One of the biggest struggles we see for most advancement offices and communications teams is developing a social media strategy that makes a maximum impact in terms of branding and messaging.
In many instances, to simplify the challenges, schools consolidate social media efforts into just a handful of accounts. For example, Yale University operates just one official page/account on every platform, nothing more (not even any alumni accounts). There are definitely benefits to such a policy – for one, it’s easier to get the “right” message across and control all the content that comes from the institution.
But when we recently spoke to our friend Jessica Krywosa, the Director of Interactive Content Strategy at Hamilton College, she told us that Hamilton was taking the exact opposite approach.
Instead of consolidation and control, she has encouraged departments and groups within the school to seize the role of content creators and has publicized the resulting content in an unfiltered manner using the school’s official channels.
Social Media Openness in Education
“It doesn’t make sense for us to complement social media content, when the great content already exists,” Krywosa said. “We wanted to turn the traditional social media plan on its head. Our strategy is to create a really low barrier to entry for people to create their own content, and then create a place to put all that great content, not from our own accounts but from the community.”
To that end, in February 2013, Hamilton launched The Scroll, a customized collection of all the social media posts about the college. To Krywosa, the most important part of the The Scroll is that its transparency and openness – the posts are uncensored, so both positive and negative expressions about Hamilton are shown.
“I believe that when you try to package and control it all, you go against what social media is supposed to be,” she said. “People know how to use the medium; you don’t need to get everyone exactly on the same page in terms of what to post. Things are totally open on the Scroll. We want a variety of experiences, even the negative stuff…openness is the most important thing.”
Unlike other institutions, Hamilton sub-groups like the Arts Department or the Writing Center have their own social media accounts and create their own content. Additionally, Hamilton links to all these “non-official” accounts, even those run exclusively by students on behalf of student groups, in a centralized social media directory in addition to collecting the content on the Scroll.
The Benefits of Authentic Content on Social Media
Even though it gives her less control over the school’s messaging online, Krywosa believes that the positives of an open policy far outweigh the costs.
“The content is authentic and it’s coming from real people and they’re not being prompted to say anything,” she said. “We really encourage people and groups to create their own accounts and create their own content, which all ends up on the Scroll.”
Of course, there are noticeable effects from such a “hands-off” strategy – for one, Hamilton’s official accounts publish a higher level of reposts from elsewhere than some similar schools, because less time is spent developing original content.
But although Krywosa is concerned about that and other issues, she still believes that her strategy of openness is the right one for an institution with the personality of Hamilton.
“Hamilton doesn’t have as much of a ‘voice’ on social media,” she said.” Sometimes I think I should add more personality and be talking more about the brand, but we’re a small school and that’s not who we are as an institution.”
For now, the jury is still out on whether schools should opt for control and consolidation or openness and fragmentation. But for the near future, simply thinking about your approach on social media can be a helpful exercise for your institution.