Centralized or Decentralized: The Hybrid Social Media Approach

On some campuses, there are silos between departments.

Ok wait, on pretty much every campus there’s silos. We’ve all been there, as has Chris Barrows from NYU. He’s not only dealing with the silos on his campus, but the multiple academic centers around the world, as well as two other degree granting institutions on the other side of the ocean.

NYU has a lot of social media accounts…a lot. Over 630 Facebook accounts and 645 Twitter accounts. Props to Chris’ work study students who help compile the list. When Chris started at NYU, he faced the frustration that some of us may have also experienced – attempting to find contacts for these groups, to no avail.

Chris explained that NYU was “lagging, not leading” on social media. As a strategy was developed, the goal reached further past NYU’s main campus or other locations – NYU aspired to be a leader in higher education on social media.

The first question asked was is our current strategy working? No, it wasn’t, because there was no strategy.

Are we effectively commiunicating with our colleagues across the university? This include public safety, heath services, and important departments across campus.

Are we going to be able to maintain all these accounts from one centrailized location…realistically? No, of course not! It doesn’t always work like this….

Unlike the Lego Movie, everyone at NYU is incredibly unique, and the creative material that blossoms from that diversity is a point of pride, and shouldn’t be lost when centralization began to happen. The first move Chris and his team made was to set some goals:

  • Build a more successful flow of communication
  • Enhance social media culture at NYU
  • Increase cross school/organization collaboration

Chris and his team took for steps to build a “Hybrid” strategy for centralization. The first was to start with a strong foundation. By beginning to document things (this had never happened before), such as style guides, help guides, and how-to resources made the team more valuable to NYU as a whole. This allowed Chris’ team to become a resource to the rest of the institution. It’s important to note when you as a resource are available to be a resource. Without those guidelines, it will be a challenge for you and the team to stay organized and available for those you’re helping.

This also establishes leadership and credibility for you and your team. Trust come with being seen and networking within your campus groups. To further establish trust, Chris worked to create www.nyu.edu/socialmedia, a webpage serving as a resource to anyone at NYU to prevent a long line of one-on-one training that can be answered quickly and easily. Now, when someone has a question, Chris can easily point to a pre-written article on the website.

Step two to the hybrid strategy was to build a communication strategy. The first part of this, as obvious as it sounds, was to create a contact list. This stems back from the relationships we’ve built back in step one. Chris gathered his list from the school directory as well as contents he already had. Asking what’s going on, if anything interesting is happening, or other news will provide content, as well as build a better and closer relationship. It’s also important to include a roadmap in the planning to assess what is happening down the line, and better establish deadlines.

The third step was to actually begin the communication stream, openly. Again, we’re building relationships, remember?

One way to communicate with the master list is to inform and update all contacts. Chris also worked to meet with all the social media leaders at each smaller school to see what is going on. Things change quickly at NYU, and Chris can stay on top of the change with a simple meeting. He also reaches out with training sessions, such as “Strategy Building 101 – a Foundation for Social Success.” He now hosts the maximum of 40 people at these sessions, growing through word of mouth from about 10 is first time.

It’s also important to encourage sharing of content and cross-promoting content. This not only gets the word out, but helps to build relationships and trust between social media managers. By fostering a community, we begin to encourage a natural form of sharing and logical communication, but diminishes the conflict that often comes from individuals who think, “no, MY event is the most important!”

The social media ambassadors group is designed to facilitate communty amongst the members increasing knowledge, awareness, and best practices in the areas of social media at NYU.

Chris now leads the ambassadors, which meets about twice a semester. It’s not just a meeting, though. These meetings have hosted employees from Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and other resources to provide a great amount of insight to all social media owners at NYU. There’s over 5,000 employees at NYU, which means this meeting is important to provide some face to face contact between members.

In the interim, Chris relies heavily on Google Groups to provide a sense of community as well as a means of contacting the group on the whole. It holds all NYU employees who have a NYU-related social media account. The Google Group also allows users to provide feedback, so that Chris can discover what’s working and what’s not. For example, Chris learned through their feedback that they did not want to sit in rows facing forward, but rather at tables to provide an opportunity to network. The change was made, and connections were built.

Because of Chris’ efforts with centralized decentralization, he’s noticed leadership and collaboration blossom across campus. Human Resources worked with Chris on a strategy to better utilize LinkedIn’s company page. Originally, HR only posted job opportunities at NYU. Chris beamed as he explained, “then I handed it off to them…they own it now. We’re growing leaders.” With a solid strategy for LinkedIn, engagement drastically increased, and expanded to include a Twitter account. HR also noticed that there has been a steady increase in job applicants who site “social media” as a referral source for job postings.

Chris’ Ambassador group also inspired school collaboration. By hiring their own Social Media Coordinator, Steinhardt School started to become the most active school at NYU. Even better, the Social Media Coordinator has now worked to create her own Social Media Ambassador group, who then ultimately informs Chris of what is happening at the different departments within the school. Literally decentralized centralization.

The university at large used #CongratsGradNYU with the entire institution thanks to effective collaboration. Over 1,100 unique users used the hashtag at Graduation in 2014 and it trended nationally for over 5 hours that day.

So, where is NYU now? It started as a Twitter account with one tweet and then no activity for four years to an audience driven strategy that encourages collaboration across all aspects of NYU, from specific departments to separate schools.

The Ambassadors also worked to build NYU stories. A collection of written stories and videos to truly display NYU – from all sides.

NYU has certainly transitioned to lead, not lag, but has high aspirations for the future by continuing to collaborate and face the challenges ahead.

Here’s Chris’ presentation, with more information and a much better clip of “Everything is Awesome.”

 Image from Flickr user Joe Shlabotnik under a CC license.

  • Chris Barrows

    Thank you (again) for mentioning my presentation and blogging about it. I’m very proud of the amazing people I’ve got the chance to work with and this is a testament to them.