Let it be known that I started iTweetUSF with one goal – to engage with students. I started this account 4 years ago today.
iTweetUSF has become a part of who I am, professionally and personally. I have come to embrace the challenges of social media and working in a higher education context. I am excited about my work on and offline, and am nothing but the biggest fan of using social media when it comes to students, faculty, and staff.
Fortunately, as the field emerges, shapes itself, and evolves, best practices are ones that are being created daily. Ideally, best practices reflect the work that you need to do for your campus. I wanted to approach this manifesto saying that this is what works for me in my social media world at USF. What might work for you may very well be different, but here’s my two cents.
Understand social media. The first and foremost rule about social media (at least in my brain) is that it is about engagement with your respective community. Throw out everything you know about the number of followers you have – it means nothing. Engagement, from where I sit, means that I am cultivating a positive reciprocal relationship with the folks who follow me. Who follows me? Students. Faculty. Staff. Families. Prospectives. The Provost, for heaven’s sake. Engaging means an exchange, a give and take of information, comments, and questions as well as answers. If you’re doing this to solely clock numbers, you’re doing it wrong.
That being said, subsection A. of this point is to be mindful. The things you say, and how you say them have an impact on your followers and those that are your potential followers. It’s tempting to think that out of Twitter’s 500 million users that no one could possibly notice a tweet bemoaning your campus, you’d be surprised.
Know your audience. I want to say to everyone who’s going to try their hand at social media – you owe it to your audience to know them. You need to understand their culture, what students like, where they eat, what their seemingly random hashtags mean. Get out of your office, for goodness sake. Go to student events. Eat lunch in the café. The more you’re out, the more you will learn. I don’t profess to understand the student experience – but I do highly recommend that you do your due diligence and research. Do you know where students are? Do you know where you are on the academic calendar? Can you tell me about the events that are going on after class today? If not, you are not listening.
A word to those who get their students to take over the twitter reigns when you have to step away from the keyboard: your Twitter voice changes. I know, for instance, if someone is at the reigns other than the usual. The word choice is different. The flow is different. I was not able to attend orientation until later on in the morning and let a student use my account. Never again.
We could talk about branding at this stage, but it’s like Toyota all of a sudden releasing pet food. It says Toyota, and that alone has its own cache, but doesn’t quite feel right. Keep your voice singular – or if you are tweeting from a team perspective, indicate that it’s someone new by using initials at the end of the tweet. If @barackobama signs tweets he puts out there instead of when a staffer does it, it’s good enough for you too.
Be a voice – yours. I had an interaction where I was asked to talk about my work with social media. I, along with other social media heavy weights (hat tip to @davidmsilver, @shawncalhoun/gleesonlibrary and @usfca), talked to digital media class about how we used social media, our tools, and thought processes. A student said to me, “It sounds like you’re making fun of us when you talk the way you do.”
Set aback, the truth is that I talk like a student most days when I’m not straightlacing in front of the university community. My tweets reflected this – and there is nothing worse than trying to act a role or be someone you’re not. “This is how I talk. It’s my voice, and I’m not trying to be anything but myself.” Nods.
People know if you’re, for lack of a better word, fronting. Please avoid this at all costs. Don’t try to sound hip – it will always fail. When students try to seek you out to thank you for all the hard work that you’ve done answering their questions, AND THEY WILL, when you present otherwise, they will smell a rat.
Seize opportunities to engage. The work of engagement is indeed work. If you have your deep listening tools ready to hear what people are saying about you or your institution, you will hear some great and equally foul things. Social media is interesting – some folks liken it to standing on a hilltop screaming out your vices, virtues, and telling people what you had for lunch.
Two years ago, to accommodate for the incoming first year class, the University had to make a tough decision to alter offers of housing to 2nd year students and move them from the preferred campus housing to farther off, therefore less desirable, student housing. They were a mad and cursing lot. Unable to get satisfaction from the staff answering the phones at the front desk of Student Housing and Residential Education, parents and students took it to social media.
It was 10PM, and I already settled in for the night. I decided to, as I often to, look at my twitter feed and see what was going on. Tweet after tweet about the difficulties this was going to cause. It would have been easy for me to shut off the laptop and call it a night. After all, I wasn’t employed by Student Housing. I had little to nothing to do with the situation.
I dashed off a tweet instead to the angry parent. If my twitter-fu was better I could actually share it with you, but basically I said “I’m sorry you’re upset – SHaRE opens tomorrow at 8:30. Please give them a call: 415-422-6824.” We went back and forth a few times, and I’m hoping he was able to get the resolution he needed. I sent off a message to a colleague in housing letting them know what was going on in social media, and to expect a message from a particular individual.
That parent was heated – a few were. But being able to address and acknowledge someone’s feelings up front was important to me, not just as a representative of the University, but as a human being. He was mad, and I wanted to help him feel heard. I took a chance to tweet him to help him find a venue to get his concerns heard. Some companies will request that the individual direct message (DM) in order to get a response. No, let’s put it out there because people are reading responses and this is a great opportunity to address the entirety of the community instead of just taking to the internet’s back room and handling it privately. Of course there are situations that merit handling it privately, but this was one that I needed to put out there. We as a University acknowledge there is an issue, and we want to help you with it. That’s called customer service elsewhere. Why is it any different because it’s higher education?
Be worth listening to. When I first starting figuring twitter out, I sought out people to follow. At that time, one of my favorite shows was a Food TV program that actively promoted said chef’s twitter account. Sure, why not.
A few tweets in, I noticed that the chef’s tweets were coming in in third person. “Watch Chef so and so in the exotic locale of such and such.” My first thoughts were: if this was really homeboy, then why is he referring to himself in third person, and these seem really fake. I unfollowed him shortly thereafter. And surprisingly enough, I stopped watching his show too. Lack of genuineness had that big of an impact on me.
What are you putting out there on Twitter? Is what you’re putting out impacting the community? Is it relevant? Maybe the better question is: Does it give value? Do not, for any reason, get an account to think that it will be the magic bullet – the success of any account is a multiplicity of things, but definitely what you choose to say from your digital soapbox is crucial.
I decided to do weather reports every morning because San Francisco is well known for its microclimates, and where I live has a different climate than where USF is located. I need to know what I’m getting myself into. So I started putting out weather, expected highs, and any interesting feature (rain, storms, extreme heat of 70+ ). It was early enough that people heading to campus to start the day will have a heads up on whether or not to bring an umbrella or heavy jacket – that’s the value. I can’t say it’s saved lives, but at the very least, it’s adding a reason to follow me.
Collaborate – be social. One of the hallmarks of my work is #GreenandGoldFriday. I am committed to bring some sort of campus tradition to campus, that is wearing something green or gold on Fridays. In order to make this fly, it was going to take more than me screeching at colleagues (which I did, but with love) or posting it on twitter. I enlisted the advisor for @LosLocosUSF, the student spirit organization on campus. They were on board. I enlisted @DonsAthletics. I wrote a blog post. I took pictures. Slowly, it’s moving and creating school spirit; together we started building something wonderful, and even alumni are starting to take notice.
The whole point of social media is to be social – and as I’ve stated before, it’s about being engaged with your community. The beauty of #GreenandGoldFriday is that it takes a team approach – that we need Athletics to know that we’re supporting the teams/athletes. We would love to share this with Los Locos, the most spirited group on campus, so they can embrace the tradition and push it out to other students. It takes more than one person to start a culture shift, so use social media as a tool to broadcast your message and build networks and get some work done too.
As I write this, today is the first day that the Bookstore will offer a discount on any USF gear. HUGE deal. I couldn’t have done that alone. I needed others to help advance the mission.
Sharing and share alike is important – pay attention to who asks you for a RT. Also, give props to people who RT your stuff. I love the admissions acceptance season because I often get to interact with the incoming first year. Check out #NewDon for reference. It’s fun, but it’s also important that as these students are making decisions that I get all my ducks lined up and answer the questions they have about USF. So it makes natural sense to involve @USFCA_Admissions if it’s questions they have about deposits or transcripts. Also, many of them have questions about internships, so a quick cc: to @USFCareer is warranted. Interested in Communications? I’ll let @USFDonsComs know too! You see how this works?
As a potential first year student, imagine having the doors thrown open to you – and there’s someone there to answer all your questions. And if the answers aren’t readily available, a cc: will fix that. Which school would you choose: the one that takes forever to respond to email or the one that hears you and responds with more than you asked for?
Put in Work. One of my favorite shows was Rob & Big on MTV, if only for the saying, “Do work, son!” Obviously, the most important work that you can do in social media is the active work of what I learned from @claire’s book Twitter for Good. In the book, she describes the means by which you can use Twitter for businesses and organizations. She recommends the T.W.E.E.T. strategy: Target, Write, Engage, Explore, Track.
- Target: identify your core audience.
- Write: hello, tweet away, to your core audience.
- Engage: take the time to learn how to @ your audience and connect with them regarding their questions, comments, and concerns. Use hashtags (#)!
- Explore: learn the power of the search function and find other like-minded Twitter accounts. Build connections.
- Track: get some analytics to confirm you’re doing what you said you were going to do.
Putting a tweet out into the wild isn’t necessarily all the work you can do for your org/school/group, etc. It’s work to be good at social media so you have to put in the time to do it.
If you are a university, who are your followers? Parents? Students? Faculty? Alumni? Are you contributing to your audience? Are they RTing you? These are essential questions to your work (and there are many more) because it will help you see if you’re meeting your goals.
There are tools to help you do this – I personally use @hootsuite and pay for the Pro account because it allows me to look at analytics in a meaningful way – what are my followers clicking on? What did they RT? What conversations were had? BTW, I’m not getting paid by @hootsuite for the mention! There are other tools out there, so analyze away.
Also, I have learned to hate leaving my phone behind when I head off to meetings – use your mobile phone to capture things on the fly – take pictures on the go. Easy stuff. Go do it. Everything is interesting!
Finally, have fun. If you look at social media as boring, stupid, or daresay WACK, then don’t do it. I have encountered people who just don’t get it – those are not the people to be in charge of your social media and marketing campaigns. Find the kid with the tricked out phone and wicked (yet Jesuit) sense of humor to run your account. That’s the one who is going to turn your account from blah to hurrah.
I can’t stress that doing this has been more fun than I ever thought possible. Being able to connect on the fly with students, faculty, staff, high school seniors, and parents is an amazing opportunity to have outreach and engagement that other universities would kill for. Colleagues ask me how much time this takes to do, and I always tell them that it doesn’t take forever – it takes maybe a few minutes a day to read the tweets, process what you’ve seen and respond. I can’t spend all day tracking my streams – this is not, as many people seem to think, my only job. It is, however, one of the highlights of my work.
This is how currents shift – when you love what you do, the good things follow. You will have unprecedented growth and be able to write a manifesto about it someday.
Peace out! LMK what you think in the comments.