I’ve realized that many of my colleagues who work in Higher Education, specifically in Student Affairs offices, are just now starting to hop onto social media giant, Twitter, and its many possibilities.  As community builders on our campuses, we need to tap into this growing population and connect with our students.  Here’s what I tell all new “Tweeple” on Twitter:

1.  Ask Yourself (and your Staff) Why You Want to Use Twitter
questionmarkWhile many of you are now starting to use Facebook and Twitter for personal reasons, why do you and your staff want to use it for your office?  Does your College’s “Institutional Communication” office use it for official communication?  Do other departments around you use it?  Gather information and find out if using it falls in line with your office’s mission.  Don’t just use Twitter because other people are, use it because it fits your staff!

What most folks in Higher Education are finding is that college students don’t use Twitter as much as Facebook… yet.  If you think about how Facebook started in the college market, once it opened itself up to the public, the rest of the world caught up.  With Twitter, it seems that a certain segment of Web 2.0 users got on it and now college students are trying to catch up, and see if they like it enough to continue using it.  I recommend using it creatively in conjunction with Facebook, and you may be able to get your students on board!

2.  Find one or two “Social Media Managers”
If you are new to using Twitter, it would help to find a current staff member or student familiar with it to help you navigate the Twitterverse 🙂  While it is easy to sign up, using it is much different than other social networking sites, like Facebook and MySpace.  Whether you have anyone or not that can help you get started, I would recommend the following sites:

a.  “Twitter in Plain English” – A great, short video about what Twitter is!

b.  Get familiar with “Mashable”Mashable is the world’s largest blog focused exclusively on Web 2.0 and Social Media news.  Founded by Pete Cashmore, this site is simply awesome and chock full of information.  His top five tips for new Twitter users can be found here
c.  Need more newbie Twitter Information? Visit Michael Hyatt’s Blog on “The Beginners Guide to Twitter“.  It’s a fantastic, comprehensive guide to using Twitter.

Once you feel comfortable understanding Twitter, just use it as much as possible and add it to your list of advertising strategies for events or announcements.  Use your Media Manager(s) to help implement this form of communication and networking.

3.  Offer Incentives and Contests to Gather More Followers
Some Tweeple use incentives and contests to increase their followers.  Applications in Higher Education could include:  Student Activities Offices giving away “free stuff” like t-shirts, tickets to big on-campus events; Residence Life giving away a better lottery number for their respective housing lottery; Parking Offices giving away premium parking spots on campus; Campus Centers giving out meal vouchers at their dining halls; etc. all for following and/or retweeting and selecting a “follower” at random for the prize.  Have you ever done this to increase followers?  If so, what have you done?

4.  Follow Other Department’s Tweets (On and at Other Campuses)
There are many Student Affairs offices using Twitter now and its important to connect with those folks to see how they use it!  To find and connect with all these great Tweeple, use a service like “WeFollow” and you can easily search them and even add your Twitter account to the list!
wefollow

5.  Use Hashtags As Assessment Tools!
While you can use Twitter’s search tool to find specific people, companies, and their messages (“tweets”) on the service, Hashtags allow users to sort topics into useful categories to revisit later.   If you’ve spent any time on Twitter, you’ve probably seen a hashtag before.  A “#” symbol sets off a hashtag. For instance, if you wrote a tweet about the Red Sox, it might look like this:
tweetUtilize Hashtags to organize information that you contribute and consume on Twitter. As the tweets pile up, the extra time you take to thoughtfully categorize your tweets with a hashtag will help the greater Twitter community (and you individually) make the most of the service.  An example of this might be:  A student activities office tweets that their programming board is holding their annual concert and wants to know from its followers who they should bring.  An example tweet could be: “BCStudentEvents is planning its Spring Fest Concert.  Who would you like to see them bring? #BCSpringFestBand”

I’m hoping more of my colleagues in Higher Education will think about more creative ways to use Twitter because it is a fantastic community building tool that could benefit those who work at Colleges and Universities if they gave it a shot.  What do you think?  Does it have a place in Higher Ed?