Social media can be a minefield for leaders across a number of professions. For tech-savvy higher education administrators who want to keep up, it’s important to keep several best practices in mind. Having an account in the first place, for example, is important only if you intend to use it, as a lackluster presence is often worse than no presence at all.
For those willing to put in the effort, however, it is possible to rise to the social media wizardry of University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono. Read on for five tips that will help you move ahead of the pack on Twitter and beyond.
Think before you post
Plenty of people have been burned on Twitter and other social media sites for posting something that may seem innocent enough within a circle of like-minded friends, but creates significant controversy when thrust under the microscope of a broader audience. Taking some extra time to think about every post and whether it is appropriate, given the user’s role in an institution, ends up saving time in damage control in the long run.
While not an administrator, Saida Grundy, a sociologist who found herself at the center of controversy earlier this year over her tweets on race while finishing a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, stands as an example of why conversations meant for a "bubble" are not best served by Twitter.
Be a real person, but keep institutional messaging in mind
When a video of white SAE members singing a racist song at the University of Oklahoma went viral, President David Boren took to Twitter with incredible force, denouncing the students as a disgrace. While some spoke out against his message, he received overwhelming support from across the U.S.
Updated statement attached - DBo pic.twitter.com/xxfiJwCh0P— David Boren (@President_Boren) March 9, 2015
Recently resigned University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe, on the other hand, was criticized for his silence on diversity issues in the system — a complaint helped along by perhaps too-vetted and inauthentic social media posts.
Unity College Associate Director of Media Relations Bob Mentzinger says Boren’s comments, though harsh, aligned with the mission of the university, creating a positive outcome for a statement that in some ways went against the traditional social media advice to avoid getting too personal or acting too quickly.
Develop an institutional strategy and create guidelines
Social media committees that bring together staff members, faculty, and administrators are one way to make sure the entire college or university is aligned when it comes to strategy for social media. Guidelines are important for institutional leaders, but should extend all the way through the organization.
David J. Hinson, former executive vice president and CIO at Hendrix College and current director of technology services at Yeshivah of Flatbush, says it’s important to lay out general rules of the road, acknowledging that the rules for Twitter must be different than those for Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, for example.
Use each platform differently.
Twitter is a great platform to get out breaking news. It gives organizations a megaphone for short snippets of content, as opposed to a space for deep engagement with issues and ideas. Facebook allows for more of that, though. And Instagram and Pinterest are providing emerging avenues for interaction across campus communities.
Some institutions are putting significant resources into figuring out Snapchat and reaching its young audience with institutional accounts. Every campus community is different, however, just like each platform. Using analytics to track what is working among followers can help shape future social media activity.
Understand where your expertise has its limits
Some of the insights into what works and what doesn’t can come from internal experts. Every institution has someone dedicated to communications and public relations. These people have studied social media strategies and should be respected for their guidance.
Hinson says some administrators already are masters at artfully conveying something on Instagram or crafting a 140-character tweet. “The payoff can be very good, but it can also be fraught with peril,” Hinson said. “In some cases my advice would be leave comedy to the comedians, leave certain things to the experts, but if you’re an effective communicator, you know what your limits are going to be.”
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