Unlike our Fortune 500 counterparts with small armies of employees dedicated to Twitter and Facebook, universities often assign social media responsibilities to just a couple staff members. Our budgets are not robust—particularly for those yet to show a direct ROI on social media outreach. Still, we need to communicate with large, diverse constituencies of alumni, donors, students, prospective students, and other community members, and we need to be available around the clock. How is this possible?
I spoke with several higher-ed professionals who execute successful social media efforts despite having a small team and/or a small budget. Here are a few key pieces of advice for building an effective social media strategy with limited resources. Stay tuned for more advice for small social teams here on the EverTrue blog!
1. Leverage your students.
In higher education, students are your greatest asset. Almost every professional I spoke with recommended incorporating students into the school’s social media work, whether as paid part-time employees or as volunteer ambassadors. Students live and breathe the university atmosphere every day; they are uniquely well positioned to share the spirit of the school on social media. Many institutions have adopted this model, recruiting students to work with professional staff members to manage social media accounts.
Hiring for specific skills is crucial. Shawn Rommevaux, social media strategist at Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, said that his team has benefited from hiring a diverse group of students who are enrolled in social media and broadcast journalism classes, for example. Responsibilities vary across Rommevaux’s team, with the students bringing unique skill sets to the table; some take photos, some curate content, while others focus on beat reporting. There is even a group focused on goal-setting and analytics. When talented students are given responsibilities that closely align with the skills they are learning in the classroom, the results can be quite impactful.
Keep in mind, however, that training and guidance are essential—especially when entrusting students with direct access to the school’s social media accounts. Students are not full-time employees of the university and thus may not be familiar with the school’s overarching strategic goals, so an effective student social media team requires active professional oversight.
2. The content is already there—amplify it.
Universities are thriving centers of activity. From innovative classroom activities, to sporting events, to concerts, to celebrity guest speakers, there is rarely a dull moment on campus. But this doesn’t mean that the lone social media coordinator needs to schlep out to every campus event. (That would quickly grow tiresome!) Chances are high that people are already tweeting or Facebook-ing or Instagram-ing, so tap into their content and amplify it— if you see fit— on the institution’s social media accounts.
Is there an alum who frequently live-tweets alumni club professional development events? Is there a faculty member who takes excellent photos of his class’s field trips to Europe? Is there a student who develops upbeat music videos showcasing the physical beauty of campus? Get to know these people and build partnerships; let them know about your social media goals. Perhaps you can work together and expose their content to a larger audience, thus benefiting you both.
Some schools may even choose to formalize an Ambassador Program, like Oakland University has done. According to Colleen Campbell, digital public relations manager for OU:
“Ambassadors are your correspondents and your eyes and ears on campus. Ambassadors can be students, faculty, staff, and alumni.”
She suggested building a community around an official hashtag. OU’s hashtag, #ThisIsOU, was born in late 2013 and is used extensively by the school’s Social Media Street Team to tell their OU stories. In a recent campus survey, 88% of respondents indicated familiarity with the hashtag.
3. Choose your platforms carefully.
Facebook and Twitter seem to be a necessity for any university or school department seeking to establish a social media presence, but smaller platforms like Pinterest or Instagram may not be necessary depending on your goals. With limited time and resources to invest, it is worth being picky about where you dedicate your efforts. Eric Heilmeier, director of campus information and services at the University of Michigan, said:
“Don’t spread yourself too thin. Think about what platforms make the most sense for you, and stick with those.”
Heilmeier also recommended that smaller units and departments find ways to partner with the university’s larger, flagship accounts instead of creating their own accounts from scratch. For example, he explained that it may not be necessary for his department to develop its own presence on Pinterest if he can instead share content on the university’s Pinterest account, which likely has a broader reach.
Running social media initiatives on a tight budget may present challenges, but it’s also an opportunity. You’re forced to think critically about your goals, your constituents, and how you allocate resources—not to mention the broader social media landscape at your school.
How does your school manage social media with limited resources?
Dan Klamm is Director of Young Alumni Engagement for the NYC office of his alma mater, Syracuse University. He has six years of experience across higher education career services, alumni relations, and marketing. Feel free to connect with Dan on Twitter and LinkedIn.