Reining in the outliers for a university-wide cohesive social media presence

image of social media iconsEarlier this week we talked about a cohesive university-wide Web presence. Today we’re going to take that same theory, but explore it in the social media space.

The ease of access of social media tools, including blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc. have enabled people with little to no Web development or marketing experience to create an online presence for your institution. Most do this with the best intentions in mind, but many don’t have the skills or knowledge needed to make them truly useful and successful.

I believe the central Web and/or marketing units of a university should also be the campus experts to create and maintain a strong and effective social media presence. They should coordinate campus-wide efforts and serve as consultants to individual departments to help them with their efforts.

In recent months I’ve led social media workshops for our athletics department, which included just about every coach and administrator, and for faculty and professional staff who attended a full day of technology-related workshops.

The goals of these workshops were to:

  1. educate them about the tools available
  2. show them examples and best practices of these tools in use related to their specific interests
  3. have brainstorming sessions to determine which tools would help them better connect with their constituencies 
  4. develop 1-3 short term goals and implementation schedules

Secretly (or not so, since I’m saying it here in such a public forum), I also lead these workshops to establish my office as the a resourceful unit that others will come to for assistance in learning more about social media, and to help in determining how and if they can best leverage it. Others on campus have heard about these workshops, and I am now in the process of scheduling them with other units.

Whether you reach out to the first unit that you think could utilize social media, or whether they approach you – the ultimate goal is to not have competing efforts on various social networking sites. In addition, not every department/program/unit needs to be using social media. Take a step back, listen to what their goals are, and help them find the right mix of tools that will implement them. This may or may not include social media.

For most small- to mid-size universities, I think a tool like Facebook can be seen structurally as the university Web site. There is one main home page, otherwise known as a Fan Page on Facebook, for the university. That hub should provide easy access in a box on the Page with links to other university outposts on Facebook. Most of these are best done as groups, but there is becoming more and more value for other units establishing Pages, such as being able to view Insights (statistics) and target messages (updates).

Be a partner. Assist other units in setting up their outposts. Encourage them not to duplicate existing efforts. Help them think of ways to be unique. Social media is not a space to treat like Times Square or the bulletin boards scattering your campus. It’s not for the “hey look at my program,” or “hey, look at this awesome event we have coming up.” It’s for building relationships around them. Alumni who have graduated from the program and feel a strong allegiance to it are likely to talk about their experiences, and look to network with others that have previously gone through the program to assist in future career opportunities. If the event is a reunion, they may be more likely to rally around it to catch up with classmates in advance of the actual event. A one-time concert may not have that kind of pull into social media.

Regardless of the tool used and the way it is implemented, it needs to be done in a cohesive way that doesn’t create multiple outlets for very similar purposes and further disjoints the community using these tools. We have a discussion related to this going on the cuweb.ning.com site, as well.

Is it a wild, wild west show when your prospective students search for your university on Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, etc.? Is it easy to tell which is the official university presence vs. individual units within the campus, or other user-generated content? Or, do you think having a central presence is not even necessary? Let’s talk.