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Developing a Smart Social Media Strategy

A University Business Web Seminar Digest - Originally presented on April 6, 2010

Social media is not just for students. Faculty, administrators, campuses, and departments can leverage social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to communicate and enhance services to candidates, students, parents and alumni. Our Web seminar panelists, Nicholas Wormley, director of alumni and parent relations at Quinnipiac University, and Karli Grant, of Campus Management, offer guidance on how to implement a smart social media strategy.

Understand what your audiences want

Nicholas Wormley
Director of Alumni and Parent Relations, Quinnipiac University


We all have different audiences, but we all need to be sending out the same messages.

What do Quinnipiac alumni, parents and friends want? They want a rich user experience. They want effective and easy ways to find people. They want to share, to invite others to share, and to collaborate on content. We had to decide which Web 2.0 products to use, and much of the decision came down to budget and staffing. Web 2.0 is a huge commitment, and we had to figure out who was going to run it and how much time it was going to take.

We started off with YouTube and we built our own channel, The Quinnipiac University Channel. That allows us to advertise events. It lets us keep alumni from California to Florida in touch with what's happening on campus so they can feel that they are part of their alma mater. It also allowed us to create a video highlighting our admissions efforts that we can take to our alumni and show the success of the program. We could also use YouTube show academic presentations.

The next thing would be Flickr, which we've used for a couple different things. We want to make sure that we've taken pictures of the event so the alumni who came to the event get to see the pictures.

We all have different audiences, but we all need to be sending out the same messages.

We consider LinkedIn much more of a professional site. We use it to post jobs. We allow alumni to find jobs and post their own, develop professional skills, and make new connections with other alumni in their fields.

In July of 2008, we hired an associate director for alumni relations. He was responsible for our Young Alumni Society, the Student Alumni Association, and our Web 2.0 activities, which, at the time, were Facebook and LinkedIn. In October of 2008, we also hired an assistant director for marketing events and to manage our website. She was responsible for marketing our alumni events, which utilized both YouTube and email blasts. We also created a monthly alumni newsletter that includes alumni profile stories and YouTube videos.

In April of 2009, we established a university-wide committee. We included deans, public relations, athletics, the online university, and we really sat down and talked about our needs. We all have different audiences, but we all need to be sending out the same messages. So we discussed how to get our messages across in a timely manner and in a way that would not duplicate efforts and make sure we were communicating the right message about academic excellence and national prominence.

This started to give us a really good framework for how to engage alumni and parents, as well as how to get students involved in the alumni association before they leave. It was a very easy way to get people to understand what is going on at Quinnipiac. It was a very user friendly, personal experience. And it was definitely in keeping with our strategic plans.

Take a step-by-step approach to social media


Karli Grant
Senior Market Strategy Manager, Campus Management

Roll it out a little at a time because that gives you a chance to really pause and take a look at your results and your efforts.

The very first step in creating a social media strategy is to identify your audience targets. Who are you trying to reach? Is it a mass audience such as all your alumni? Or a specific segment like prospective students from particular states? There is a lot of research that can give you basic information to start with. Then you can layer on focus groups, student surveys, new hire surveys and other information. Research is really a key place to start.

Along the way, you want to consider what your audiences know about your institution. Young alums may not know a lot about the alumni association, while current students often don't know anything about the alumni association. Think in terms of how have you reached out to them before and what's the tone of the message you'd like to be sending out now.

The next step is to determine your capacity, tactics and tools. Identify and establish lines of responsibility for who is going to create and manage your content and monitor the different sites. Determine if you will have a couple of staffers work on it or decentralize across the institution. But if it is decentralized, make sure it is a coordinated effort, because you want your messages to be consistent. You want them to be reiterated, reinforced, and not in conflict with other messages that are going out.

I am a fan of using outside expertise if necessary. If this seems too overwhelming there are plenty of outside firms that will help you. You also have a great resource in your students, young alumni and young faculty. They are very technically savvy and could easily be pulled into an advisory board.

Roll it out a little at a time because that gives you a chance to really pause and take a look at your results and your efforts.

Another step is to create a culture and build awareness. Start at the very top and gain buy-in or at least a sense of appreciation before launching a full-blown social media strategy. Your president needs to know what you're doing and why you're doing it. Again, with the data you've accumulated you've got great sound information to go and say, "Here's what we need to do and why, and we'd like your support with it." It may also help to keep an eye on what a couple of your peer institutions or your competitors are doing. Then you can use that in gaining buy-in as well.

Finally, as part of your plan, be prepared to measure, to do some reviewing and some tweaking as necessary. There are a lot of tools out there. If you haven't made a foray into Web 2.0 yet, don't try to take it on all at once. Try to do a phased roll-out process. Say, for example, "We are going to go live with our Facebook Fan Page in 30 days. Ninety days after that we will have a YouTube channel. And 120 days after that we are going to be up on Twitter."

Consider conducting internal trials and focus groups of faculty, new staff, first time freshmen, upcoming graduating seniors. They've got a lot to say and a lot of them are already engaged in social media tools, so they would be a great source of feedback for you.

Roll it out a little at a time because that gives you a chance to really pause and take a look at your results and your efforts, so you can adjust as needed and then move on. Then it becomes less of an overwhelming task.

To view this Web seminar in its entirety, please go to