10 Social Media Strategies for The Ivory Tower
The main problem with university social media branding strategy is this: There is no strategy.
Universities have not caught up yet. They are unaware of the benefits that a university-wide, coherent social media strategy can bring. A latin phrase, some colored logos, and Newsweek rankings seem to be the extent of the .edu’s marketing and community plan.
Here’s the current situation: Each department finds their own time, staff and money to design online social networking platforms their current students and alumni are requesting. If they don’t construct something (however haphazardly), students take it upon themselves to construct a Facebook group or a Ning for the department. No thought is applied to coherent design interdepartmentally or globally. Nothing is monitored, yet the university’s name is being employed and associated with these rogue websites (this makes lawyers quite nervous).
At barcampphilly this fall I sat in on a talk given by Geoff DiMasi of P’unk Avenue. Geoff mentioned that the major roadblock to progress at any .edu is trying to unite its three factions: Administration, Faculty and Students. Trying to get these three factions to agree on anything let along a coherent strategy even within an individual academic department is an incredible challenge at best. Jen Yuan, an IT Communications Analyst at the University of Pennsylvania added that there was an unofficial but heavily recognized fourth faction, Reputation. The Ivy League schools especially, Jen noted, weigh every move with the university’s reputation and perceived ranking (a.k.a. “brand”) in mind. I’ve been employed by the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania, and my husband is currently an assistant dean there. We both can attest to the truth in Jen’s statement.
I’ve worked within the academic computing environment, I’ve been a social media consultant for some local university departments, and I’m currently a Community Manager and webmaster for a public school parent/teacher organization. Based on my experience, I’ve constructed the ten steps below to help your academy start controlling and utilizing a coherent brand strategy in order to grow your community and strengthen your reputation.
Ten Social Media Brand Strategies for The Ivory Tower
1. Design a strategy ASAP. Realize that all online presence says something about your school. Just as you label architecturally diverse or similar buildings with the same colors, same fonts, etc., you must think about a consistent design for each department’s social networking site. It should be based on your overall look of your current websites. Having consistently designed sites directly influences your school’s reputation worldwide. Consider hiring a social media consultant.
2. Offer server space, template designs, and support to departments. Don’t leave the departments out in the cold. Their students are demanding social spaces online. Give them easy website and forum templates to choose from and set up the site for easy end-user administration. You can charge their budgets with a discounted price so they avoid outside solutions.
3. Find quick alternatives. If disk or support is too expensive, utilize Ning. Offer to set up a similarly branded Ning for each department at the University. The department can pay the tiny fee to keep the Ning ads off the site.
4. Communicate the strategy. Have training sessions for all of the departments’ computing gurus or social website administrators. Get the them connected online as a group. Set it up so they are constantly working and communicating with each other across departments.
5. Work from the top down. University administration at the highest levels need to be educated on this ‘splintered brand’ dilemma. They need to be on-board right away. Bottom-up grass roots initiatives are sprouting up outside of the administration’s control; this opens up the university to potential lawsuits with third-party solution houses and also risks the reputation of the faculty and students.
6. Get student and faculty input. Academia is founded on the concept of collaboration. Make sure the website and forum templates make sense to your audience, or you’ll have a disk full of abandoned sites. Rogue sites will start popping up again. You don’t want your students making a Facebook group for the department. Keep them happy, keep them home.
7. Don’t rule with an iron fist. There will be some varied needs from different departments. As long as the basic branding is present, the templates can change pretty drastically and still fit within the school’s strategy.
8. Link similar departments together. Provide communication opportunities between all website participants. Start with departments that have a lot of student cross-over. For example, Chemistry and Biology. You may even decide to make a combined space for the pre-med students who spend most of their time taking both classes in both the chemistry and biology departments.
9. Provide private areas. Students, alumni, and faculty need their own areas on their respective departments’ online space. Password level access is expected by most users now; it’s not offensive or against the social media tenet of “transparency”. A group thrives when its members know they have a designated space to communicate without public scrutiny.
10. Create an overall Community Manager (CM) position. This person would:
*Be a liaison between computing and the departments;
*Set up training of faculty, students and staff on the use of the sites;
*Protect and gently enforce the university’s web strategy and rules;
*Report to the higher offices that deal with public relations and/or computing;
*Help create a community of other CM’s in other universities;
*Be on-call for any problems that may influence the community or the university’s brand negatively.
*Ferret out rogue sites and influence the users to come back into the university’s plan.
*Perform any other duties as needed to improve and protect and foster your academy’s online community.
These ten steps should get universities, colleges and schools thinking in the right direction. The unique environment of academia is based on collaboration, research, and careful thought. Keeping true to those principles will lead you to coherent and effective online community that will enhance the world’s experience with your school.
Please add, subtract, collaborate on this list with your comments.