I moved forward with a classic social media plan: engaging our community online with targeted questions, sharing videos and reflections on past speeches, promoting #UMBCspark and preparing to retweet comments by #TED2013’s live viewers in California. Then, at 5p.m. EST, three hours before the event, TED announced that Dr. Hrabowski’s talk would be available for free via live webcast. Fabulous! Right?
Having recently taken a leading role in UMBC’s social media activities, I was (and still am) in the early stages of forming a support network for social media managers on campus. I had close relationships with a handful of major admins and a shiny, new spreadsheet with the contact information of a few dozen more. What I didn’t have was a close-knit group of social media managers from all corners of campus who could help me share this news—this incredible and incredibly time-sensitive news.
Like many universities, UMBC started down the path of “let's-buckle-down-and-figure-out-this-social-media-business” by taking stock of our existing and vibrant, but disorganized, social media efforts. In 2011, we developed a baseline assessment, outlined our main challenges and proposed solutions. There were a few obvious first steps. We refocused our efforts on our primary Twitter and Facebook accounts, shifting resources over from less visible accounts. We convened a working group to draft tips for faculty and staff getting started on social media and a set of best practices. We started tracking analytics for our major accounts, subscribed to an affordable social media management system and implemented a basic team workflow to post the well-balanced content we were seeking. But something was still missing.
It will probably not come as a shock that the major component our social media reboot lacked was, in fact, actually being social. To develop an effective, long-term social media strategy, to stay current on best practices and to sustain our enthusiasm, we needed to cultivate relationships with social media managers at other institutions and within our own.
We started developing external connections in January 2012 with UMBC’s Social Media Strategy Summit, inspired by Frostburg State University’s 2011 Social Media ReBoot Camp (thanks, @beccaramspott). The unconference drew 51 participants from 30 colleges and universities, and our conversation continues through the Mid-Atlantic Higher Ed Social Media Network.
The next step is our current challenge. How do you create a sense of teamwork among social media managers across campus—from academic departments to club sports to sororities? How do you make social media a more actively social endeavor on the administrator side in order to make engagement successfully on the user side? How do you create a nimble institutional structure?
I’m now working to build the UMBC Social (Media) Network on myUMBC, our internal social platform, but I realize that creating a new online "community" and cultivating a lasting community of friends and colleagues are different things. To grow our group, I look to people like Mark Lee (@therealmarklee), associate director of web communications and new media at Colorado College, for inspiration. He’s developed peer meet-ups and training opportunities for his college’s social media managers and is open to sharing both successes and ongoing challenges. But, instructive examples like his can be tough to find.
In social media shop talk, there’s often too much focus on one-shot, flashy campaigns and too little on the mundane labor of building organizational structures that can produce an effective social media presence. During my next few posts I hope to keep this thread going and I’d love to hear what other institutions are doing. It's messy work, but important work. So, how do you build relationships with other social media admins on campus? How do you generate and sustain that network and a culture of collaboration?
Jennifer Doak is the online communications specialist at CASE.
You probably know this already, but CASE members have some pretty good ideas. I sat in on the Conference for Media Relations Professionals, held in February in Washington, D.C., and learned about how public relations and communications folks are navigating shifts in the news landscape.
Here are some ways two of them—Jennifer Donovan, director of public relations at Michigan Tech, and Liz Amore, executive director for alumni relations at the University of Miami —further the reach of their institution’s research:
Here’s another suggestion not mentioned in the session: Nominate your institution’s professors for awards. Award-winning faculty members are newsworthy and can draw positive attention to institutions. For example, CASE’s 2012 U.S. Professors of the Year award winners received extensive news coverage, even several months after the awards ceremony, and are often invited to speak at conferences and other events. Check out the award’s impact on 2012 national winner Autar Kaw, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of South Florida.
Jen Doak (@jpdoak) is the communications specialist at CASE.
The University at Buffalo’s straightforward, intuitive website won a gold Circle of Excellence award in 2012. But have you ever wondered how an institution decides to nominate a website, viewbook or magazine for an award? Or what winning an award can mean for a department?
Joe Brennan, the university’s associate vice president for university communications, and Jeffrey Smith, assistant vice president for marketing, web and creative communications, were gracious enough to answer a few questions about their award-winning website.
How has winning a gold Circle of
Excellence award affected your department? Has it had a ripple effect on your
institution as well?
Winning has been enormously helpful in validating the deliberative work that was done throughout the redesign process. Through the research conducted and campus-wide engagement in the redesign project, we were able to devise a best-practice-driven process that we're using for our Digital Communications Transformation Initiative, the goal of which is to move all departmental websites to one content management system. We’re collaborating with administrative and academic teams across campus, involving them in strategic business planning, content evaluation and thoughtful remediation.
The project has created unprecedented
cooperation and content sharing and has helped strengthen the UB brand online
through visual and messaging consistency.
Why did you decide to nominate your new website for an award?
We’re very choosy about which awards competitions we enter. We only enter competitions that are national in scope and recognize results—and aren't just beauty contests. The Circle of Excellence awards obviously meet those criteria.
The submission process was painless. It really helped that we had specific data we could use to demonstrate the impact of this project.
has the community reacted to Buffalo.edu? Have you seen increased interaction
on your site in the year since its redesign?
We've received a tremendously positive response from the UB community. The visual appeal and sophistication of the new site has stimulated interest across campus and many units have been very eager to work with us to help to transform their online presences.
Since the site redesign, visitors spend significantly more time on our top-level pages. We've also noticed that more site visitors view pages that promote campus visits.
We held a party to recognize the staff
who worked on this project. The president came and spoke, and colleagues from
dozens of departments dropped by to celebrate this honor with us.
Are there any future website or social media developments in the works for your team?
Loads. We're working to mobile-optimize the full body of our site content, refining Web apps as well as implementing truly responsive design. We're also working to more strategically integrate our social media activities into the rest of our communications channels.
Are you interested in nominating your website, online magazine or social media campaign for a Circle of Excellence award? There’s still time: The deadline for submissions is March 15.
In many ways, graduations are the ultimate social event. Thousands of people gather on your campus simultaneously to celebrate the achievements of their friends and family members, happily producing and sharing photos, video and other content.
Here are some tried and tested techniques along with some new ideas for extending the reach of your graduation season in 2013.
Pick a hashtag early and thoroughly cross-promote
This is the most powerful decision you will make—the right hashtag will help collate tweets, images and video that you can use in the lead up and beyond. And with some luck, it may even become a trending topic. Keep it simple (and short)—#UWgrads, #HokieGrad and #VU2012 are good examples. Promote the hashtag well in advance on banners via your student portal, graduations website and ideally, your university homepage. Keep banner designs clear, consistent and uncluttered, allowing people to remember the hashtag more easily.
If you use SMS alerts, why not send a reminder to students on the day of their ceremony? Promote the hashtag shortly before the proceedings via projection screens and also in the printed program. Of course, you should also keep an eye on what students are tweeting and add popular hashtags as required. Creating hashtags at a school or date-specific level is probably not a great idea, however, as it splinters the conversation and may detract from your key messages (such hashtags can also be rather long!)
Leverage what you already have
Central, university-wide social media accounts generally have superior follower numbers whereas graduation-specific ones will tend to be activated for limited periods each year (a social media no-no). Work with your colleagues to schedule posts for the largest accounts used for distributing university news releases and other campus information.
Graduations are perfect social media fodder because of the stories that accompany them. Many institutions encourage their grads to bring signs and wear accessories that tell their individual graduation story. (In Australia, this includes special graduation accessories for indigenous students.)
Feature inspiring and humorous images in your posts and photo albums to generate maximum buzz. Have your photographers take names wherever possible (more tags = greater exposure), but if groups are too large, let your students know where to find the images afterwards and allow them to tag themselves.
If you’re not already using platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr and Tumblr, graduations can provide a great opportunity to start. Search for graduation-related images that people are posting on their personal accounts and share this content where appropriate.
Live stream it
In 2013, this should be a no brainer. Use a free service like Ustream or Livestream and work with your information technology and media teams to test and promote the feed in advance. Most live-streaming sites include their own comments window and you can also add plugins for Facebook and Twitter. Once the ceremonies are complete, create a new folder on your YouTube page, and promote the page widely. This is particularly important if you have celebrity speakers.
Not everyone can persuade Neil Gaiman or Barack Obama to do the honors, but the words of particularly prominent guests will resonate around the world. Try and be the first to get the full recording of big speeches online and then push it to your social networks so that followers can share with their contacts. Wherever possible, encourage interactions with your content—ask people what their favorite part of the guest address was or whether they know someone who walked across the stage.
While staff members from your alumni and advancement teams will be leading the way on graduation day, it’s also important to reach out to others. Many faculty members have powerful virtual networks that you should leverage. Does your university have a weekly, staff e-newsletter? Ensure faculty members know the official hashtag in advance and encourage them to get involved during the ceremonies. It’s also an opportunity to recruit your existing alumni as school ambassadors—let them know the schedule of ceremonies and guest speakers beforehand to encourage timely displays of school pride.
Devise a LinkedIn graduations campaign
This could be the most important call-to-action you make during graduations. LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network and a good way to stay in touch with those who won’t follow your other social media accounts or open their university emails following graduation. Remind graduates to create (or update) their LinkedIn profiles with their new qualifications and invite them to join your official LinkedIn groups. (If active groups exist at discipline level, provide a simple list so graduates can self-select which ones to join.)
Wrap it up
Work quickly to capture and curate content across platforms and then share it with your graduates in one convenient package.
Send an email to all recent grads within a week of their ceremony with links to photo albums, LinkedIn groups, and video content. Remind them of the benefits of staying in touch and joining alumni organizations and include links to your alumni magazine website and social media accounts. And for good measure, plug the official graduations hashtag one more time to see what extra activity you can generate.
You could also use Storify (as Harvard did for its 2012 graduations), but you'd need to promote this to your newest alumni if they're not following you already.
Some other ideas
Which social media strategies have worked for your graduations and which new ones would you like to try in the coming year?
Elizabeth Allen (@LizAllen) is the director of online communications and alumni relations at the American School in London. She is also a faculty member for the CASE Social Media and Community conference.
I've previously written about the valuable role students can play in generating content for social spaces. Student-generated content is a great way to communicate the culture of your school, straight from kids who experience it every day. But you might not realize that there is another source for content creation right under your nose—the faculty.
Faculty bloggers are a great way to round out your school's story online. You can show off your outstanding teachers to several different audiences. Potential families and potential employees are both curious about what life is like on campus. Although student recruitment is a major part of outreach, staff turnover rates in international independent schools range from 10 percent to as high as 60 percent. This makes staff and faculty recruitment a big part of school marketing.
Making the Case
Faculty are already busy—they're teaching, after all—so asking teachers to blog on top of their regular duties might be a hard sell. There are ways to make the case, however. Teachers already regularly communicate with parents in a variety of ways. Think about how some of that information can be turned into blog posts—for example, photos from a field trip, quick video clips from presentations or class reading for the week. If the class is using technology or other tools in the classroom, all the better. Initiatives like 1:1 programs (one laptop for each student) are also great fodder for blogs.
Another way to make the case is to appeal to a teacher’s professional goals and career arc. Blogs can be a great way to create and maintain personal brand. As previously mentioned, it’s not uncommon for international school teachers to change schools. Some migrate to new schools every two to three years and having a digital record of classrooms and activities can be a great way to show course progression, teaching styles and interest to potential employers.
As always, protecting students and families is critical. Faculty should adhere to the same data protection and privacy policies used for all school publications. I am personally a big proponent of having the majority of content publicly available, but keeping kids safe is of the utmost importance.
Your teachers might be creating the greatest blog content ever written, but if it isn't easy to find, they might as well not bother. Make faculty blogs easy to find for all of your audiences: potential families, current families, potential employees and the teaching and learning community at large. Consider creating a page on your website that lists all faculty blogs and make it easy for users to navigate between them.
Final thoughts: Blogs aren’t the only way to share faculty-generated content. Microblogs like Twitter, photo sharing sites like Flickr or the many social bookmarking sites are also options. It’s up to you, the school and your faculty to figure out what works best.
Matthew Herek (@mherek) currently serves as the interim director of career services, students, and young alumni in the office of alumni relations and development at Northwestern University.
These days, social media is often at the forefront of conversations and a hot topic at advancement-related conferences with sessions offering multiple opportunities to discuss tools and strategies. I suppose this is a good thing, but I also see a couple of disconcerting trends.
We have the talent as a profession to think harder about standards and learning outcomes for our social media discussions at conferences. I think it is time we focused on doing just that. I would be interested to know other’s thoughts on this issue in the comment section below.
The co-moderator for this chat was Tim Ngwena, communications manager at the University of York.
These days, many institutions produce online and mobile magazines that provide unprecedented opportunities to engage with a global audience and unlock the gates. But simply placing everything online or on an app won’t engage your stakeholders. The right social strategy can help your print magazine do its job year-round and not just in the short window after it arrives in mailboxes.
The following case studies show how some universities are using social media to extend and enhance the reach of their magazines.
Building your brand in between editions—Harvard Magazine
“Keeping alumni of Harvard University connected to the University and to each other.”
That’s the blurb at the top of Harvard Magazine’s Facebook page, and it’s a succinct reminder of why alumni publications exist in the first place. Harvard's enviable resources have been put to good use and the magazine's Twitter account is now followed by 17,878 people. (That’s more than most institution-wide accounts!)
Harvard Magazine’s Facebook page gets things right—it posts daily, almost always links back to its own content and provides a simple sign-up form for the magazine’s weekly e-news to grow the readership even further.
Using social media in a time of crisis—University of Virginia Magazine
The University of Virginia acknowledged the transformative role played by social media in the wake of the controversial firing and re-appointment of President Teresa Sullivan earlier this year. In a special e-newsletter edition produced in July, the magazine offered deep coverage of the issue, including a Storify-esque round up of coverage that included substantial critical commentary.
The extraordinary fall 2012 print edition subtitled “17 days in June” provides dozens of additional pages of coverage and contains illustrated timelines and lengthy perspectives from the major players, including President Sullivan. This multi-platform approach provided alumni with complementary and timely coverage of a defining event in the university's history.
Let’s get visual—using Instagram and Pinterest to engage alumni
Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Florida regularly post Instagram campus shots that encourage students and alumni to share their warm and fuzzy feelings with their university communities.
Drake University, meanwhile, is all over Pinterest, with more than 100 pins inspired by its loveable bulldog mascot. Whether deployed on a photo-specific platform or shared via Twitter or Facebook, images are a great way to build school pride and encourage alumni to contribute to the conversation.
Alumni magazine social media tips:
In the spirit of sharing, how are you using social media to increase the lifespan of your alumni magazine?
Looking at “Cube Light” is like watching fractured sunlight on the ocean’s horizon, but contained within the geometric perfection of metal lines and angles. This is part of the “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” exhibition on view through Feb. 24, 2013, at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.
When I describe what the best social media people do, my favorite term, hands down, is curating. Curating speaks not only to the importance of visual storytelling but also to the idea that communicators are responsible for creating meaningful experiences that inspire people to stop, look and interact with them.
The best art exhibitions do this too. Museum curators are successful when people respond intellectually and emotionally to the art, spend time with it and come back and see it again.
Those of us who handle social media at colleges, universities and schools seek to curate content that will convince people to invest in our institutions and form relationships with us in some way. Lately, I’ve been mulling over the dynamic between user-generated content (independently created content that we happen to discover, like students’ YouTube videos) and the content that colleges and universities create themselves, and the best ways to make that user-generated content an asset. I was considering this when I wandered into the Hirshhorn Museum recently and saw Ai Weiwei’s “Cube Light” (2008). Ai, who is from China, is not only is a contemporary art rock star but also someone who is highly fluent in social media. During his ascent as an idea leader in the art world, he has often turned to Twitter and blogs to express his opinions, which have both enthralled and enraged a country where the government carefully controls media and messaging.
Ai’s cube series is inspired by Sergei Eisenstein’s 1928 film October which features a shaking crystal chandelier that suggests a society undergoing major change. Higher education is without a doubt experiencing an earthquake of change, every day. We’re dealing with MOOCs, the need for academic programs that are more relevant to workforce needs and new developments at every angle.
Marketing and branding are also pretty tumultuous territory. Suddenly we have new social media platforms to consider colonizing, mobile apps to develop and people who are frustrated by the job market questioning the value of a college degree. And the carefully prepared, one-way messaging we’ve treasured for decades is no longer as effective. We’re realizing that our students, alumni, parents, donors and friends can be terrific storytellers who can help us get our message out.
So how we do harness the power of these storytellers while also ensuring our marketing and branding messages are still getting through to the masses? You can follow some basic steps to make this happen, including asking interesting questions on Twitter and retweeting people’s answers with commentary, and creating Spotify playlists of alumni’s favorite songs from their college days to promote homecoming.
Here are two examples from colleagues I know through the Mid-Atlantic Higher Ed Social Network.
At Frostburg State, we’ve organized YouTube contests to net cool videos. We also take screenshots of people’s tweets and pop them up on our Facebook Page and crowdsource Instagram imagery each week. We launched our Pinterest account with the goal of empowering our recent graduates to create their own stories, through resources like articles on job-hunting advice and volunteering.
None of this amounts to an exact science, and you’re not always going to get the best content. But those moments when you do get something amazing, and your constituents notice you shared their stories on social media and recognized them ... those moments build relationships. Like sunlight on broken water, these stories can never be perfectly controlled or directed, but they can inspire you with their brilliance, if you organize them in an interesting way and invite others to look.