Unless you’re one of a lucky few in higher education, you’re probably in a situation where social media is something you largely must handle on your own.
I’m nearing a decade of full-time professional experience in the marketing and communications industry, with 7.5 of those years coming as a content strategist for Missouri State University in Springfield. We did a lot of amazing work in my time at MSU that led to audience growth in the tens of thousands and millions of engagements over the years.
I had help from a team that featured photographers and videographers, writers, designers and student employees. But at the end of the day, I was the guy primarily responsible for maintaining a social media presence for the second-largest university in the state. That’s a big job, and even with an amazing support cast, it was a challenging role that helped me grow.
So let’s start here: What’s the biggest challenge you face in social media management? These are some of mine:
- Balancing my social media content creation and community management responsibilities with everything else.
- Keeping up with the speed at which the social media space changes.
- Avoiding fatigue and burnout.
Because let’s be honest: Being on social media (at all) can be an exhausting exercise, but it doesn’t have to be. I think a lot of the fatigue and overwhelm can come from trying to do too much, which can stem from expectations to keep up and keep adding more social platforms to your brand’s list of offerings.
But while moving and advancing has its place, it should be done strategically, and never at the expense of your own ability to do the rest of your job. That’s why I’m advocating for a simpler approach. One that emphasizes taking a few steps back, doing less and running with the racehorses that have shown time and time again an ability to help you reach and motivate your audience.
It’s a three-pillar strategy: Building your foundation, finding platforms that fit your organization and setting your expectations for what success is going to look like. Let’s explore each.
Build your foundation
One of the first things you can do to thrive with limited resources is build your foundation with strategic decisions about which social media platforms you’re really going to invest in. The temptation to do everything is a real one, but selecting a limited set that best fits your organization’s goals and personnel is going to save you a lot of time and stress down the road.
Let’s look at mission statements for what I call The Big Three: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter/X.
- Facebook: Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.
- Instagram: Capture and share the world’s moments.
- Twitter/X: Give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers.
When I look at each of those mission statements, I see a common thread: Connection. Each mission is centered on some form of sharing, inspiring and/or creating. And while those statements have changed slightly over the years, that core tenet remains. Social media networks were created as a way to shorten distances between people and help us better connect with friends and family.
That leads me to key takeaway #1: Use platforms for their intended purpose. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use social media strategically to help your college or university advance its mission, recruit students and garner monetary gifts from alumni and friends. What I’m referring to here is the spirit with which you do the work.
Is your content prioritizing your audience’s needs? Is it accessible to people who have disabilities? Are you creating with the mindset of a community builder first and a marketer second? If the answers to those questions are “Yes,” you’re well on your way to creating a great experience for your audience.
Find platforms that fit your skill set and bandwidth
You can give yourself the best chance to succeed by looking at whether you’re better equipped to write or illustrate? If it’s writing, your top platform options are likely Facebook or Twitter/X. If your skills and your organization’s need fall more in illustration, your best bet is probably Facebook or Instagram.
- The audience skews toward elder Millennials and older.
- Feel-good stories about people tend to work well. So does great photography of your culture, environment and people who make a difference.
- Success stories your audience can connect with also work well.
- The audience leans heavily toward Gen Z and Millennials.
- Great photography and vertical, Reels-style video are a must.
- Stories about your organization and the people who make it go usually resonate.
- Consistent, on-brand design (whatever that looks like for you) is also a must.
- The audience tends to be elder Millennials and older, making it an intriguing option to connect with your young alumni base that graduated about five years ago.
- It’s a place to share your college or university’s news and build a community around a shared experience.
- If you’re just starting out, it’s perhaps the platform that has the lightest lift in terms of things you need to do to get your content off the ground.
- However, the future is uncertain, as the platform continues to undergo sweeping changes under Elon Musk’s vision.
A note relevant to all three platforms: Vertical video is here to stay. You might be asking, “How can I create visual content as a team of one?” The answer is the device you probably have in your pocket. According to research from Sprout Social, two-thirds of consumers found short-form video to be the most engaging type of content in 2022. That’s up from half of consumers in 2020.
Here are some small wins you can use to create the best vertical video (and still photography) possible when you aren’t a professional videographer or photographer:
Write down what you want to capture. This doesn’t have to be a complex script or shot sheet, but it should be enough to keep track of which sights and sounds you need to tell your story.
Clean off your lens. Whether you use your shirt or a soft cloth usually designed to wipe glasses lenses, clearing any smudges or debris from your phone’s camera lens will help you deliver the best-looking images possible.
Stabilize your device. Invest in a stabilizing stick that holds your phone. If you don’t have one yet, try holding your device with both hands and pinning your elbows against your rib cage. That will reduce the chance of blurriness in your final product.
Focus on your audio. This is especially important if you decide to start live streaming. Audiences will be quick to forgive a less-than-optimal video quality if your audio is clear. It’s a good idea to invest in a microphone that can connect to your device via Bluetooth.
Get familiar with iMovie or another simple video editing software. Most social media platforms provide you with the ability to edit your visual content without ever leaving their app. However, it doesn’t hurt to become adept at clipping your video content and dragging the pieces together in iMovie or a different app of your choice.
Set your expectations
This is the shortest section, but these three principles are the most important things you’ll ever do as a social media manager.
- Be realistic. “Going viral” is not a strategy. It’s great when it happens, but reaching achievable goals feels good too.
- Ask for help. Social media management is a full-time job by itself.
- Try to have fun. Create content that brings you joy.
At the end of the day, it’s all about telling stories. My heroes aren’t social media managers or marketers, but they are all writers and storytellers. That list has grown over the years and includes illusionist David Copperfield, and musicians Sara Bareilles and John Mayer. As Mayer once said, “It’s my failure to sound like my heroes that’s allowed me to sound like myself.”
So the question is, who or what inspires YOU? Start there, then move toward building a foundation that fits you and your organization, learn how to make the most of the technology available to you, and set your expectations early and make your goals achievable.
Social media isn’t a thing or a place. It’s us. We should enjoy the chance to easily communicate across state and country borders … and make someone’s day better in the process. So let’s make the most of it.