterwear, collect co-op friendly recipes and, of course, keep folks up to date with creative gifts for the caring Obie — bike-themed clothing, white squirrel art, books, Oberswag and more.
Are you using Pinterest, either personally or professionally? What are you pinning?
Editor's note: You can also visit this board featuring other higher ed institutions on Pinterest.
Crisis planning is a necessary part of any institution’s communications strategy. And social media outlets have become the best way to get up-to-the-second information out to your audience. I recently found a few great examples through a Facebook group and thought I’d share.
Many institutions have set up websites that replace homepages in the event of an emergency. San Diego State University’s urgent information page has information on how to receive text alerts, a Twitter feed of its news account and general information on campus emergency preparedness.
The University of Southern California’s emergency homepage replacement site includes similar resources, including relevant phone numbers and access information.
Wright State University has a wealth of information on its emergency management site, along with an explanation of possible text alert delays and a widget for the National Terrorism Advisory System. It provides audio files of pre-recorded messages for campus building alerts as well as information on email alerts, text and voice messaging, radio and TV channels, and which social networks to follow. I really like how it has a sidebar that lists specific procedures and resources for tornadoes, winter weather, evacuation and more.
And during the most recent Virginia Tech shooting, a Blacksburg student newspaper, The Collegiate Times, provided a thorough, accessible account of the day through its Twitter feed.
Stuck on what you should plan to say through these channels? Deborah Grant, vice president of university communications and marketing at Tulane University, gives some advice managing communications in the face of a crisis on our Advancement Talk podcast (available as a premier benefit).
What’s your institution’s crisis communications plan? What institutions are really great at providing this information?