Should Your Advancement Office Hire a Social Media Manager?

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Spoiler alert: You should.

This question is like asking yourself, “Eating a dozen chocolate chip cookies isn’t that bad for me, right?”

You already know the inevitable truth: You need to hire a social media manager.

Social media is ruling the web. If you’ve ever visited Twitter, the stream just keeps going—and people pop onto Facebook so much that it’s becoming more of a referral source than Google. Let that sink in.

Does your institution need to be on social media? Yes. Social media is a big part of inbound marketing, a strategy that is customer centric rather than marketer centric. Cold calling (sorry, call centers) turns people off. But if you run a vibrant social media account with content that your alumni want to see, they’ll come to you.

Inbound marketing is essentially the Field of Dreams: If you build a vibrant presence, they will come.

Rather than spray and pray, your alumni will opt in to following you. It’s their choice to receive the news, not yours or your call center’s choice. If they want to find out what’s happening at your institution, they can follow you on social media. They can engage with you on LinkedIn. This is huge—you won’t have to guess which alumni are most likely to give to your school, because those who opt in are showing a critical first sign.

Since that’s settled, I’m going to run through a few questions you might ask before you put up a social media manager job posting online.

When is the right time?

The real question is: Is your team ready?

 

Ask your advancement department if they are ready to take the time to build the presence online necessary to attract alumni. Will your advancement leader empower staff to take photos at events and share them online? Can leaders empower the social media manager to reply to alumni without going through every tweet with a fine-tooth comb? Can the marketing team build specific social media strategies that will delight alumni (and yes, that sometimes means showing a sense of humor!)? Does your institution encourage alumni to share their thoughts, photos, and more with the school—or are you afraid to open that can of worms?

And, perhaps the most important question:

Is leadership ready to be honest with themselves that social media is just as important as the call center, direct mail, and email initiatives you send out?

If the advancement team thinks it’s just a fad and has no value, it will be treated it as such. Until your institution sees the light, don’t commit. If they aren’t all in, there’s no point.

From an actual “time” perspective, I encourage you to hire so that the social media manager has enough time to build a following and make an impact. If you want someone for reunion weekend in May, the quiet of January is smart. Or, if you want someone before football season to promote events, look to April. Give them at least six months to get the feeds going.

What qualities should I look for in a social media manager?

Now that you’ve seen the light, you need to hire a remarkable, sensational, and all together awesome person who can manage your accounts. Keep in mind—for all the volume that’s needed on social media, you may need to empower additional employees or student interns to help them out. Those beautiful images of campus can’t be captured by just one person. It truly takes a village.

 

My list may be different than yours (and I encourage you to put additional traits in the comments), but here are some essential qualities every social media manager needs:

  • Highly organized. This person has to schedule messages (“feed the beast”), reply to messages, listen and monitor the feeds, and much more. If you want a social media campaign to take off, you need a person who will have all their ducks in a row.
  • Creative. Nothing irks me more than seeing the same, robotic response on social media: We appreciate your feedback. Social media is an opportunity to be creative and try new things. You want someone who will embrace this and not be afraid to take a risk here or there.
  • Empathetic. A skilled social media manager knows how to express empathy through virtual interactions. He or she will make alumni feel like they’ve been heard—that someone is listening and truly cares.
  • Collaborative. Social media is an integral part of any campaign, so the ability to work well with others and across functions is important. And, by tracking online interactions with alumni, a social media manager can help other teams find alumni for committees or gift opportunities. Social media is a gateway back into the fold; you want someone who will pass along opportunities and help others achieve their goals.
  • Tenacious and curious. It’s not all retweets and shares. In fact, some days it seems like content and social posts fall flat. Or, there’s a piece of news that makes everyone come out of the woodwork and say how much they hate their alma mater. You’ll want someone who will keep at it, tweak their messaging, and constantly work hard to figure out a way to spark engagement.
  • Flexible. Working an event for social media can be tricky. You may have a plan, and then boom! Things change. You want someone who is flexible enough to make things work no matter what.
  • Integrity. This person is making statements on behalf of your university. That doesn’t mean they need to speak in a “traditional PR” tone. But they do need to have strong moral principles and have a sense of the values of your institution. That doesn’t mean they can’t have fun, but they need to know where the “line” is.
  • A sense of humor. The “line” for what works on social media may be a bit edgier than what the university is ready for. But taking baby steps forward can have a huge impact on your brand. Can your social media manager be funny at the right time and in the right way? You’ll want to interview for that.

What are the expectations and responsibilities of the role?

If you are hiring a social media manager, you need to have clear expectations about what you want social media to achieve. And you need to understand what it takes to make it all work.

Repeat after me: Social media is not a magic bullet. Say it out loud. I’ll wait.

Social media is not a magic bullet.

Many offices assume that one tweet will solve all their problems. Oh, look at all the alumni who want to talk to us again! This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes due diligence and tenacity on the social media manager’s part to build real, authentic relationships with alumni. This means individual messages, emails, and interactions at events. This means thank you notes for their support. It’s a lot of work to build trust when it may not be there with an institution that is always asking for money.

 

My best advice: Set the expectations in stone from the outset. Here are some things to consider:

  • Do you expect the social media person to be present (or “on remotely”) for all events?
  • How often do you expect them to share on each social media network?
  • Since they now represent the university, do you expect them to censor their personal accounts? Or can they be themselves on their personal accounts, with an “opinions are my own” disclaimer?
  • Do you expect them to reply to social media messages over the weekends or during after-hours? (This answer should be “yes” because timely responses and social media are this century’s peanut butter and jelly.)
  • Is the compensation appropriate for this constant work?

These are just a few things you should consider. It’s a lot more work than people realize. Trust me, if I was just goofing off on the Boston College (BC) Alumni Twitter all day without the campaign objectives, I’d have less gray hairs.

As a social media manager, it’s hard not to feel a constant pull between what’s needed to make the accounts soar and saying no. You know photos will boost engagement for past and future events, but you also know you’ve been working all weekend.

The world doesn’t sleep. Not all your alumni are not all in the same zip code. By no means am I suggesting that your social media manager work all the time. However, the reality is that we are often called on to work extended hours, attend events, and more.

Unsolicited advice: If you want your social media manager at an event, let them know long beforehand. There were many nights when I was on my way out at BC and asked to stay for an event I had no knowledge of. Or, I’d get last minute requests about creating a Storify or live-tweeting an event that night.

It may be different at other institutions, but I was a salaried employee, meaning I didn’t receive overtime pay. My manager and I worked out an arrangement where I could take a comp day as needed, but during the busy season with an event a night, I never utilized it. Reunion weekend was a huge ordeal, with more time spent afterwards uploading photos and creating the official Storify. Football games meant staying two hours after the final whistle to get the photos up. (Timing is everything on social media.)

 

Were these crazy expectations mine or my institution’s? Subconsciously, I had permission to go home. The over-achiever in me wanted to make sure I did everything possible for our accounts to pop. But then again, expectations weren’t clear.

One last note about salary—let’s remember that a social media manager’s salary might not cut it for them to get their job done.

You’ll need to buy social media software to help your employee, which may cost around $100/month. Sprout Social (my personal favorite) offers a nonprofit discount at $49/month. To empower your social media staff to the job well, you need to invest in the software.

Like a fine wine, social media gets better with age. If you’re trying to start accounts from scratch, it’s going to take a while to build up a following. For example, creating new Twitter account means you start with 0 followers. Translation: You can tweet as much as you want, but no one will see it.

If you want your messages to get seen (say you have an important reunion announcement), you may want to experiment with social ads. $50 can go a long way on social media, so be sure to add to the budget what’s needed. As you publicize that your organization is now on social media, you’ll need the help of other departments to spread the word. Email your alumni, ask the main account to mention it on their feeds—whatever it takes to build a following.

How does all that connect to your broader fundraising objectives?

If we look at the inbound marketing funnel from HubSpot, here’s what it takes to get a gift:

 

Social media attracts alumni (and parents and friends) to your site. The posts educate alumni about what’s happening on campus, campaign initiatives, and where the next game watch will be.

This leads to the convert stage; hopefully your “calls-to-action” to attend an event, go to a lecture, and more get clicked on and drive attendance.

As more alumni are “converted” and attending events, they’ll feel more engaged with your school. And history tells us that as alumni become more engaged, they are more likely to give back. You might be able to close gifts as a result.

Those email asks, #GivingDays, and in-person solicitations will give alumni a chance to make a gift. Larger donors may come forward to help foster contests on social media. For example, BC ran their first #GivingDay this year: If 1,000 alumni gave, an anonymous donor would give $100,000. It was a huge success. Social media provided updates about the progress of the campaign, drove people to the giving page, and helped alumni encourage their fellow Eagles to give back. Gifts were closed.

Social media aids on the last stage too: It retains your alumni by delighting them. All of those trivia contests, caption contests, and Valentine’s Day albums keep alumni coming back for more. Having someone monitor the feeds and respond to important messages (especially negative ones) in an empathetic way can go a long way in ensuring that an alum isn’t lost for good.

So should you hire a social media manager? The simple answer is still YES.

Need more proof? Check out Steph’s post on how your development office can collaborate with a social media manager to raise more money.

Stephanie St. Martin is the marketing content manager at The Ariel Group. Prior to this, she was the social media manager for Boston College University Advancement, i.e. the person behind @BCAlumni on social media. When she’s not in the digital marketing trenches, Steph can be found writing, playing/hosting trivia, and driving around the USA in hopes of seeing all 50 state capitol buildings. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter if you dare.

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