Panel: Taking Social Media Strategy to the Next Level at Your Institution

by Gwen Doyle, Conference Director, Academic Impressions

You may still be struggling in developing a sound social media strategy across many platforms; many of your peers are, too. And ensuring you understand social media's role in your institution's overarching brand and digital strategies can be extraordinarily difficult.

I sent a few questions to the panel of expert faculty from the Academic Impressions Social Media Strategy conference, and I would like to share their answers with you here. These are among the most incredible minds working on social media in higher education today; from content strategy to metrics to brand, I chatted with each of them about areas they are especially passionate about.

Here is their advice.

Tim Jones (Clarkson University) on Content Strategy

Gwen Doyle: Tim, what is hardest about implementing a content strategy? What do poeple need to re-think?

Tim Jones: With the wild variation in skill sets, expertise, responsibilities and understanding of great content and social media, the hardest part of content strategy implementation usually comes down to internal alignment.

It's tempting to read up on content strategy and try to replicate every conceivable element and implement as many tools and processes as possible. To pull that off, most higher-ed organizations would need new resources, new staff, sweeping changes to well-worn workflows, and the addition of more content and social media responsibilities to already taxed staff.

Nice to have, sure, but not going to happen, certainly not all at once. The challenge is working with what you have.

In some places, that means exploring simple, subtle adjustments or improvements to content creation and content management that make it easier to create and publish your best stuff on social channels to showcase your brand personality.

In other places, that might mean focusing on an existing source of exceptional (or even exceptionally weird) visual content and creating new ways to get that worked into your social streams without slamming someone with a ton of new work.

Content strategy should solve problems. It should make your work and the work of those around you better—more efficient, more meaningful, more enjoyable, more rewarding and more creative. Getting there is a lot easier if you work with what you have instead of against it.

Keith Hannon (Cornell University) on Aligning Goals with Metrics

Gwen Doyle: Keith, I know you're really passionate about aligning goals with metrics. Tell us about your approach with using goal-setting to decide upon metrics.

Keith Hannon: Social media provides a blitzkrieg of data. Never has the "drinking through a fire hose" analogy made more sense than when applied to social media metrics.

With that in mind, it's incredibly important to know what you want to get out of social media before you start measuring your impact. Most social media enthusiasts struggle to get proper investment from their institution, and if you're going to make the case for the power of social media, you need to make sure your work aligns with your institution's internal goals.

It's easy for colleagues to email me in mass asking if I'll promote their stuff on the institutional Facebook page, but when that happens you have to understand what they're trying to achieve. For example, if I know that my alumni office wants to engage more international alumni and I show all the engagement we're getting from New York City alums, they might see me as a rogue employee who isn't supporting the team.

Once you know what your division wants to accomplish, you can craft a content strategy and identify the key performance indicators that connect your social success with your school's overarching goals.

Nick DeNardis (Wayne State University) on Social Media and Brand

Gwen Doyle: Nick, what is the biggest opportunity for leveraging social media to promote your brand?

Nick DeNardis: The biggest opportunity for us is to communicate the personality of our institution.

Wayne State University is primarily a commuter school in Detroit, and we have a larger than average number of part-time students. The students that park, walk to class, walk back to their car and leave don’t have the opportunity to experience campus life or connect with their fellow students who do live on campus. We leverage social media to bring that campus experience to those who would otherwise see us as a transitional place.

We do this by focusing on individual conversations, and using photos/videos to show how much campus life really is happening. This also helps to break the impression of what "Detroit" looks like for prospective students who have never set foot on campus. These activities culminate in a higher engagement rate between our followers and institutional accounts and ultimately in more positive sentiment when we are mentioned.