With many of you beginning, adjusting, or building upon your Social Media plans for the Fall 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 semester, I wanted to share how I approach Social Media in my Higher Education work.  The hope is that you and your staffs take some of this information and start the prep work now so your implementation goes smoothly once your students return.

1.  Strategy and Support
Before logging onto the computer, your first challenge is deciding as a staff WHY you want to add this work to your already busy plate.  Are you doing this to build an online community? Are you doing to this to promote your department’s events? Are you doing this because everyone else is?  Whatever the reason, make sure you are all on the same page and that it ties into your office and institution’s mission.  Decide who your target audience is and why you’ve decided to focus on them (Commuters, Residents, 1st Generation Students, Non-Traditional Students, Graduate Students, All?)

Then, get support from your supervisor to proceed with these initiatives.  Tell her/him that you would like to “beta” test this for a semester or two and see how it goes.  This way, you and your supervisor have an out in case either of you feel it isn’t working.  Most supervisors will feel less hesitation or concern if the perception is that this is a “temporary experiment.”

2.  Decide How/Who Will Manage, Develop, and Maintain Your Efforts (and Have a Backup Plan)
This will take “trial and error” and a great deal of patience.  At the core of this conversation are “content generation” and “community building” management.  In other words, who will post things to your social media sites and then respond once the conversations are flowing.  In our office, we have three staff members and some students who have a hand in our social media plan.  In yours, it may be more or less.  The focus has to be a solid plan AND backup plan, when things get busy.  You also have to decide what your content will be focused on since what is “interesting” on one campus maybe different for another.  Will your content be revolved around campus issues/events, world issues/events, or maybe both?

For example, here’s how our BSUlife.com site posts their articles:
a.  Blog article is written by a student and edited (for grammar, broken links, and graphics) by a staff member our Student Editor-In-Chief.
b.  Blog article is scheduled to post live at 3:00am (most likely Tuesday’s or Wednesday’s, Monday through Friday’s, based on our statistics, most people read our stuff on those days.  We changed our approach to daily posting and target our posting and re-posting times depending on our average statistics for each day. Additionally, because of our email digest of articles, auto posting at 3:00am allows for the system to include all these posts into the daily digest of content.
c.  Blog promotion begins on Twitter and Facebook using the equation:
New blog post from BLOGGER NAME: “BLOG TITLE” [shortened link] (Example)
On Twitter, we also add our Campus Hashtag (#bsulife)  On Facebook, we attach the link to the post an make sure the blogger’s name is highlighted as an @ mention. (Example)
– We use Hootsuite to schedule future Tweets at 12pm, 4pm, and 10pm to make sure our blog post is seen by as many people as possible (again, based on our site’s traffic patterns and numbers.)

Whether it is a blog or your Facebook/Twitter page content, you must be intentional in your posts.  Consider yourself the ultimate online FACILITATOR of conversation.

3.  Build Your Social Media Acumen and Shift Your Paradigms
It’s time that Higher Education and Student Affairs professionals think beyond email, posters, newsletters, and even traditional websites and shift the approach to also INCLUDE Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Photo, and Video content.  The best way for you to conceptualize this is by using these tools for yourself personally/professionally first.  Since most of you already use Facebook and have your own Facebook Pages, create and use a Twitter page this summer to connect to online communities that resonate with you.  No matter what your interests, you will find them on Twitter.  One you get the hang of using Twitter, check out my three part series on “Teaching Twitter to Higher Education Colleagues” and teach others.  The best way to learn is by teaching 🙂  Plus, you never know how using Twitter may find you a job!

4.  Define What Will Characterize “Success” at the End of the Year
For some of you, “success” in the Social Media will mean how many Fans and Followers you are able to garner.  For others, it may be how much increased traffic your website and blog gets.  For most of you though, I hope that you measure success as Kenn Elmore, Dean of Students from Boston University said, “How engaging were you with your audience online?  Did it draw new people into your offices and/or your events?  Were you able to build an online community?”  Success in Social Media will mean many different things to different departments, so decide early on in the process what success will mean for you so you have goals to achieve.

5.  Do the Little Things Well
a.   Search Engine Optimization (titles, tags, keywords, etc.)
Matt Cheuvront had great “Search Engine Optimization” conversations with me, which got me thinking about all the time I’ve spent in “creating” the blog framework and content, but how little time I had spent in the SEO stuff.  For those of you who decide to start and/or maintain a “blog”, maximizing your SEO framework is not hard work, but makes a huge difference is generating traffic to your site.  I recommend talking to these two as experts!
b.  Build Your Departmental Brand
Once you add Social Media to your department’s arsenal, make sure it complements your current branding.  If you look at our Bridgewater State Student Affairs Website, Facebook Fan Page, and Twitter Page, they are all connected.  Plus our Facebook and Twitter pages both use the same “BSUlife” handle so one may remember it easier.  Does your office have a “brand” and if so, how do you use it to connect with students?
c.  Listen then Engage
I did a lot of listening and in August 2009, it led to a conversation over Twitter with a new student that made me realize that I had been missing out on connecting with students over Twitter.  As you begin to use Social Media, use the search engines in both Twitter and Facebook to find people using your school in their updates.   You’ll begin to find others who are already talking about your school, its programs and services and have a place to begin reading/listening to the ongoing conversation.  When you’re ready, join the conversation and offer your perspectives and feedback, just as you would in person.

Final Thoughts / Future Plans
This is a lot to take in and process, especially if this is your first crack at developing a Social Media plan.  It has taken me a year to get to this point and I still have a lot to learn.  Most of what I have learned, I took from reading online articles, books, and connecting with people over Twitter, especially those who worked in Public Relations, Advertising, Marketing, Business, and most of all, Higher Education Web folks.  You’d be surprised how much of their work translates perfectly into the work Student Affairs/Student Life folks do.

In the Fall of 2010, I expanded our Social Media reach in the Campus Center to include a full “Tech Team” of students that now consists of:  Web Development, Blog, Marketing (Graphics/Photo), Video, and Social Media.  I shared some thoughts on the expansion on a different blog post 🙂

In the Spring of 2015, I have expanded our divisional efforts to an Integrated Marketing Team that our social media efforts are part of. Additionally, our latest Student Affairs Social Media Handbook helps guide our division’s efforts as it relates to Social Media use for student communication and engagement efforts.

How are you using Social Media to connect with your community?


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