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Higher Ed Marketing Memos by Matthew Anderson

Beware of the creeping laziness plaguing higher ed social media!

I’ve been working in higher ed social media long enough to know that we’re some of the hardest workers around. Many of us have taken on the challenges of social media almost as an afterthought, cramming full-time #hesm responsibilities into days already full of more traditional duties.

Ironically, this can lead to a sort of social media laziness, especially among those of us with fewer resources at hand.

In my own work, this manifests itself in two ways:

  1. Desperate for anything that might succeed, I copy the great work of others without adequately applying it to my situation, and
  2. I dismiss the ideas of others because I have neither the time nor ability to implement them.

Type 1 Laziness: They did it; why can’t we?

I’m a higher ed copying addict.

Aren’t we all?

The success of others is intoxicating.

There’s a reason the popular explanation of the CASE acronym is not “Council for the Advancement and Support of Education” but rather “Copy And Steal Everything.” I’ve also heard “Copy And Share Everywhere.” Either works.

There is much we can learn from those who do social media well. We all have our social media crushes, right? Personally, I love the work being done by the fantastic folks at Oberlin and Harvard, among many other places.

At a meeting this morning, some colleagues mentioned the University of Michigan. There’s a lot of stellar, seminal work out there to be emulated.
UM Social

And so we copy. Those of us with fewer ideas and/or resources jump to implement others’ successful work on our own campuses, hopefully before it’s too late. We had to get our lipdub and Harlem Shake videos on the web before they became old news.

But how well do you know your audiences? How old are they? What do they like? How do they think? Do they really want a Harlem Shake video? Heck, do they really want a university Snapchat? And if they do, do you need to provide one? What’s the value to them and to you?

My point is this: Doing something just because it worked elsewhere is neither fair to your school nor to your audiences. No two universities are the same, and no two universities target all of the same audiences.

I can try all day to be as research-focused as Duke or Harvard, for example, but I have neither the content to support that nor the audience to justify it. I need instead to study the character of my own institution to know what we’re good at, what my audiences want and what my school needs them to want.

The difference between my school and those ones isn’t just in content or prestige. It’s in tone, in the ways in which we respond to criticism, in the type of joking around we do with students (or whether we joke around at all).

So, if suggestion one is research your audience, suggestion two is research yourself. Those of us at the helm of university social media accounts need to know our schools inside and out. We’re official spokespeople for our universities, and we need to know how our schools think, feel and act. We need to know our school’s personas.

Type 2 Laziness: They did it, but we can’t. That’d never work here.

When it comes to providing value for your audiences, the opposite approach isn’t any better.

It’s silly to dismiss an idea outright simply because you:

  1. don’t think the content will resonate with your audiences,
  2. aren’t sure if it’s worth your time,
  3. don’t have time or
  4. don’t have the resources.

If you’ve researched yourself and your audience, you know exactly what type of content they want to see. So excuse A is out. And since you’ve researched your university, you know what your university needs. Excuse B is out as well.

That means you can toss out C and D, too. Once you know what’s important and what works, you can prioritize those ideas and shift other resources to make them happen. And when you see great ideas from others, you can immediately identify them as something worth your — and your audience’s — attention.

How to fight higher ed social media laziness

So, what to do? As I’ve fought to overcome this creeping laziness in my own work, I’ve found the following steps to work wonders:

  1. Do your research. Know what your university is and who your audiences are. Research takes time now but saves time later. If you’re not using Google Analytics, get started. At the very least, you should be identifying trends among the types of content clicked and the time spent on those content pages. Are your audiences reading your long-form student profiles, or would they rather focus on student blogs? Are they more apt to share a faculty research story or a video interview on the same topic? Most social platforms also provide analytics that are robust enough to tell you what content is working and when.
  2. Create content and audience profiles. Once you’ve identified the types of content that work, determine how to align that content with your university’s mission and your audiences’ needs.
  3. Develop ideas. Scour the web – and social media – for the great work others are doing. Scribble down ideas at conferences like the Higher Ed Social Media Conference and many others. Brainstorm with your students and with others in your office. It doesn’t matter where the idea comes from.
  4. Fine-tune those ideas. Use your profiles to choose among the ideas you’ve generated. Can you match those ideas with content that works? Can you match your audiences’ needs with newer methods of engaging with them? Be willing to experiment a little. If research Q&As on your website have proven successful, could you also provide that same content via Yik Yak or Snapchat?
  5. Press play, repeat. Here’s where you take your content and implementation ideas and put them into practice. This also is where you restart the cycle, measuring the success of your work and its value to your audiences and institution.

Fighting our bad social media habits isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. And, who knows? Your next success story could also inspire colleagues working at other institutions to “borrow” your idea – and maybe to come up with their own in the future 🙂

Meet the Author: Matthew Anderson

Matthew Anderson is the Social Media Director at Western Washington University. He is also a graduate of Higher Ed Experts’ professional certificate program in Social Media Measurement for Higher Ed.

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