You’ve Got to Get Mad: Why Social Media Can’t Advance Alone

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1976 is a year most social media community managers only know from history books and their parents’ poor taste in movies and music. Admittedly, I am one of those community managers, but being someone who is frequently “credited” with possessing an “old soul,” I am pathetically in touch with the 70s.

I’m not a product of the 70s, but I play one when I blog.

I call attention to 1976 because—besides being the American bicentennial—it was the year the movie Network hit the silver screen. I won’t bring a layer of glaze to your eyes by diving into the synopsis of the film; rather, I want to focus on the character of Howard Beale. Howard is a news anchor who comes unglued and begins preaching “the truth” on the airwaves. He tells his viewers, “You’ve got to get mad!” Perhaps you’ve seen the famous clip where he rants, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

So what does this examination of obscure cinema have to do with higher ed social media? Simply this: you’ve got to get mad.


Be mad but not AS mad as Howard…because you might scare people.

For the sake of liability, let’s assume “mad” is a metaphor for “taking action.” (I don’t want to be responsible for a boardroom brawl where punches and tridents are thrown.) If you attend social media conferences or engage in higher ed social media tweet chats, you know there’s an incredible number of talented people doing social media on behalf of their institutions. Those of us in this circle are great at recognizing the work of our peers, but what is the impact of that recognition? Most HESM (higher ed social media) conferences all have one thing in common: examples of great content, which engages their institution’s constituency.  Sadly, they also have another thing in common: the absence of senior leadership.

Get mad…but don’t get “Brick mad.”

I love being surrounded by social media pros from other schools. The synergy is addicting, as you feel like you’re finally around people that “get you.” We’re exceptional at applauding one another’s work, which serves as an oft-needed injection of industrial enthusiasm. While this is a worthwhile exercise in effective collaboration, we need to spend more time traveling down the hard road of converting and educating internal colleagues and leaders on the power that exists at our fingertips. There’s times it’s easier to work within our own social media bubble, but we can’t truly unleash the potential of our work until we’re fully integrated with the rest of our advancement division.

Pointing isn’t polite, but it gets “the point” across.

In Network, Howard Beale suggests Americans are afraid to fight back against the injustices of the time, clinging to the security of their living rooms in hopes that they will be left alone. To this, Howard says with authority, “I’m not going to leave you alone!” Well, I’m not going to leave you alone, either. I want you to spread the social media gospel all over your building.

“Breaking down silos” is a term that’s becoming widely—if not overly—used throughout higher ed. Regardless of any terminology fatigue that may exist around this concept, it’s still crucially important. Social media is not communications or marketing or engagement or cultivation or solicitation or qualification; it’s all of the above. Sure, it’s probably easier for a community manager to focus on communications/marketing and engagement, but we have to connect more dots if we want to see social media strategy become a bigger player in advancement. To do so, we have to sit down with various departments and learn more about what they do in their day-to-day and figure out how social media can compliment and improve their efforts.

No need to bring TNT into the office—just schedule some meetings with people you hardly talk to.

To start, I think you have to figure out what it is that your leaders respond to. I’m going to focus on the prospect side of things because that’s something that speaks to our (and most) advancement leaders. Whether it’s reunion, happy hours, or faculty speakers hitting the road, the goal is the same: engage and solicit.

When I started in my position, I could tell there was some internal skepticism around the need for a social media team. Did our advancement shop really need to pay someone to play on Facebook all day? I will always be indebted to that skepticism because of the effect it had—it made me mad. It inspired me to prove people wrong and find a way to connect daily online community engagement with fundraising and development.

We have to let go of any social media ego we have and take the time to educate and learn from colleagues so that they can help us help them.

Our team had a hunch that we could leverage social media to aid in prospect identification, but it wasn’t until we spent an extended period of time with our prospect research team that we were able to iron out a strategy that would allow social media to find and nominate major gift donors and do so in a way that integrated seamlessly with the existing nomination and research process.

Meeting with researchers and other development pros opened my eyes to the fact that I knew ZIP about how my institution evaluates wealth. This process evolved, and it soon stretched beyond researchers to working one-on-one with major gift officers to design a social media engagement strategy for people in their portfolio. In the process, I was able to learn more about what a gift officer does in their day-to-day work, something I assumed I knew but really did not. Similarly, prospect researchers and gift officers gained a newfound appreciation for what the social media team can deliver. And in the world of advancement, those are some of the best allies you can have.

You and a colleague might be a one hour meeting away from doing karate in the garage.

To further our exposure, we have held a series of internal social media brown bag lunch sessions to highlight things we’re working on and to trigger new collaborations with colleagues we previously had not worked with. Beyond researchers and gift officers, our social media team also collaborates with the annual fund, donor relations, database engineers, IT, volunteer programs, principle gifts, and affinity and diversity programs. I don’t blast out this list as a way of saying “we have it all figured out”—because we don’t.

In most of these areas, we’re just scratching the surface of how the social media team can be of use to them. The important thing is we’re pretty sure we CAN be of service to them, and we know it’s crucial that senior leadership knows we’re trying. That’s not to say you should do this for the sake of appearances. You should do it because it’s going to make you better at your job, challenge your social creativity, and buy you opportunities to experiment. If all goes well, you can capitalize and increase your social media budget and/or staff size. Once we showed the social media team could deliver major gift-level prospects that were previously unknown, we were able to leverage that as justification for additional resources.

Remember: Skeptics are more likely to remain skeptical if you act all-knowing. Tread lightly.

I think one of the worst assumptions we as advancement social media professionals can make is thinking that everyone in our shop understands what it is that we do or that we shouldn’t care how we’re perceived by people who don’t play in our sand box. Some advancement operations are big and some are small, but regardless of size, we have an opportunity—or should I say, a responsibility—to go beyond sharing social media analytics and educate our colleagues on why social media is essential to moving the whole advancement division forward. To do that, you (might) have to get mad.

Howard’s done talking. Now it’s your turn.

While it’s uplifting and downright euphoric to present and collaborate with like-minded peers, we have to take that energy back home and infect those in our office who play a pivotal role in the expansion of our work. We cannot continue to refer to our industry as “advancement” if we remain in an idle position. To truly be “advancing” we have to move forward.

Business as usual will probably sustain us in the short term, but the long-term outlook is far less rosy. We need new minds and new ideas guiding strategies across silos, and few things can tie everything together like social media. Social media is an opportunity to engage, cultivate, and steward the current and future generations of donors and institutional ambassadors. This isn’t something we CAN do, it’s something we MUST do, and that could mean challenging a process or job that has been in place for the past 25 years.

No one is going to ask you to do it. You have to want to do it. You have to flex your social muscles and show them the power you possess. You have to get mad.

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Keith is the typical story of a Hollywood drop-out who enters higher ed advancement. Keith manages the Cornell alumni social network communities, produces video for the web, and streams events live to the Cornell website. Before Cornell, Keith was Sr. Producer for Six Degrees Games in Los Angeles, CA, where he developed creative content strategies and served as community manager. Tweet him via @KeithHannon.

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