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Internet Marketing and Web Development in Higher Education and other tidbits…

Help Me Help You: Social Media Education

08 Jul 2009

written by Rachel Reuben

Help Me Help You: Social Media Education

Are you a resource on your campus for all things social media?

Yes? Let’s brainstorm about how we can best react to and assist people on campus who come to us to ask for guidance with some ideas they have.

No? Let’s pretend. Play along with us here — the more collaborative minds we put together, the better.

The primary purpose of this post is to flesh out  the best response to this type of question:

“I want to create a Facebook Page for my [department/program/event/service] and thought I should probably coordinate that with you. Where should I start?”

I understand this may not be as likely to happen on larger campuses as it is in small to mid-size campuses. The point of posing this question is to talk through the best ways we can help educate and partner with people on campus who want to embrace social media.

I usually start with this first question:  Who is your audience?

Then I move to:  What are your department’s/program’s/event’s/service’s goals? Let’s start with the end result and work backwards.

spokes 300x200 Help Me Help You: Social Media EducationNext, I tell them social media may or may not be the best tool for them to use. This usually stumps them. Yes, I present at a bunch of conferences on social media. Yes, I did a research paper on the use of social media in higher education. Yes, I’m an active user of many social networking sites. However, as I say in just about every presentation I give — social media is not the be all end all. It is just one spoke in our marketing wheel. It may or may not be the right tool to use for a particular department/program/event/service — it all depends on your audience and your goal(s). It can be a very powerful medium that can reach very targeted audiences, but may not be the right tool for every audience and strategy.

“But I want my event to go viral.”

Just because you want something to go viral doesn’t mean it will. It takes a dose of effort and a pinch of luck, along with a powerful strategy and commitment, to really make this work.

Let’s keep exploring. Next steps:

  • Educate them about the art of listening. Chris Brogan has a great post I regularly point people to — “Grow Bigger Ears in 10 Minutes.” In addition, Kyle James wrote a post about monitoring your online identity that provides additional ideas and details. Listening first gives you a sense of what is being said about your department/program/event/service. It may also give you further ideas for content generation (see next step), and gives you an opportunity to join in existing conversations.
  • Content issues: Where will the content come from? Who will be responsible for maintaining your content and your presence? How will you engage your audience? Having a presence is not nearly enough – you must commit to fresh content that would be of interest to your audience.
  • Integration: How will you integrate this effort through the other mediums in your marketing wheel? Things to consider — mentioning in e-mail newsletters, e-mail signatures, print publications, ads, Web sites, blogs, admission tours, etc.
  • Measurement: How will you measure if your effort is successful? Were goals achieved? Is having a dollar value ROI important? (If so, see Karlyn’s presentation on Eye On the Prize.) While there is great value in calculating ROI, I also like to focus on the “I” as “influence” — looking at the long tail effect. For example, in our Café New Paltz community for fall 2009 accepted students, I’m interested in tracking the different impacts on student service offices from their typical routine and schedule over the summer and early fall. Students in this community were figuring out as early as January who they wanted to room with, instead of waiting and scrambling during Orientation in July, taking a load off Residence Life and Student Development staff from what they’re normally used to that time of the year. Students are asking questions earlier about paying bills, setting up meal plans, and how to accept financial aid packages. There likely won’t be as big of a rush in these offices at the end of August, as we’ve been answering their questions months earlier. How else can you measure your success? I posted some other ideas in “Café New Paltz: A Yielding Success” that might give you some additional ideas. 

What steps did I miss? Do you have other strategies you employ when faced with a similar question? Do you make an concerted effort to coordinate all of the individual social media outposts on your campus, or just concern yourself with the big picture presence?

The content of this post is licensed: ©2009 All Rights Reserved


About the author

Rachel Reuben

Rachel Reuben is the Associate Vice President for Marketing Communications at Ithaca College. She was a blogger on .eduGuru from November 2008 - January 2010. Read her complete bio.

RachelReuben.comRachel on Twitter Rachel on LinkedIn  Rachel on Delicious Rachel's SlideShare Presentations Rachel on UWebD

This post was written by - who has written 33 posts on .eduGuru


  • http://utodd.com Todd

    I make them learn to drive (set up a “personal” account and play) before handing over the keys to the company car.

    • http://www.sametz.com/roundthesquare Tamsen McMahon

      I couldn’t agree more. A key question is, “Have you used these tools yourself?”

      Social media tools can’t be understood through observation–they need participation.

  • http://www.udconnection.com Stephen Mangat

    I get most to have their IT rep. agree to help out – prevents people from using moi as a crutch when they can’t figure out simple stuff (html, how to find tips online, etc.)

  • http://www.heidicool.com/blog/ Heidi Cool

    When I was Webmaster for case.edu I created a Ning site that people involved in communications and the Web could use to share ideas and best practices. We didn’t have a large user group there, but I’d started using it as a place to collaborate on best practices, and included a group on it to share social media resources and discuss some of the strategies I was using in my group.

    I also encouraged people to post what they were doing and what the results were so others could get a better sense of how different strategies worked. I was only just beginning to grow this site when I left the university, but something like this, or an Intranet that makes it easy for all to share ideas can be a way for people to share educational resources and case studies.

    I was also using my Web Development Blog to share ideas related to Web communications in general so I started sharing my own experiences with social media there.

    Like you, when asked directly I tell people to think about their goals and audience. I wrote a blog entry, MKTG 101: Social Media Marketing is still marketing: know your audience to help people think about this, particularly in terms of where your audience is.

    On campuses one also needs to think of a mix of open services like Facebook and Twitter and campus specific services such as blogs, discussion boards, wikis, etc. Case also has a daily newsletter distributed as a blog and by e-mail to which readers could submit event and news announcements they wanted to share with the campus community.

    Campus Web teams are often early adopters of social media, so it seems logical that they could take a lead role in educating their community about these tools, and they could use these tools to make that education happen.

    Now as an independent Web Designer/Strategist I find I’m often discussing social media strategies with clients in or out of academia. Sitting with them one-on-one and showing them examples is a good way to educate, but it’s hard to do that when you’re trying to reach a wider community.

    In Cleveland we have an active Social Media Club with a mission to educate businesses and individuals about social media. We just produced an eBook, Welcome to Social Media as a way to help people get started. While some chapters are geared to personal use and others to biz, I think this might also be a very helpful resource for campus communicators new to social media.

    Overall I think the key to teaching campus members about social media is to remember that they come from a wide array of backgrounds. They may come to us asking how to promote program X or Y via Facebook, but they may also need a crash course in mktg, pr, communications in addition to specifics regarding social media.

  • Jerry Garcia

    Great article and resource links, thx. I like Todd’s tip about getting them to “learn to drive” great idea.

  • http://doteduguru.com Kyle James

    Rachel,
    Love it! I couldn’t agree more. It’s like the other post I wrote a while back that “Social Media Comes Last”! I work with companies every day and a lot of them want to talk about Social Media but what are you promoting and talking about if you aren’t producing the value on your site and you aren’t setup to measure and convert those visitors. If you send social visitors to your site and it sucks not only do you fail but you fail FOREVER! They aren’t coming back.

  • http://www.yu.edu Isaacson

    These are great points, I would add — time/effort commitment. People can be gun ho about social media until they realize that they need to put in persistent effort. Having a useful and successful twitter account, FB page or whatever means you need to put in the time on a scheduled basis.

    Make a shared calendar and discuss how often you will perform the various updating/maintenance tasks that will make this whole effort worthwhile.

  • http://howardkang.com Howard Kang

    Definitely agree with everything you wrote. I think that departments need to ask these questions and have solid answers before jumping in. There are so many examples of people failing because they’re chasing the technology instead of trying to meet needs.

  • http://socialmediaU360.com Catie

    Great points! I was at a conference for new users of social media yesterday (observing) and the main speaker said that if you want something to be viral, just PUT IT OUT THERE. If it’s good, people will talk about it! He also said that one of the most important things in this industry is to be a good writer, so make sure you’re eloquent & poignant, yet brief.

  • http://wilhb81ez.blogspot.com wilhb81

    Rachel, there are still so many people who didn’t know the power of the social media network. In this case, they should read your article, as you’ve been pinpointed the crucial methods about the social media education!

  • http://insidetimshead.wordpress.com TimN

    Amen! Social media is just one more tool in the box, a means and not an end. The sustainability angle is important; nothing makes a Fans page look sillier than never updating it nor answering any readers’ questions. Anyone wanting to establish a presence has to remember social media is two-way communication.

  • http://merille.com Eddie Merille

    Could not agree more. Great post. And I have to second Todd’s comment. My biggest battles are with those who have never used social media.

  • http://www.goddessofclarity.com Lori Packer

    Great post! And I get the question you pose all the time. It’s almost always followed by: “What is the University policy on social media?” When I tell them there isn’t one, they seem a little surprised. The same people who often complain about the rounds of approvals they need to go through or the number of policies they have to follow seem paralyzed into inaction when there suddenly isn’t one.

    I tell them that — once they have gone through all the steps you spell out so excellently here — just write up a little proposal if that helps and show it to their immediate boss. Be prepared to do a little show-and-tell if that boss has not yet experienced Facebook or Twitter or others. And then, JUST DO IT!

    • http://www.rachelreuben.com Rachel Reuben

      @Lori Good one! I totally should have included that follow-up question in my original post, as I hear it too! What’s your feeling on that – do you think your university should have a social media policy? Many do in the corporate world, but haven’t seem any in higher ed, except for one “Twitter Guidelines” document by the University of Washington, I believe.

  • http://stlcc.edu George Sackett

    Wonderful Rachael – Great post.

    We are starting to see faculty/staff jump in to promote their programs and I am quite excited to see them do so.

    I am struggling with the idea of establishing a policy. I have aready had an experience where someone started an “official” account for a department but there were some brand issues about the way they used the logo etc. It took me some time to identify who set the account up and track them down. (I was relucatnt to make public comments on their timeline to point out a problem) They were very understanding of the issues that I raised and made the needed changes but it pointed out to me that we need to have a few “ground rules” in place. Listing the social network account with the Community Relations office might be a place to start.

    I also worry a bit about their sophistication in dealing with “flaming” conversations. Having a “game plan” available might help resolve this sort of problem without making it worse.

    I would love to see if any other schools have established a Best Practices Guide for Social Media.

  • http://www.plusplustutoring.com Tutoring

    I personally do not think Facebook is a good tool in the professional setting.

  • http://www.excite.com/education/business/finance/mba Best Finance MBA

    i could not agree with you but i like your post otherwise thanks for sharing

  • http://www.myspace.com/564968973/blog/542849467 army mos

    Awesome blog, I am going to spend more time researching this topic

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