Maybe you’re the only full-time social media person at a small school or college. Maybe you’re in charge of social accounts—but not the main @university account. Or maybe you’ve successfully shown higher-ups that social media isn’t going away, that your program/department/school/association needs to invest time and resources into social media… and they say great, it’s yours.
Any of this sound familiar?
Some organizations (usually larger, well-funded institutions) have entire teams devoted to social media analysis, content, digital strategy, and multimedia. But those places are still in the minority. According to the CASE-Huron-mStoner Social Media Survey of Social Media in Advancement, staffing resources continue to be a challenge for 50-60 percent of institutions, from North American universities to European independent schools. This usually translates to one person, or a few half-people, dedicated to social media—and that’s it.
Armies of one, we must heed Tim Gunn’s call.
Consider the advantages.
The cool part about being on a small nonprofit staff is that you get to try lots of different things. Interested in coding? Take on a website project! Want to create compelling emails, take photos, or capture stories? Here’s your chance! Explore different facets of social media, web analysis, and content creation. Find the aspects of your job that you love and run with them. You may have a lot on your plate, but at least there’s variety—and you get to see just how interconnected your team’s different tasks and goals are.
Focus what you focus on.
This is true not only for your day-to-day stuff but also for what’s being touted as effective practice in blogs, social media, or conferences. Be mindful that you cannot possibly accomplish it all—and that’s OK. That video might look amazing and polished, but there is a lot of buy-in and budget and other behind-the-scenes stuff going on that might not be in place where you work. Figure out how to apply the thinking behind the tool or the practice on a smaller scale. You might not be able to create a fancy interactive map or landing page for your alumni, but what about the occasional Google Hangout or nostalgic photo shared on Instagram? Start with what works and compose variations on that theme.
In addition to the EverTrue blog, here are a few places I regularly frequent: Higher Ed Solo (huge debt of gratitude to these smart people), the CASE Blog and #casesmc chats (full disclosure: I used to work for CASE and managed those chats), Higher Ed Marketing by Andrew Careaga, Karine Joly’s College Web Editor, and the TVP Communications blog.
Ed Social Media is good for independent schools, and BlogHighEd is a handy aggregator to skim if you’re looking for inspiration.
Larry Lauer and Seth Godin provide short moments of zen. And, while it’s not strictly related to social media, Brain Pickings is great for life perspective and philosophy.
I know this is difficult—because there are no inefficiencies in higher ed, right?
Well, if you happen to find any, use your perspective as a cross-departmental Swiss Army knife to your advantage. Chances are, you’ll stumble across some form of communication that has been sent every year to the same group of people without segmenting, targeting, or general awareness of similar messages sent to similar groups. Are there ways these two departments can hop on each other’s messages? Can a donor story created by the development department be repurposed for your social content? Can a hashtag or custom donation link be added to a table tent or event invitation?
And, if you do nothing else, track your efforts—and show others how to as well. It’s hard to prove that an email or social campaign is (or is not) worth doing if you have no data to back it up. Track conversions on your website, use custom link shorteners when possible, compare email campaigns year-to-year to see if different approaches resulted in more engagement. This might seem like basic stuff, but many people who are creating and distributing content (think brochures, mailings, and postcards) are not aware of how to customize links and track results. A bit of upfront effort can save everyone some time.
Measure a few meaningful things.
Google Analytics can be intimidating. Entire books and online courses have been created to show people how to use the darn thing, which is then updated every six months with a new configuration and—WHOA COOL, YOU CAN SEE REAL-TIME STUFF.
We won’t even get into how the stats vary from platform to platform or how the Insights report doesn’t quite match the Analytics social report.
To avoid heading down the analytics spiral of doom, first go back to—say it with me—your goals. Why are you doing all of this stuff? Are you trying to encourage giving? Event attendance? Once you have your answer, set up conversions on donation buttons or event registrations and focus on those. Add some qualitative screen shots of great responses from students or alumni to your tweet, and you’ve got the beginnings of a monthly or quarterly social media report.
Find your tribe.
In addition to the social communities mentioned above, you have to find your people on campus. They might not be in your department or even your building—ask around and see who’s doing social elsewhere, or who is generally a pro at communicating and/or marketing in general. If you’re lucky enough to work on a campus with a social media users’ group, then voila… instant tribe! Ask advice, bounce ideas around, and offer support. Set aside a few bucks every month for coffee dates or lunches. (It’s amazing how much relationships are bolstered by the almighty caffeinated beverage.)
Ultimately, your goal is to build a case for more social resources—or at least full integration into a broader communications strategy. As my colleague from Cornell put it recently, new media is no longer new: We must invest or perish. Building a group of supporters, a data-informed plan for engagement, and scalable social practices are essential building blocks for buy-in.
Other small social departments: How do you manage it all? What’s your perspective? And what’s your outlook on the future of the solo social person? Share in the comments below!
Jen Doak-Mathewson is in charge of digital marketing at the UConn Foundation, Inc., in Storrs, Connecticut. She manages web, social, and email outreach for the organization. Before heading back to her native New England, Jen was the online communications specialist at CASE where, among other things, she created and managed the #CASESMC biweekly chats. Jen earned her B.A. from UConn and an M.A. in Communications, Culture, and Technology from Georgetown University.