In social media, 1 big picnic in 1 park beats 100 scattered picnics

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When our new students are all on campus at the end of August, we throw them one big picnic under one big tent on the college quad. And it’s glorious (even if we’ve had a couple monsoons, students always had fun). Watching the #hewebmi conference tweet stream led me to this analogy: On social media, one big picnic in one park is better than 100 small ones in other parks.

Screen shot 2014-05-22 at 11.58.05 AMBlame Brian David Proffer of Marygrove College for triggering it with this tweet (RTed to my attention by the fabulous Alaina Weins of UM-Flint): “Points of wisdom: One site, one Facebook page, one Twitter feed, etc.” In short, make sure your community has one central place it can go to consume the best content your college has available.

But so many folks on so many campuses confuse and confound this notion. So many departments, offices and programs want their own Twitter feeds or Facebook pages with their own brand and logo and messages … and many efforts are abandoned after a few days or tweets that go nowhere because there’s nothing engaging happening and/or the student hired to run it graduates. And while some have valid reasons for that channel, many charge in with no content strategy — “let’s make a Facebook!” “let’s do a Twitter!” — or plan for providing and sustaining content, let alone how to respond to people who have questions. (Many accounts also feed updates into something that pushes them into Facebook and spits out cutoff sentences with Facebook links into Twitter, which essentially says they have no real interest in Twitter as anything but a place to blast messages … which isn’t the purpose of social media.)

To use a Memorial Day weekend (or, previously, Victoria Day in Canada) analogy: Wouldn’t you rather have all your friends get together at one picnic or barbecue, instead of having to drive all over the place to different gatherings? Of course. Similarly, your students probably want to have one main source of information they can trust and rely upon for constant updates — or, to continue the analogy, for the informative sustenance they need and want.

On college campuses, a staggering amount of time and effort is wasted by individual entities creating, promoting, haphazardly updating and often abandoning social media efforts. It’s like making a huge pot of macaroni salad for a picnic you want to control, even if it means nobody gets to eat it. But as a central social media communicator, I feel a need to do a better job of inviting and making everybody welcome at one big amazing picnic where everybody brings their own tasty dish to help nourish our campus community.

Screen shot 2014-05-22 at 12.12.53 PMBut how do we get there or, as my friend Deborah Edwards-Onoro sagely asks, “how to manage various stakeholders who want to ensure their voice is heard?” Not easy, but maybe it’s an opportunity for communication and collaboration.

Here’s my first take: I want to start building an outreach and process with our stakeholders. Basically along the lines of: “We want to share your awesome events and stories via social media. Here’s how you can submit them and here’s what we’re looking for.” As noted before, I love retweeting students who post great photos, student orgs who tweet details about upcoming events, anybody who has a link to a good story about one of our students/faculty or staff members/alumni. My guidepost is simple: Amplify the awesome that is part of our college family.

I’m not saying others shouldn’t have active accounts that serve their audiences, but that we should all work together to provide one conduit that improves everybody’s experience. After all, if @sunyoswego retweets a student club, we’re basically saying, “hey, here’s great content from this account you may consider following.” When various entities work together under one event hashtag (like our #ozwhiteout weekend) instead of everyone making their own hashtags, you see how efforts can dovetail to make a greater whole. In the college’s day-to-day picture, everybody’s content builds something bigger and more cohesive that paints the panorama of our institution beyond one snapshot or glimpse.

It sounds ambitious, and it is, but nothing good comes without effort. And if it sparks more conversations and collaborations and communications in the process, working together for a huge picnic in one park — or social media account — could feed and sustain well beyond one meal.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “In social media, 1 big picnic in 1 park beats 100 scattered picnics

  1. We’ll be off to the enormous Glastonbury Festival in the UK in June. I think it fits your analogy Tim. http://www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk/areas/
    “In many ways, Glastonbury is like loads of different festivals converging on the same gorgeous countryside for the weekend. Each area of the Festival has its own character, its own loyal fans and its own special attraction”. Yet Glasto would not be what it is if they were all in different places.

  2. Tim

    Graham: That sounds like a lot of fun! Been a while since I’ve been to a festival that tries to serve so many fans (or people-watchers), let alone does it well. I like the analogy. Enjoy!

  3. Here’s some advice: people want to tell stories. So have them picture a room filled with people who would care about their content. Then ask them, who is in the room, and what would you say to them? Also, do they want to take questions?

    If they say Biologists, I want to tell them about my research, and I don’t really want to take questions, then your platform might be a blog (it certainly isn’t a Facebook page.)

    Get them talking about storytelling, not about tactics.

  4. Easy to forget that one can contribute to a community’s message without having logistical control. CONTROL. That’s the reason we have fragmented messages (or so many separate picnics).

    What if we had fewer office accounts and more individuals (staff) acting as content creators? The administrative eyes and ears. Contributing to the community as real people instead of an account. Guiding students, parents, stakeholders to one centralized, consistently branded voice?

    This would require a small army of folks to actually understand/use social as an extension of their communication tools – instead of “making an office Twitter” and forgetting about it soon after.

  5. Tim

    Matt: Good point. I always want to tell people trying to communicate via social media to think about their audiences not just themselves (as opposed to saying “it’s not about YOU!” which is tempting). Without content worth sharing, tactics and tools mean nothing.

    Mallory: Preach! A fragmented army of messengers creates more confusion than benefit. I also see people who hire students to use social media “because they’re digital natives” yet the students don’t understand how to use social media professionally nor what the important messages would be nor why they should even be tweeting in the first place … often because the person who hired them knows nothing about social media. Yet students COULD learn this stuff very easily with the right guidance and even brief lessons. I keep working on it and appreciate the ongoing support of people like you.

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