Ask the readers: Social media tips and lessons

In less than two weeks, I’ll be presenting about social media at the CASE District VI Conference in St. Louis. What I’d like to do as part of that presentation is something I try to do in most presentations: crowdsource some advice from other higher ed communications and marketing pros and share samples of the collective wisdom. Because none of us is as smart as all of us, right?

So I’m asking you readers to share your advice, tips or cautions about using social media in higher education. I’m specifically interested in your thoughts about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Google Wave.

Please take a minute to share in the comments – or, if you prefer, via Twitter (@andrewcareaga):

  1. your tips for using social media as a communications and/or marketing tool in higher education
  2. your advice for getting started in social media (for those unfamiliar)
  3. your thoughts on the future of social media – i.e., what trends do you see for the coming year?
  4. any words of wisdom or caution regarding social media

Any information I use from you will be properly attributed to you.

Thanks for your help!


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

13 thoughts on “Ask the readers: Social media tips and lessons”

  1. With social media, I think it is important to understand the business problem you are trying to solve. Too many people focus on the latest, greatest technology when instead they should be focusing on building relationships.

    I see two emerging trends for social media. The first is the combination of social media and the mobile web which will totally transform how we use these tools. Secondly, I see social media becoming ubiquitous ( see and

    Social media requires a new paradigm. You need to think dialog, not monologue. You need to cede control. You need to think contribute, not control. For me, the only real risk is not joining the conversation.

  2. I agree with Mark totally when it comes to social media. The “root” of the term is social. Which, in essence, is a dialogue. It’s been rather surprising how little resistance I got with creating the social media arm of our college’s presence on Facebook and Twitter. We’re also on LinkedIn and have a small alumni presence on Ning. I work at a pretty conservative Catholic college so thus the surprise in my book.

    However our efforts right now are purely from the marketing standpoint and it has been rather difficult to get other departments to sign on and participate in the social media venture. Admissions is the leading group that is dragging their heels. Without tangibles like direct statistics regarding how social media helped to get the student to apply, they will continue to be a group that will need to be sold on the idea. So my words of advice there are create a buzz among other departments on campus and get buy-in before launching into the world of social media/networking.

    And for those getting started, what worked for me was one word – FREE. Aside from my labor to make things up to date, our presence in the social media world doesn’t cost a dime. So if we get any result from that in terms of our presence swaying someone to be a student is a big win in my eyes.

    Again like Mark said the future of social media will all be mobile based in my eyes. Students will apply, register for classes and make payments via their mobile device. Will it happen in 4 years? Probably not. But as the middle school aged kids become more immersed in their hand-held devices, the laptops and desktops will fade.

    I hope this helps.

  3. I’m a bit of a literalist so I’ll take these point by point ;)

    1. your tips for using social media as a communications and/or marketing tool in higher education
    If you’re a central unit provide a framework to help highlight smaller units that are using social media services even if you aren’t using the services yourself. It’s important to help market the folks who are actually attempting to use social media. For example, if folks are using Twitter check out NC State’s great open source directory tool at For smaller units, engage the central unit to help promote your activities at every opportunity. Usually a central school account will have more followers/fans and reach. Also, find ways to engage directly with users who post questions on say the school’s main facebook page. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.

    2. your advice for getting started in social media (for those unfamiliar)
    Get into Facebook. That’s it. Learn what it takes to produce content and how much time it takes to engage in that environment. Everything else can eventually follow but Facebook is probably the most bang for the buck. Also, once on Facebook, play on school spirit. Nothing gets people involved like school spirit.

    3. your thoughts on the future of social media – i.e., what trends do you see for the coming year?
    Hopefully the trend is consolidation and dedicated personnel for larger schools. With consolidation… a lot of small units want to go alone but I hope they realize there’s power in banding together with a central account. It makes providing content easier and gives them larger reach. And for the latter, proper and coordinated engagement with social media tools is a full-time job especially now that schools are trying to engage across multiple platforms.

    4. any words of wisdom or caution regarding social media
    you have to tell people (students/alumni/staff) what you’re up to. don’t sit back and expect people to show up & engage. start the engagement yourself. and repeat the message that you’re using it.

  4. @mark i think it will be interesting to see if schools can engage users to use their mobile devices to capture important moments and post them via something like Facebook.

  5. For point #2 (getting started) – the thing I hear most often is that people are intimidated by social media, and that they’re afraid they’ll “do it wrong.”

    Doing it “wrong” is not getting started at all. So many missed opportunities! The best way to get started is to do just that: start. Dive in with a personal Facebook account or a Twitter feed. Watch what others are doing, try things out, make mistakes. All of this is still so new that you might just uncover an innovative, useful way to implement the tools.

    Good luck with your preso Andy!

  6. I think one thing that us early adopter types need to remember is there are some people that are waaaaaay behind. Like, not even on the radar in terms of debating a lot of these topics, but whether they ought to be doing them or not.

    Some of the issues I’ve heard come up a lot is the skepticalness and lack of buy-in. Even people who are building things up, often get stalled because of problems from folks who don’t understand what the higher connections of social media is.

    I had more stuff earlier to send you about this.

  7. Great idea on gathering collective feedback—I’m hoping to do the same for the CASE III social media panel discussion. In a world where so much is changing, more perspectives can be better.

    I think the #2 question you present is most important for many institutions, with the emphasis on WHY to do it (and yes, there are right and wrong reasons already listed above) and HOW to do it. The “social media revolution” YouTube video is great for showing to skeptics who equate social media to online dating as opposed to a major shift in communications for organizations and individuals alike. As for how to use it, I like to refer people to my posts on “introducing social media to non-marketing colleagues” (August) and “thinking practically about social media” (November).

  8. My top 5 thoughts on social media from an institutional standpoint:

    1) Try before you buy. If you’re not on Facebook or Twitter, don’t start an institutional account until after you understand the communities.
    2) Have a plan. I don’t mean a 1,000-page, committee-driven notarized slab of marble, but an idea what you want to do. Maybe how often you monitor, key messages, basic understanding.
    3) Make it sustainable. Fans pages where questions go unanswered are, to me, worse than not having a page at all. Makes one look unresponsive, if not irresponsible at the social media game.
    4) Be flexible and adaptable. Yes, I said have a plan, but social media platforms change, audiences change, what’s happening everywhere changes. This advice really applies to use of all media.
    5) Have fun. Remember, as I learned, students and prospectives think of social media as a place to connect and enjoy, first and foremost. Your institution’s face on social media should, more often than not, wear a smile, be friendly and serve an an inviting front door to all.

  9. I think I’ve probably beaten the “have fun” drum too much already, but that’s always my first suggestion.

    I’m going to focus on #s 3 and 4.

    If trends move on a pendulum, then I expect social media to take a swing. The major appeal is freedom, I think. That’s come at the price of personal responsibility and integrity. By that I mean people are willing to say things online behind a keyboard that they wouldn’t say in person.

    There’s also a lacking sense of appropriateness, whether it’s employees speaking of an employer, students about teachers, etc.

    I think there is an increasing awareness or at least thoughts of ethics in social media. As community managers, it is something we have to think about as we write guidelines and moderate community contributions.

  10. Hard not to echo all the fabulous and right-on things said above, but I’ll try to provide some added value:

    1. your tips for using social media as a communications and/or marketing tool in higher education

    Realize it’s bigger than you and what you manage. Tap your internal communities and build connections internally. Dave makes a really good point above about how central and smaller units should work together. Working in a Central unit, one of my goals for 2010 is to better engage smaller units on campus to share knowledge, work off of common principles, give props to those doing it right. Explore opportunities to share channel management.

    I also want to meet more with students to gauge the evolution of social media engagement among them. We tried a focus group of prominent student tweeters and it was a bit of a logistics fail (despite free pizza), but the one student we did talk to had tons of useful info. Can’t wait to get 3 or 4 in a room and see what comes out of it.

    2. your advice for getting started in social media (for those unfamiliar)

    Tim’s got it right – Try before you buy. Don’t be afraid to press it and try something you haven’t seen before or aren’t sure will work. You never know until you give it a shot.

    3. your thoughts on the future of social media – i.e., what trends do you see for the coming year?

    Mobile, definitely. Also curious to see how much real-time web comes into play, and if RSS will become more mainstream.

    4. any words of wisdom or caution regarding social media

    There is a middle ground between the clueless administrator and the savvy administrator — the administrator who thinks it’s great but doesn’t really understand it. I almost think they’re more difficult to deal with because they don’t think there’s anything more to learn.

    Also, some folks on campus may bristle at the idea of social media guidelines, but others on campus are hungry for them (even if they don’t know exactly what they’re hungry for — they want/need guidance). Feed the hungry.

  11. Tips for using social media as a communications and/or marketing tool in higher education:
    – I think social media gives higher ed a unique opportunity to provide a much more personalized level of proactive, as well as reactive, customer service. It’s also a gold mine of free marketing research to listen to what the public is saying about your institution.

    Advice for getting started in social media (for those unfamiliar):
    – I borrowed this general concept from @tsand and built a presentation around it for the Statmats Integrated Marketing Conference in November — learn how to drive before turning over the keys to the company car. In other words, set up your own personal accounts and learn how to use them there before setting up or giving access to primary university accounts. Start slow and build a network. Ask prospective students who come on tour and current students that work for you or you have easy access to, what tools they use.

    Words of wisdom or caution regarding social media:
    – Social media is not a bull horn or a bulletin board to spam with virtual flyers. Use it primarily as a listening tool, and engage when appropriate.

  12. 1. your tips for using…
    — “Look what I did, I’m awesome” doesn’t work. “Look what they did, they’re awesome” does. Your community is your voice, make them happy so they tell their (your) stories.

    2. your advice for getting started…
    — Learn by playing. Pass on the Friday night tradition of Ghost Whisperer, grab a six pack and fire up the computer. Create “personal” accounts and play. If you make mistakes, your community will help correct you. If a company makes the same mistakes, they’ll be scrutinized, even ridiculed. The ONLY reason the social Web continues to run is because it isn’t picky about what fuels it. ANYONE can contribute, ANYONE can figure it out. ANYONE can play. If my 6 year old daughter understands the basics of a tweet, so can you.

    3. your thoughts on the future of social media…
    — Oprah will eat it. Serious.

    4. any words…
    — Don’t worry what others think, discover how it works best for you, then, how it can work best for your university. Think tools. A hammer is designed to drive nails, yet the sore thumb begs to differ.

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