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Harnessing the power of social media

Tips for power users and newbies on running a successful social networking program
University Business, September 2015

Without a doubt, social media has become one of the, if not the most, effective and efficient way for colleges and universities to communicate. Connected institutions can conduct “digital conversations” while sharing and collecting thoughts, ideas, information, opinions, images and video.

The implications for higher education marketing, public relations, admissions, alumni outreach and development operations are staggering. By strategically developing and enhancing relationships with your constituents with the help of a robust social media program, colleges and universities can garner interest and support never before imagined from all reaches of the globe.

Get the most from social media

Whether your institution is actively engaged in social networking or just starting out, these tips should help you achieve optimum return on your investment:

  1. Define your purpose. First and foremost, social media is about relationship-building and engagement. Commit to using your digital network as an opportunity to engage constituents in the life of your institution.
  2. Go slowly. Do not launch multiple social media platforms at once. Add a second one only if the first is established and successful—then grow your social media platforms from there. It is far better to launch and manage one or two social media accounts well rather than do three or more poorly. Do not fall prey to launching several social media platforms simply because a competitor has done so.
  3. Eliminate “fluff” posts. Make sure your content is interesting and relevant for your audience and worthy to be shared with wider social network users. Spread “awesome,” not “meh.”
  4. Establish a social media “personality.” Ever known someone who acts a certain way one day and is the complete opposite the next, only to revert to the initial personality the following day? It can be confusing and frustrating. The same holds true when developing a personality for your social media. Be consistent with the tone and look of your content, as well as with any images or videos you post.
  5. Promote your expertise. Target traditional and digital media outlets and respected bloggers, and demonstrate your institution’s public relations office as a credible news source for them by the content you post. Your role as the institution’s primary storyteller cannot be underestimated.
  6. Keep content fresh and relevant. Similar to maintaining fresh content on your website, your social media deserves attention every day. Your friends, followers and the social network peers expect it. Therefore, frequently and consistently post content when your constituents will most likely read and share your postings.
  7. Be extremely cautious about deleting negative comments. We all seek positive feedback. A negative comment posted on social media can often cause fear and panic, and lead some to immediately call for its removal. In today’s digital world, that negative comment can just as easily be posted elsewhere. I call this the “haunting effect,” as a quick deletion can come back to haunt us elsewhere on the internet. Institutions hold varying opinions about handling negative comments on social media. Whatever position you might hold, always remember that the haunting effect can be greatly reduced if a timely, reasonable and mature institutional response is given to the critic.
  8. Measure and evaluate the effectiveness of your social media platforms. Quantitative and qualitative data provide valuable information as you monitor your social media progress.
  9. Don’t pull the plug on traditional media. Television, newspapers and radio continue to attract significant audiences. A balanced approach is a smarter way to go as you engage millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers.
  10. Have fun and communicate. Don’t view social media as a chore. It is about connecting and having a genuine conversation with those who are interested in your institution. Strike up a conversation and be responsive to your friends and followers.

Marc C. Whitt is a 32-year veteran of higher education public relations and marketing. He recently was ranked No. 21 among the Top 100 Public Relations Influencers on Twitter. Contact him @marcwhitt.

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