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

Is Your School Missing Opportunities to Leverage Twitter?

09 May 2011

written by Dustin Brady

Is Your School Missing Opportunities to Leverage Twitter?

Within just a few short years, Twitter has become one of the most powerful tools in social media. Unfortunately, it has also become one of the most misused. As a result, many colleges and universities who were initially excited about Twitter’s potential have grown frustrated with the results of their efforts.

Is your school using Twitter to its fullest potential? I recently spoke with several colleges and universities that are doing great things with Twitter and published my findings in a white paper. Through my research, I noticed several things that separate the top schools from all the rest. If your school can make any of the following statements, you are missing key opportunities to leverage Twitter.

We use Twitter as “Facebook Lite”

Many schools look at Twitter as “Facebook Lite,” a tool useful for posting 140-character status updates, a few links and little else. While Twitter shares a number of features with Facebook, it has seen tremendous growth because of what it does differently.

One of these key differences is Twitter’s ability to facilitate a backchannel.  Today, thanks to Twitter, there are conversations going on in real time, all the time, about events ranging from global phenomena to small, on-campus lectures. Are you participating in these conversations?

If not, your first step should be to organize the conversation by creating a custom hashtag (#) around special events and promoting that hashtag. The Web services department at John Carroll University, for example, recently set up a page that assembled all the tweets and pictures tagged with the homecoming hashtag. When promoting homecoming events, the school also promoted the hashtag and ended up with plenty of online activity, both from users who attended on-campus events and alumni who followed homecoming in real time despite not making it to campus.

Your next step is interacting with the backchannel. Consider Higher Ed Live, a weekly online show hosted by UCLA’s Seth Odell. While Odell hosts each show from a laptop in his living room, dozens of people participate each week thanks to the hashtag #higheredlive. Viewers use the hashtag to talk about the show, comment on the conversation and submit questions. Odell does a great job of following the backchannel in real time and responding to the audience.

Consider pairing Twitter with live streaming to create an interactive community around performances, seminars and discussions. Live streaming presents endless opportunities despite requiring very little financial investment.

I just use Twitter for work

A surprising number of people who use social media all day for work don’t maintain their personal Twitter account. These people are missing out on one of Twitter’s most powerful uses – as a professional enrichment tool.

For people who work around social media, Twitter has become the place for sharing links to industry news, contributing to the latest discussions and reading the opinions of leaders in the field. Even if you don’t contribute much, you’ll be surprised by what you learn, not only from articles that get shared, but also from the backchannel.

For many, Twitter has become the water cooler of 2011. Even if no one else at your school gets social media, you’ll be able to use your professional network on Twitter to bounce ideas off friends, talk about the day’s news and ask nagging questions.

Build your network by following some of the top minds in higher education. One of the questions we asked everyone we interviewed for this series was, “Who do you follow on Twitter that helps you do your job better?” Download our white paper for a list of their recommendations.

Another great way to use Twitter for professional enrichment is following conferences you can’t attend in person. Many people who save Twitter searches for conferences and Webinars find the conversation surrounding the sessions to be just as helpful as the speakers’ presentations. For a list of higher education hashtags, visit

Even if you are able to attend a conference in person, you’ll find Twitter immensely helpful. “The presence of social media has created a whole different experience at conferences,” said Lori Packer, Assistant Director of Public relations at the University of Rochester. “At conferences I attend, I meet a dozen people in real life that I already know on Twitter and meet a bunch more that I start following after I leave. It’s a huge benefit to turn an annual meeting into a year-long community.”

We are using our school’s “logo” account to build relationships

People generally follow a Twitter account for one of five reasons:

  1. They are looking for a benefit (coupon, deal, contest entry, etc.)
  2. They are looking for information
  3. They want customer service
  4. They want entertainment
  5. They want a relationship

Tweets from a brand or “logo tweets” are generally good at only the first three tasks. When people follow your school’s main Twitter profile, they’re looking for answers to their questions, solutions to their problems and information about your school, not a best friend or a heart-to-heart conversation.

“People identify with people, not logos or organizations,” .eduGuru staff writer Karlyn Morissette told me.

Your school is full of people who are doing amazing things and have a lot to say. These are the people that your followers want to build relationships with, not your logo. If your school’s top personalities aren’t on Twitter, they should be.

While it may seem impossible to change the culture of apathy toward social media at your school, you may be surprised by what you can accomplish by just spreading enthusiasm. Sponsor lunch-and-learn sessions to educate others and start encouraging faculty, staff, administration and students to build their own social networks.

Soon, you’ll see the culture start to shift from Twitter as the responsibility of a central office to the responsibility of everyone on campus. Then, social media will be able to do what it does best – build relationships on a person-to-person level.

For more help using Twitter in higher education, download Fathom Online Marketing’s free white paper, “Five Powerful Uses for Twitter in Higher Education: Accomplish the Amazing in #140charactersorless.” You can also catch up on the rest of our series on social media in higher education by downloading our papers on holistic social media strategy and Facebook.

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About the author

Dustin Brady

Dustin Brady is a copywriter at Fathom Online Marketing, an Inc. 5000 Internet marketing company that delivers everything from organic SEO to video production. He’s written articles, emails, Web pages and video scripts for schools across the country. Learn more about Dustin’s white paper series on social media in higher education through the Fathom blog.

This post was written by Dustin Brady

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