When people learn I’m involved in managing social media communication for our college, the first question they ask is, essentially, what I do. I’ve had a lot of answers over the years, often about tools and tactics, but I’ve decided nothing describes it better than this: “I have conversations.”
Conversations with whom? With prospective students, current students, faculty, staff, alumni, families, fans of our teams, community members, friends of the college … you name it. The with whom part is important because it’s so important to keep the audience in mind. As I’ve said before, social media is about meeting some kind of goal, but without an audience — a community — you can’t achieve anything.
Conversations about what? About what our college has to offer. About their questions and concerns about entering college. About the weather (literally). About sports. About their memories, their hopes, their dreams. Anything and everything. Isn’t that how good conversations work?
I also think that approaching social media from an “I have conversations” mindset helps one avoid some social media approaches I’ve seen that don’t work.
“We use it as a marketing tool!” When this is the goal, it’s so obvious. Every status message or tweet looks like a brief ad. The account will sound less than a human than a tagline generator. You’ll find press releases with little engagement. And why would anyone want to have a conversation, when it seems about as enjoyable as sitting next to an Amway salesman on a cross-country flight?
“We answer questions.” This is an admirable way of looking at it, but if you’re just answering questions you’re being reactive. You should be proactive and try to drive the dialogue. Asking questions, using Facebook polls and starting conversations make for a more robust, interactive community.
“Because we need to be in social media.” Again, goals first, then tools. Don’t view social media as a task or chore. Social media isn’t a problem to deal with, it’s a community to engage and to enjoy. Just this week I met with folks from an academic program who asked about doing a Facebook page. After a discussion, they realized they couldn’t commit to what that required and decided to focus their resources elsewhere. This, to me, is a better outcome than starting and abandoning a social media community. One of the saddest things I see is an abandoned Facebook page or group where people ask questions and there’s no one on the other end to continue the conversation.
We had a very positive conversation on our Official SUNY Oswego Facebook Page this week. I asked: “New students move on campus in just two days! Returning students and alumni: What one piece of advice would you give to those going away to college for the first time?” We’re over 40 responses and counting. Some of the best include: get to know your professors; remember you’re there to get an education, not just to party; get involved outside the classroom; avoid cutting classes; be yourself; bring a toolkit and sewing kit. Most are things we would recommend, but that they come from alumni and current students provide even more cred. Plus the connections made between alumni/current students with incoming students and with our college, providing a continuity of community … well, that’s amazing.
And it all comes from trying to have conversations.