Harvard’s social media dashboard is home to over 100 University-related Twitter accounts. On Berklee’s social media page, content’s broken down into four categories: admissions, alumni, general news and summer programs. Boston University has several branded accounts, including @BU_Tweets, @bualumni, @bostonia and @ApplyToBU. And Northeastern’s social media dashboard tracks the hashtag #Northeastern in real-time, just as Babson’s keeping up-to-date with the hashtag #Babson.
So, with the amount of social media pumping out of each school, how are institutions able to control their message? As social media evolves into this means of survival, how can colleges make sure they’re sending the right message — a message that can help them recruit top tier students and stay connected to their audience?
Although Boston University has created Brand Identity Standards, Public Relations Assistant Jenny Mackintosh admits collaboration is completed offline with a group called Social Media Communicators, comprised of those who have their hands in social media for Boston University. “We try to meet two to three times each semester to discuss new trends and tools, as well as make each other aware of upcoming events that we could use some cross-promotional help with,” Mackintosh says.
Communication is key, and Mackintosh suggests every school keeps their lines wide open. “Make it possible for people within your institution managing social profiles to meet each other and share ideas, whether it’s an organized meetup or a private Facebook group,” she says. “Sometimes, people just don’t know who to ask for advice.”
Harvard’s Chief Digital Officer Perry Hewitt agrees, claiming, “Social is people, so get them together!” At a university entrenched in digital thinking, from the Berkman Center to the Nieman Lab, the best way they’ve found to enhance Harvard’s message — beyond adopting and adapting identity guidelines — is to share and compare practices all together, along with analytics.
Hewitt encourages to get granular with analytics. “We look not only at the performance of various content topics and media formats, but the audience, time of day and, of course, the platform,” Hewitt says. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all social media solution, Hewitt admits “analytics help us get in the game early with content as we see what’s trending externally. We share those findings and collaborate with distributed content owners.”
Berklee’s Assistant Director for Online Marketing Magen Tracy also suggests schools continue to take inventory of their social media properties and analyze them. “No matter how organized you are, or how coherent and visible your policy, new pages and sites will crop up all the time,” Tracy says. “It’s important to bring them into the fold.”
Tracy makes it a point to meet with departments looking to jump into social media, asking them who they’re trying to reach and what they’re trying to say. “Meeting face-to-face helps so that you know who you’re working with,” Tracy says, also admitting it’s crucial that, no matter the departments, schools look at their social media properties from an outsider’s perspective. “Remember that, internally, there may be a huge difference between this office or that department, but to the outside world, it’s all Berklee,” she says.
Northeastern recently re-launched their news@Northeastern site to engage outsiders in a more active way. Because of the high amount of activity, though, Northeastern’s Director of Communications Renata Nyul claims they “have a robust university-wide monitoring system in place.” Inspired by a system used by the Air Force, Nyul says they “evaluate every piece of [content] on an ongoing basis to make sure it is as buttoned-down as possible, and make adjustments whenever appropriate and necessary.”
To Babson’s Digital Marketing Director Gene Begin, however, controlling your social media message isn’t that simple. “For one, you’ll never be able to control your message in social media, so my first tip would be to try not to do that,” he says. “Secondly, having brand identity guidelines are great, and we created them as well, but they are only useful with ongoing training and education. No one refers back to them on their own.”
Begin agrees with the others on the idea that communication ranks supreme. Begin makes sure he knows who is managing what Twitter accounts on campus and off, ranging from staff, faculty, students and alumni, and then builds relationships with those people. “A student is much more likely to change the branding of their Twitter picture if they know me and realize I’m not a random guy in an office in a basement looking for my red stapler,” he admits.
Once those relationships are made, Begin works with account holders on a regular basis. Although he says he meets with the 10 core Babson-related accounts once a week, he still meets four to six times a year with the college’s 40-person Social Media Council. “Mostly for Facebook and Twitter, we developed a matrix of each account’s target audience, primary goal and where we could better integrate,” Begin says, also saying they’ve tested a variety of tools, whether it be HootSuite or GaggleAMP, to help coordinate their efforts.
“Just like a website is never done, an effective social media strategy will never be completed,” Begin says. “It has to be enhanced, tweaked and cared for on a weekly basis to change with the ever-changing needs of the platforms, the marketplace and, most importantly, your audiences.”