Monthly Archives: July 2011

building a social media users’ guide: it’s a question of trust.

Creating a social media users’ guide for our college was high on my summer project list. It’s interesting how often institutions talk about the need for a social media policy, when what they really need is a guide … instead of focusing on what NOT do in social media, doesn’t it make sense to discuss what one SHOULD do in social media?

While your mileage may vary, these are my suggested steps for crafting a social media users’ guide:

1. See what you have. I mean this in terms of both gathering your own social media inventory (which I’ve blogged about before) and what kinds of personnel measures (if any) exist.

2. See what others have. As this great .eduguru post notes, plenty of other institutions have social media policies, users’ guides and other documentation available. Don’t feel you have to reinvent the wheel.

3. Start writing. Seriously. Think about formats you may like from Step 2 and begin plugging in your inventory, including why you use what you do, from Step 1. Harness what you know about social media and how it relates to your institution … trust yourself, your knowledge and your instincts.

4. Get some reviewers. I don’t mean send it out to a committee to sit around and parse. I do mean send it to other employees who work in social media, who can see if you’ve missed anything, and co-workers who don’t work in social media, to see if this makes sense to them. You’ll likely present this to people who don’t know their Foursquare from their Formspring, so make sure it’s a simple entry-level piece.

5. Set it free. Unless you’re under strict orders to create a be-all end-all social media straitjacket for the campus (which is the wrong approach), get the necessary approvals to release this on the web. Having something in place, even if it needs revisions, is a first step. If someone’s looking for a social media policy, at least let this be a framework where such discussions can begin from a positive direction.

For me, having completed that social media inventory was very helpful. For guidance, I looked particularly at the Tufts University social media overview (thanks to @radiofreegeorgy) and the Laurentian University social media handbook (merci a @JPLaurentian). But when I sat down to write, a funny thing happened: I decided to trust my experience. I pondered what social media is and why we should use it, collected 5 Top Tips (Golden Rules) for Social Media, explained the social media communities/platforms we use, gathered basic pointers for monitoring and responding in your channels, offered brief thoughts on content strategy such as what to post/how often and, finally, some simple advice on professional conduct in social media.

I gained some (great) feedback from co-workers, then launched the social media users’ guide in time for a Social Media for 101 staff session last week. I consider it a living document, as would be expected in a field that evolves so quickly.

A word that serves as threefold advice here is trust. Trust that other institutions out there have policies or guidebooks you can adapt. Trust yourself to have enough understanding of social media to work this project through if this is your responsibility. And trust others to do the right thing if you have social media guidelines that can prepare them for this exciting communication field.

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social media 101: 5 golden rules

In creating a Social Media 101 workshop for campus users as well as a new social media users’ guide, I recently crafted five golden rules to consider before beginning social media efforts on behalf of one’s institution or organization. They borrow from advice from many colleagues, but I figured posting them here just might benefit others.

1. Be present. Acquaint yourself with any social media outlets before trying to use them professionally. If you’re not familiar with Facebook, creating a group or fan page 15 minutes after you sign up could be an uphill climb. Learning as much as you can about a particular platform or community will increase your chances of success.

2. Be prepared. Have a plan for who will post and/or respond to social media, how often you may want to post content and what goals you want to accomplish (see below). You may want to prepare a content calendar based on major related activities and what your audiences should know … but be flexible to accommodate great news or suggestions whenever possible.

3. Be responsive. The biggest problems with social media efforts involve a lack of responsiveness and community abandonment. If someone asks a question via a Facebook page or Twitter account, they do not expect to wait days for a response. If you don’t know the answer to a posted question, don’t be afraid to say you’re looking into the response and get back to the person later. And don’t start a social media community unless you plan to make it sustainable.

4. Be friendly. Social media is conversational. Don’t talk down to your audience. Don’t bury readers in jargon. Don’t get angry and defensive. Do start conversations. Do what you can to help others. Do what you can to represent a friendly face for your area and the institution.

5. Put goals before tools. New sites, applications and communities emerge all the time, but before you commit to jumping in somewhere, ask three questions: 1) Does this help us meet a specific goal or goals? 2) What’s in it for us? 3) What’s in it for our users? If you can’t answer these questions, don’t forge ahead into an area of social media. While OSS (“Ooooh! Shiny Syndrome) can be hard to resist, success in social media involves focusing on communities and outlets where you can do a good job, both for the institution and for your users.

Any other tips anyone would suggest?

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is higher ed still a mouse-in-the-maze model?

I remember my first college orientation, where a comedian compared the now-antiquated model of registration (where we went from table to table to get classes) to a bunch of mice in a maze. Except now the cheese was old and stinky and everyone just wanted to get out of the maze. Oddly, that comment, coupled with a recent observation by Michael Fienen, rang very true on higher ed’s continuing challenge to do a better job in serving students.

Fienen’s observation, on a particularly ornery day for the knowledgeable Pittsburg State web guy, wondered why the term “request more information” appears so often on web pages. Does this infer we’re hiding information from visitors and there’s some veil we have to let them behind? Not necessarily. Generally, “request more information” means “join our database” by requesting some kind of print material. From the inside, this all has to do with justification of return on investment (the dreaded ROI) for everything from personnel to software packages, the ability to establish benchmarks and determine the inquiry-admissions-yield funnel.

And if you read that last sentence without falling asleep, you may have wondered: What is the least bit customer-friendly about treating students as bits of data to justify our existence? If so, you’re 100 percent right.

One advantage of social media — that it’s a third space where students can learn more about, and build an affinity with, institutions — could make old-school bean-counters bristle. Thus all the sabre-rattling about Establishing ROI of Social Media to Justify Its Existence. “How many Facebook questions did you answer last month?” “How many people follow us on Twitter?” “Do we know how many viewers of our YouTube videos were prospective students?”

This all ignores one very simple, very human thing: Social media customer service helps students with questions, information-gathering and decision-making in a way they find convenient. But it doesn’t create numbers of inquiries to the Admissions Office via email. It doesn’t fall into the neat funnel that says this student asked for a viewbook, called the college, applied, attended an open house and enrolled. And from the moment they requested more information for the first time, how many different forms did they have to fill out, approvals were required and parts of the bureaucratic maze did they have to run through for the “privilege” of attending the school?

Quite simply: This week, we had an interaction via social media that may keep a serious, motivated student from withdrawing from school. Some folks’ first reaction may be to wonder where to chart that datapoint or how to include this in the ROI of our social media plan. My main thought is that we may have helped improve someone’s life.

Don’t get me wrong: I know most people in higher education have the best intentions. But I worry that when we build a forest out of data, ROI and “best practices,” we forget how beautiful the trees are. And that, without each tree that really does require some kind of care, there is no forest.

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