Transparency in higher education social media

As social media administrators (SMAs), our job is to display information and ignite conversations that attract future students, cultivate current students, and resonate with alumni and the community. The best way to accomplish this is to stay transparent. I know some of us might pull out our hair if we hear the words transparent, authentic, or accessible again. However frustrating it may be for some to hear these words over and over, some of us hope they actually sink in for others.

The value of transparency is immeasurable in higher education. Not only will it allow an institution to develop more genuine relationships with key stakeholders, but those constituents will place trust and value in us in return.

photo courtesy of ecstaticist@flickr

You can’t be transparent without listening

Maybe what colleges and universities really need are good listeners. As higher education social media marketers, we often fill our workday with generating content and entwining social media into university goals. These are two of my top priorities, but I challenge myself and other SMAs to focus on communicating the university’s messages in a way that is meaningful to our audiences.

How do we get them to engage? Well, it appears we need to be the “bigger person.” Keen listening skills allow SMAs to see the bigger picture, address concerns, answer questions, and most important, have fun alongside the students. If we don’t participate, why should they?

Why user-generated content matters

We could concern ourselves with “the best times to post,” but maybe timing doesn’t matter as much as content does. I argue that a post is more likely to be shared if it resonates with students, elevates their voice, or represents the current trends and interests of campus.

As Ma’ayan Plaut, social media coordinator at Oberlin (Ohio) College, and Mallory Wood, director of marketing at mStoner, concluded in their presentation Fording the Social Media Channel, “people are more powerful than brands.” A university can scream, shout and tweet its news all it wants, but the most powerful increases in fans, followers, and engagement at Chapman University have been a direct result of investing in user-generated content.

Alana Riley, associate director of design, content, and social media at Providence College, had it right in her High Ed Web presentation when she said the virality of a post helps it get seen. She shared, “All stakeholders should be proud of it, laugh at it, and want to be a part of it.”

What we can learn from user-generated content

If we ask for user-generated content and listen in on conversations, we will better understand the types of content that matter and evolve alongside our audience. We can learn to brand ourselves on the right (and popular) platforms, use their favorite Instagram filters, and implement the keywords they use when communicating what the university means to them. Basically, it is time to connect with our audiences on their terms.

Questions to ask when examining a user-generated content approach:

  1. What conversations are happening organically (not spurred by us) on campus? How can we seed ourselves into the conversation?
  2. Will executive leadership support RTs and quoted Tweets?
  3. Is a student-captured photo more interesting that those that we take? Do students identify with that photo because they see the university through a different lens than the administration?

Chapman University’s call for content

During Chapman’s Commencement, we asked ourselves what we could do to encourage students to think of us while they were posting, tweeting or pinning during the festivities. The answer: Chapman University’s Social Stream.

At our 2012 Commencement ceremonies, members of the Web and interactive marketing team presented our first social media booth. The booth was equipped with a 55” monitor that displayed a live Twitter feed, developed in-house. The feed featured tweets from across the Twittersphere using the official event hashtag or designated search terms. We anticipated that the application would make the social web jump off the computer screen and bring sharing to life on campus.

In sunny southern California, every graduate’s seat was decorated with a fan to remind users to “stay cool, stay connected.” Page and hashtag information was included on the fan to encourage graduates to share updates and photos of the memorable day. Between ceremonies, students, families, and guests could watch our booth light up with real-time tweets and Instagram photos.

Our open embrace of accessibility and transparency unlocked opportunities– opportunities that inspired more social experiences. Throughout Commencement weekend, Chapman University’s user engagement increased by 17 percent on Facebook and 29.5 percent on Twitter, totaling a combined potential reach of 788,321. On Facebook alone, 18,896 stories were created. These stories included page likes, wall posts, comments, shared posts, photo/comment likes, answering questions, page mentions, photo tags, and check-ins.

social-chapman

How the Stream inspired a destination

Based on social media success at Commencement, we decided to make ourselves even more available and transparent to the online Chapman community. We brainstormed what became Social.Chapman, a hub for all things social. To promote campus pages and the conversations between them and users, version one of the hub displays real-time Facebook posts, blog posts, tweets, and Instagram photos.

What’s next? First, we plan to build out Social.Chapman to include Google+, Pinterest, and YouTube. Second, we will integrate and customize the Social Stream from Commencement so people can watch all campus events unfold live in the eyes of attendees and participants. Until then, we will continue to listen and immerse ourselves in the Chapman conversation.

Statistics provides by Simply Measured.

  • http://twitter.com/tracyplayle Tracy Playle

    The posts view for Social.Chapman looks great. Was this a bespoke build or did you use an off-the-shelf solution to pull it together? It looks a lot like a tumblr layout I’ve used before…

    • http://twitter.com/SheriLehman Sheri Lehman

      Thank you, Tracy! Social.Chapman was designed and developed in-house from the ground up. All of our code was written starting with a blank page (and a dream!) The back-end of the site is built with Node.js which allows for the real-time collection of data, and the front-end uses web sockets so the browser can receive new posts without a page refresh.