Providing Central Guidelines and Support for Social Media

It’s crucial that social media communications across your institution support your institution’s brand and mission. Aligning multiple channels (both social and traditional) to tell the same story about your institution in varied voices is powerful; multiple and uncoordinated channels telling different stories about your institution is problematic. It’s also a missed opportunity.

Yet studies over the past year (such as CASE’s April 2011 survey and an .eduGuru study entitled The State of Higher Ed Media 2011)  found that aside from guidelines around branding and graphics, most units do not have policies or guidelines related to content management, privacy issues, response to negative postings, or legal and ethical issues; and only 16 percent of professionals said a coordinating group exists within their institution to guide social media use.

To align those social media communications already happening, at varied points throughout your institution, take these critical steps:

  • Treat your institution’s key contributors of social media content as “brand ambassadors” for your institution, educating them with best practices and guidelines for representing the institution
  • Establish and communicate a clear, campus-wide social media policy to address legal and privacy issues
  • Develop guidelines for faculty syllabi for courses using social media

Educating Your Brand Ambassadors

It’s key to recognize that those members of your campus community who are producing social media content – your bloggers, your tweeters, the alumni who maintain active Facebook groups – are already acting as the faces and voices of your institution. These are potential brand ambassadors and advocates for your institution’s mission and key messages. While you do want to ensure that you have a policy addressing legal and privacy issues related to social media, make sure that your institution is equipping brand ambassadors with resources and best practices, rather than policing.

"Social media is still new enough that users are starved for leadership. If you can provide them with best practices and examples of what effective communications in social media look like, most people are very willing to make improvements. Give them examples of what works, and communicate what you are doing as an institution, why you are doing it, and what benefits your approach can create."
Patrick Powers,
Director, Digital Marketing and Communications
Webster University

Webster University, seeking to support social media users across 108 campuses, has relied heavily on live streaming of social media workshops, webinars, and tutorial videos to quickly share and disseminate guidelines and best practices. There is a wealth of online tutorials on effective social media communication already available through YouTube. You can also assemble several examples of effective social media communications from your own institution, discuss them in brief videos, and share that resource out widely across your institution. This has the dual effect of both providing effective examples and celebrating and rewarding your brand ambassadors.

Cultivating a Faculty Community of Practice

Similarly, faculty adopters of social media tools can drive innovation in teaching and learning that will help your institution remain competitive and effective in achieving its teaching mission. While it will be important to offer guidelines to faculty, it is also important to provide resources and support for faculty innovation.


To learn more about supporting faculty in using online technologies in the classroom, read these articles from Higher Ed Impact:

Tips on Training Faculty on Teaching with Technology
(November 2009, with Patricia McGee)

Training and Preparing Faculty for Teaching Online
(June 2010, with Charles Dziuban)

While these articles are focused on faculty development for online courses, much of what is advised also applies to supporting faculty in integrating social media technologies into their classes.

Kimberley Eke, senior manager of the Teaching and Learning Interactive division at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, recommends moving beyond faculty development workshops on social media to cultivate a community of practice for faculty who are using social media and other Web 2.0 technologies in their classes. “Foster a community of faculty adopters who are providing resources, tools, ideas, and attested solutions to each other,” Eke suggests. “And resist the urge to think of this as just an interdepartmental community. It can be inter-institutional. Use social media to invite contributions from faculty elsewhere in the world, via Twitter, Skype, or blogging.”

If your campus doesn’t currently have an e-learning community of practice, an easy way to initiate one is to hold a faculty charette, at which:

  • Several faculty provide examples of innovative pedagogical strategies they have tried that were enabled by social media tools
  • Faculty brainstorm (perhaps at round tables or in small groups) ways to integrate these strategies into their own classes, additional strategies to try, alternatives, or next steps

Via a blog or online video, the results of the charette can be made available online to the larger group of the institution’s faculty.

Establishing a Clear Policy and Guidelines

Given the decentralized creation of social media content, it will be important to establish and communicate a central policy addressing social media use in relation to legal issues (FERPA, HIPAA, copyright, and fair use), as well as guidelines for how to represent the institution well. In the absence of guidelines, institutions miss not only the opportunity to limit potential risks to reputation by reminding social media users of the public nature of social media sites, they also miss the opportunity to educate and empower brand ambassadors to serve as more unified, effective voices for the institution’s mission, vision, and key strategic messages.

Guidelines for Faculty

Alisa Cooper, assistant chair and e-courses coordinator for the English department at Glendale Community College, suggests establishing additional guidelines specific to syllabi and coursework, in collaboration with representative faculty. These guidelines don’t need to be long; they just need to be clear. For example, Glendale Community College’s guidelines are centered on just four points:

  • Emphasizing that students can’t be obligated to provide personal information on the Web as part of a course assignment – faculty need to allow students to either opt out of an assignment or use pseudonyms
  • Ensure that syllabi clarify the public nature of social media to students
  • Ensure that the use of social media in the course is clarified in the syllabus, and that students are immediately aware of what is optional, what is mandatory, and how it’s related to their graded assignments
  • Ensure that students aren’t being graded in any public fashion

“These are rules faculty already know,” Cooper notes. “The purpose of the guidelines is to serve as a reminder, and to help faculty manage the increasingly blurry line between the public and the private sphere in their classes.”

In This Issue

Social Media: From Tactics to Strategy

A Letter from Amit Mrig, President, Academic Impressions

Social Media: Not a Brave New World

Social Media and Student Recruitment

In and Out of the Classroom: Using Social Media in Ways that Matter

Social Media and Alumni/Donor Engagement

Providing Central Guidelines and Support for Social Media