Social media in higher education started as a fad; something that could exist or not. Suddenly, institutions needed to be on every platform imaginable — Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, even Yik Yak — and social media manager positions began to pop up everywhere. With roughly 78% of Americans on social media, it’s clear the position is important, but doesn’t that mean everyone can do it?
Like many jobs, it doesn’t.
Social media management in higher education requires a particular set of skills learned from trial and error, strategy, fan audits, listening, conferences, webinars, networking and more. Here’s what you should know about their job.
- They’re not “just on Facebook” all day. Facebook is a popular platform and requires a large part of a social media manager’s attention, but that’s not the only thing that needs focus. Aside from other social media channels — Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn and even Google Plus — the job requires listening. “Listening” on social media is actively paying attention to what the rest of “the internet” is saying and sharing about an institution. Even with the help of tools like Hootsuite or Sprout Social, it isn’t always an easy task. After posts are crafted and shared with the internet, social media managers will look back and measure success. What’s success? Some define it as engagement (people doing things such commenting or “liking” a post), reach (the number of people who saw the post) or a mix of other analytic data. Understanding and measuring success helps drive social media managers’ decisions every day. Social media managers listen in times of crisis to ensure institutions are communicating correct information in a timely fashion, but they also listen to what’s resonating with their audiences. It’s little things like getting the vernacular right for named buildings, or passing along an anecdote from an alum to a professor — but it’s all important and helps the manager do their job better.
- There’s no such thing as 9 to 5. Social media doesn’t take vacations, have weekends or ever sleep. Even though social media managers are at their desk during the workday, they’re likely checking social media channels or listening tools outside those hours. Evil internet trolls lurk at all hours, and to protect the integrity and reputation of the institution, social media managers must check in outside work hours to keep them at bay. It’s not all bad, though. They have the opportunity to see exciting concerts, sports contests and countless other events in the name of documentation outside their regular work hours. If you see them glancing at their phone during dinner, don’t be offended — they’re interested in putting the institution’s best face forward. Duty calls!
- They have a plan, you just may not see it. How is social media even hard? Type up a few sentences, add a hashtag and a cute picture of a cat, and it’s all set, right? It’ll go viral in no time. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Social media managers often spend more time developing a strategy for each social media platform than posting or creating the information. Each profile has a different audience (Snapchat users compared to Reddit users, for example). This means different content (aka “stuff”) needs to be posted to make it relevant and engaging to those users. It’s the reason why the chess club’s bake sale may not be posted on Facebook — because a majority of the audience aren’t on campus to attend. It’s also most likely the reason why your social media manager recommends a different medium to communicate with your audience. Trust them! They know their stuff.
- No, your department probably doesn’t need a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or anything else. Social media managers are always hungry for content. Moments when students, faculty or staff are recognized, showcasing what life is like for students on campus, or all-around authentic experiences are all perfect for social media in their own way. Each social media manager has their own vision and strategy to best represent the institution; trust their instinct and share those great photos and upcoming events with them! Think about the posters on campus; once they’re posted on top of each other, or even next to several others, those passing by are less likely to read them. This same theory is applied to social media. Multiple profiles from an institution for a very specific audience (the soccer team, chess club, or that one fundraising event) is the digital version of posters on campus. Like Transformers, content is stronger working together from one mega-robot rather than individual ones. Plus, the flagship accounts for your institution has thousands — literally, thousands — of followers. Your social media manager has worked to cultivate and engage that audience. Why not ride the coattails of success?
5. Social media is cool and all, but not if no one knows it. Strategy, content, images, posting, listening. It’s a lot of work, and so many social media managers are doing an amazing job. Like a tree falling in the woods…if no one sees the content, is it really that great? Social media managers are constantly finding new ways to get the word out about the awesome profiles they’ve worked so hard to craft. This includes posters, postcards, even free t-shirts. The more creative, the better! Social media can help achieve many goals, including “letting people know about an event,” and those maintaining profiles need to ensure that there’s people to tell, first. So go like your institution’s Facebook page, follow them on Twitter and Instagram, and share that content they’re worked so hard to deliver to you!