Public colleges and universities, like the rest of us, are becoming more and more active across social media channels. A lackluster presence is often worse than no presence at all, so institutions are stepping back and evaluating the way they interact and represent themselves on the networking sites. With 20.4 million students enrolled in U.S. higher-ed institutions in the fall of 2017 it is now more important than ever to utilize the resources available to reach students and other target audiences (NCES, 2017).
Social media is everywhere. Every time the news is turned on there is a story about something involving social networks, especially Twitter. Whether it’s second-graders tweeting from classroom computers to churchgoers tweeting via mobile phones during services, Twitter is a phenomenon that is occurring worldwide and experiencing exponential growth (Mansfield, 2009). Twitter is a must in higher-ed: it’s a place to develop community, conversation, and inspiration. The vast majority of colleges and universities, however, are still struggling with Twitter conversation etiquette and how to appropriately participate in the “Twitterverse” (Mansfield, 2009).
There are many best practices developed by institutions to avoid flack. It is easy to be quickly burned for retweets or postings that create controversy, especially when your audience is as large and as varied as the University of Michigan’s is. This is why it is so critical to implement guidelines and engagement protocols. Taking some extra time to think about every post and determine whether it is appropriate ends up saving time in damage control in the long run (Garcia-Mathewson, 2015). Here at The University of Michigan, we break down our engagement into categories of content type, benefiting factors, and concerning behaviors. This detailed plan helps social leadership ensure regularity across all affiliated channels, creating consistent messaging for the university—consistency being one of the most critical of our best practices.
Perhaps the most important component in our guidelines is balance. The balancing act of establishing what type of content to curate and post, along with upholding audience engagement, and being impartial when it comes to endorsements is difficult for higher-ed social. You have to determine how to allow people to speak freely while at the same time present the institution in a positive light.
Most institutions, including The University of Michigan, filter their feeds to include conversation that is going to be beneficial to the content they produce and post. This doesn’t mean that what their audience has to say is not important to them, it simply means that staying on brand means keeping up to date on topics that are inclusive and wide-ranging, and that will reach a variety of people. While it is important to recognize that Twitter is a great place for learning, networking, and leadership, it also has to stay consistent and on brand, which was previously mentioned as one of our best practices.
As we’ve seen recently, blocking users on Twitter has become a hot topic, and has found its way into the larger discussion of First Amendment protections. Publicly funded colleges and universities are, in addition to everything else, part of the government, and their activity on social media sites can create challenges both constitutional and administrative (Jerry & Lidsky, 2012). The role of an institution is to leverage the networks and news of thought leaders, industry experts, and brand advocates to help drive messaging and important content to the target audience(s). There is value in setting standards and regulations for how your social media is run, and using them as guidance both internally and externally for higher-ed institutions wanting to engage with constituents—including prospective, current, and former students.
While there is always going to be risky behavior on social media, it is important to remain professional and follow established policies and guidelines. Public or private, personal or professional, social media is and always will be a balancing act.
Be social. Stay social. #UMSocial
Post written by McKenna Whipple, Social and Digital Media Content Specialist at UMSocial.
Mansfield, Heather. (2009). 10 Twitter Tips for Higher Education. University Business.
Garcia-Mathewson, Tara. (2015). 5 keys to social media success for higher ed administrators. EducationDIVE.
Robert H. Jerry & Lyrissa Lidsky, Public Forum 2.1: Public Higher Education Institutions and Social Media, 14 Fla. Coastal L. Rev. 55 (2012).
N.A. (2017). Fast Facts: Back to School Statistics. National Center for Education Statistics.