Effective Social Collaboration

If you’re like me, you put enormous amount of time and effort into generating content, engaging with audiences and generally building a social presence.

It’s exhausting– and potentially all consuming– work. When you’re focused externally, it can also cause you overlook some of the biggest potential friends and allies close to home: Your internal social community.

Over the last three years here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I’ve had the good fortune to be surrounded by a group of energetic, extremely talented and absolutely off-kilter university professionals from web, marketing, alumni, news and fundraising backgrounds. Together we’ve built a strong internal community that we call #UWSocial.

I’d be lying if I said it was all good planning. We starting out as around a dozen people in a conference room talking about Twitter and how we sometimes didn’t get it. In the immortal words of Navin R. Johnson, it took awhile to find our “special purpose.”

Through a combination of good luck, scotch tape and a smart approach, our account community has grown to roughly 500+ accounts, 250 members and more than one million combined followers across all platforms. As in everything social, numbers don’t really tell a complete story, because it’s both awesome and fun to be a part of.

If I was starting all over again, here’s what I would do:

1. Find someone to drive the bus.

Evangelist, community manager, social media director—whatever you decide to call it, find someone with genuine enthusiasm for social and your institution. Bonus points if it’s someone in a position to tie things together across your institution, ideally in central communications, web or marketing role. Requirement: Working knowledge of Star Wars, BSG or Game of Thrones.

2. You’re better together.

Our model embraces the Borg Collective. One person can’t do it all, so we seek to embed social at the level of each department, unit or campus organization. The university generally identifies people to be social managers who have the right instinct for the work. Then, they’re invited to contribute to the larger #UWSocial group in ways big or small. Don’t know about Reddit? Ask the group. Need an invite to the new MySpace? Someone is probably an avid user.

3. Get people in a room.

It seems obvious, but there’s no substitute for a regular monthly meeting of account managers. We’re all, generally, working on the same problems and issues—work together and don’t reinvent the wheel. We started with problem solving and how-tos, and have gradually worked up to spending most of our time discussing collaborative projects or inviting alums working at the platforms. To date, we’ve had reps from Facebook, Google, Twitter and Foursquare visit with us.

4. Communicate frequently.

Supplement your face-to-face interaction with an email list, Facebook group or brown bag lunch. Point out the great work people are doing and use bigger accounts to help build smaller ones. In exchange, they’ll provide you with content. Also, don’t forget to listen: What do people want from you? If you listen and provide value (and brownies) to them, they’ll come back.  Besides, people have awesome ideas and you might be in a position to bring them to life.

5. Figure out your governance.

This one will be different at every school, but how will your social community govern itself? Here, our office of University Communications and Marketing is in the lead, with contributions from a “Jedi Council” of 6-10 experienced account managers, in consultation with the broader group. There are many ways to structure.

6. Do cool things together.

We’re constantly seeking opportunities to work together on ways to tie social to the university’s goals. Until you do, you’ll never know who your best contributors will be. Here, we’ve been shocked at how good our librarians are at social, and gratified to know that our reps from engineering are shockingly well adjusted. We love projects and campaigns and try to do one roughly every quarter. But they all don’t have to be big. One idea we had was arranging social media “buzz” tours of new buildings and building to build interest in new facilities.

7. Don’t forget the swag.

Your community would benefit from lots of things that you might be able to supply. Think of: access to a photo library, prizes for contests, and creative services for avatar creation. Encourage buy-in to broader community plans through supplying the help they need.

8. Be ridiculous.

My ridiculous 2013 goal for #UWSocial has been to see our hashtag/name on the side of a blimp, being pulled by a plane or in skywriting. Just saying.