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Beyond the News

Do college presidents have to be active on Twitter?

Active use of Twitter and Facebook may become a job requirement, a new study says
University Business, November 2013
College presidents are using Twitter to interact with students and faculty.
College presidents are using Twitter to interact with students and faculty.

College presidents, don’t worry—yet—if you only have three Twitter followers.

You don’t need to be a social media superstar right now. In the near future, however, active use of Twitter and Facebook may be a full-blown requirement, according to a study of tweeting in higher ed administration by Dan Zaiontz, a grad student at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.

“There is a group of elite leaders in North America who believe social media is impacting their institution in a positive way and is helping to advance their interests,” Zaiontz, a Toronto-based social media consultant, said in the webcast of his defense of his study, called “#FollowTheLeader.”

Zaiontz used Twitter to recruit the 22 presidents interviewed. The presidents reported spending between five and 30 minutes on social media a day.

The study was, in part, inspired by University of Cincinnati President Santa J. Ono. With 22,000 Twitter followers, Ono uses it to respond to student questions and celebrate institutional achievements, Zaiontz says. Such use can set a tone of responsiveness for the whole campus.

Presidents are using Twitter as a tool to recruit students who these days use social media as their main form of communication and interaction. Connections with faculty, government, media, alumni, and donors are taking place via Twitter, as well. Presidents are acting as thought leaders, strengthening their institutions’ reputations, gathering intelligence, and building strategic relationships, the study found.

The study gives names to the approaches presidents are taking in their use of Twitter, including:

  • The Customer Servant: Answers a wide range of questions.
  • The Institutional Promoter: Only shares content about the school.
  • The Socially Inconsistent President: Has social media accounts but doesn’t use them.
  • The Oversharing Non-Strategist: Mixes personal information and institutional news but has no clear purpose.
  • The Socially Active Strategist: Exhibits a clear strategy in blending personal information into institutionally-focused activity.

Among the best practices presidents are encouraged to follow are setting goals for social media usage, making a sincere commitment to follower engagement, deciding how much risk they’re willing to take, and finding social media role models. Presidents should regularly assess the effectiveness of social media and be willing to adapt to new goals.

The report warns presidents to get some guidance from their advisors before leaping into the Twittersphere. Presidents also should understand Twitter is hyperpublic, hypercritical, and any comments made—particularly clumsy ones—could spread like wildfire.