Tag Archives: university social media

So? cial media in higher ed

How about those “top ten universities on social media” lists?

Sounds like I’m a standup comic and that’s my opening line to a joke. Those lists are.

How not to “engage” … or segue. Source: Mashable

I didn’t consider these lists worthwhile reading when I first entered higher ed communications. Seventeen months later, this stuff is still appearing like it’s news.

Why are we celebrating numbers of likes and followers in 2012 and why aren’t more of us questioning the term “engagement”?

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Social media for Student Services

Enrolment Services and Student Development and Services web content is evolving. Our content strategy will help students make connections between academic achievement, physical and mental health, involvement, and career building.

Student Services units will be represented within themed micro-sites, housing content based on student needs, not unit names. (Full migration to take place in 2013).

This new framework presents the question – should units continue to run separate social media profiles?

I’m leaning toward a central Student Services presence on social media.


All for one and one for all

Arguments against:

  • Some units have the resources and desire to speak to their own distinct audiences.
  • Some have existing online communities.
  • Some include social media tactics in their communications strategies.
  • Some have student contributors and that consistency is different to the tone and voice central Student Services channels will have.

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Where we #FAIL our students

While shopping at Hollister over the weekend I laughed as every employee tacked on the line, “be sure to follow us on Twitter” as customers turned to walk away with their new denim shorts. It took everything in me to hold back a, “why?”

I pulled up the Hollister Twitter stream to see for myself. I’m often disappointed with brands on Twitter and didn’t expect much, but with every employee spamming departing customers with a “follow us” request, I imagined they’d be running a social media campaign … hardly.

My dislike for cheap requests for retweets aside, after reading their stream I confirmed I’m not their target audience:

RT if you’re shoulders are too cute to cover up! http://bit.ly/Lcoxb0 #SummerStrapless

RT if you’re #TakingItEasy this Summer in the hottest laidback tops!

Just chilling with #HotLifeguards ;) http://bddy.me/JNNHgE @GillyHicks

Remember, everyone buying Hollister gear is hearing the robotic, “be sure to follow us on Twitter”. At least forty percent of the twenty-strong queue were older than me. Soooo it begs the question, why are employees asking forty-year-olds to follow @HollisterCo?

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Social media standouts at eduWEB 2011

The social media track for this year’s eduWEB conference seemed promising enough to justify the trip from Vancouver to Texas.

I can only comment on the social media track, but many of the attendees are stuck in a higher education bubble, have the same fixations as each other and have similar levels of social media sophistication. One attendee had been to eduWEB four years in a row and told me the presentations hadn’t changed much in that time. More on how I felt about the conference later.

There were two standout sessions for me.

The first morning of eduWEB began with pre-conference workshops. I attended a workshop presented by Fritz McDonald and Kate Beihl from Mount Mercy University. With Fritz’s direction, myself and around sixteen professionals involved in social media shared our on-the-job experiences.

My takeaways from The Conversation Tree: The Art of Social Media Content workshop:

  • Community managers are not the centre of the universe, but hold equal weight among the community.
  • Shouting how great we are from our soap box has limited value. We’re not going to repeat our mission statement every time we talk to someone.
  • Social media content is talk. Everything on social media happens because of talk (relationships, sharing, branding, community building). Everything is talk (photos, texts, games, bookmarks).
  • As you build your community, members may need spoon feeding, but they’ll soon spoon feed others. (Awesome soundbite from Kate).
  • Inspire your community to lead conversation and share content. Empower the community to run the community. Elevate community members into leadership and management positions. Give them a level of ownership and take the back seat – their involvement is more important than yours.

I was shocked to discover community managers treating their university social channels like personal accounts, e.g. being forwarded a ‘quirky’ YouTube clip by a friend, thinking this is super funny, and posting this to the university Facebook wall to generate discussion. It’s been my experience that university-related and valuable on-topic posts can generate thoughtful interactions. This tactic of posting ‘popular’ YouTube videos is condescending to say the least.

People like and follow you for reasons specific to your university. Trying to force engagement in this way is a cheap tactic and is not sustainable. Whether your community consists of prospective students, undergrad or grad students, they’re in the midst of an extremely complex period of their lives. They have genuine concerns and viewpoints on things affecting them and their world. If you post unrelated content that they can find through their own friends (and forwarded emails), how can you expect them to find unique value from your community?

Don’t assume they’re going to be interested in the same things you are, especially in your university’s forum. In the words of Diane McDonald from Texas A&M University, ‘It’s not my Facebook page where I insert my own wit and humor.’ This tweet from a US college illustrates my point:

The only other social media session worth mentioning is a presentation by Lauren Vargas from Radian6. She was engaging, knowledgeable and walked the walk. Lauren practised storytelling while preaching storytelling.

My takeaways from her session, The Nine Hats (and Counting) of a Community Manager:

  • Social media isn’t going to fix your marketing or customer service problems. Have your house in order.
  • Community managers are participants in the community, not owners.
  • It’s incredibly important to understand the consumer decision-making process. (I love this one because it speaks to the fact not everyone can ‘do social media’).
  • You must understand the environments and communities you want to embrace and identify relevant conversations.
  • Be externally-focused, use storytelling. You don’t write about yourself, the same with goes when representing your institution – It’s not about you, it’s about them.
  • You are a teacher for others in your institution. Figure out the golden nuggets to share with colleagues. You are the social media representative, find out how social media is affecting other departments and keep them in the loop.
  • Sync social media with business goals and map the entire process.

Lauren Vargas was by far the most captivating social media presenter and attendees at Fritz McDonald’s and Kate Beihl’s workshop were fortunate to gain insight into their peers’ use of social media.

It was a hit-and-miss event. This is the risk you run attending an industry-based conference and not a topic-based one. Much of the social media track was targeted toward beginners and left seasoned professionals wondering where higher ed has been for the last 4 years.

eduWEB should challenge presenters to deliver insightful and constructive sessions rather than advocate ‘this is why you should be on social media’ and ‘this is the difference between Twitter and Facebook’. We’re past that – especially for a $595 registration fee.

TeensTalkLive on university marketing and recruitment | takeaways

I encourage you to set aside an hour and a half for this TeensTalkLive student panel on university recruitment activities, presented by Higher Ed Live – You’ll see what students liked/didn’t like about how universities reached out to them, what sold them/turned them away, and what their best and worst experiences were. You’ll find some pretty insightful takeaways from this discussion.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTMEACSB7ak&w=550&h=349]

My main takeaways:


  • Students don’t read viewbooks for content, they skim the pictures and headings, read ‘fast facts’. If they can’t find something  on the website, they turn to the viewbook.
  • They don’t want to see artistic, gorgeous photos in viewbooks of buildings and prominent spots on campus. They want to see where they can hang out, eat, etc. They’re concerned with ‘real campus life’.
  • They dislike staged photos of students, they want to see more candid photos displaying ‘school spirit’.
  • They want to see diversity, they look for themselves in those photos (athletes, culturally-speaking, etc.).
  • They want a list of majors, not so concerned with admissions info in a viewbook, website is for that.


  • Students aren’t interested and throw most away.
  • It’s generally not personal enough, makes students feel like a ‘number’.
  • “We’re always on our computers if you haven’t noticed”.

Online communications/email

  • Students want personal communications from current students. They feel comfortable asking current students questions and getting ‘real’ answers. Emails from current students are welcomed.
  • They don’t want to receive text/FB messages from prospective schools, only from schools where they’ve been admitted.
  • They want personal communication from academic advisors, whether that’s a phone call to say I’ve sent your admissions package and I’m really excited for you or a long email follow-up from a current student addressing each of their questions.
  • They want quick responses and were impressed with universities that were quick to get back to them with emails, etc., they feel important.
  • Students want to connect to current students on university Facebook pages, not so much with admissions counsellors.
  • If you want to contact an admitted student, send a text or FB message, they may check email once a week, Facebook about ten times a day.
  • They read other students questions on Facebook pages “I have trouble coming up with my own questions so I look up the university Facebook page to see what other students are asking”.


  • Important to have separate tabs for prospective students, current students, grad students, they don’t want to search for info or worry they’re reading the wrong thing.
  • They want a search box for specific questions, faster than looking for information.

Booths at college fairs

  • “Come and talk to me, don’t stand behind a desk, you need to be energetic”.
  • Want to see students at the booth as well as advisors. Ask students more personal questions about the university and advisors more specific admission questions.

Parental influence + campus tours

  • Parents need to feel good about the school after a campus tour. It’s big factor in whether students apply/accept. Parents aren’t impressed when their questions aren’t answered well.
  • It’s preferred to have campus tours where parents and students are divided at the beginning. Parents go to specific seminars, have their questions answered and have more of a chance at being sold on the school.
  • Students like to see school pride in action, students wearing the university branding and mascot clothing and like that repeated through other university communication pieces.
  • The campus visit makes or breaks the student’s interest. “Make sure your people are good.” In-person experience is most important.

“Invest more money into travel, get recruiters to our schools, bring your school to us”

Students on this panel don’t seem concerned with academic details at this point in the decision-making process and most probably already considered that when drilling down their top university list. It’s now about the “gut feeling”, “campus atmosphere” and “can I see myself on campus?”

Recruiters and student ambassadors play the biggest role in sealing the deal. It’s all about personalising the experience, this is the “me” generation after all.

Social universities part 3 | The UK

We’ve taken a look at how some Australian and US universities compare to each other with their use of Facebook and Twitter. It’s only fair to bring in the UK for round three. Or is it?

University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge Twitter account is less formal than most university Twitter accounts. Its language is often casual and it doesn’t only push out news, it brings attention to events on campus, includes weather updates, and retweets relevant content.

Here’s one of my favourite examples of their tweeting. Cambridge link to an event listing, to the Cambridge Flickr channel and the Twitter account for the eight museums on campus. Well done.

Their use of hashtags can become a little overkill.

The University of Cambridge Facebook Page usually includes a short lead-in to articles posted on the wall, some are even framed as questions and generate thoughtful comments. Instead of dropping the entire URL into the status update, they should be shortening it with bit.ly to track click-throughs and shares. This data can be compared with Facebook Insights to determine which type of content is most popular and receives the most interaction.

Looks like they haven’t made the switch from FBML to iframes (phased out in March). Not so well done.

University of Oxford

The Twitter stream for the University of Oxford is filled with tweets linking back to news on their media page. They inform followers about events on campus and university programs, but they don’t connect with followers, their tone is unexciting and they don’t use hashtags … except for #FollowFriday, which they’re doing correctly and I can dig it.

The University of Oxford Facebook Page has turned the Discussions tab off, doesn’t allow fans to post on the all and doesn’t respond to fans’ comments on posts. They mix up the content, posting important updates for prospective and current student, giving kudos to professors and staff – though most link to the media page on their website. There must be a few admins posting on the wall. Sometimes URLs are dropped into the copy of the post (looks messy), sometimes it’s a bit.ly and the ‘voice’ of their updates changes back and forth.

University of Wales, Newport  

The University of Wales, Newport Twitter account is quite conversational and responds to followers. They do their followers a diservice, however, when they fill their stream with “please RT” tweets. This is how it looks as I write this article. 

Want to annoy your followers? This is how. Also, the Twitter handles you’re begging for a retweet are now put in an awkward position.

The University of Wales, Newport are quick to respond to questions from prospective and current students on their Facebook Page. They post a mix of videos, campus updates and general questions and don’t seem to mind others’ promotional spam on their wall. They attempted to resolve a student’s frustration on the wall, whereas my advice would be to move it to a Facebook message and comment that they’ve done so on her post. This shows others the situation is being handled privately, the student can feel comfortable giving extra details and Carl Peters isn’t vilified in public.  

The University of Aberdeen

“The University of Aberdeen is the fifth oldest in the UK and is at the forefront of teaching and research in medicine, the humanities and science.”

They’re definitely not at the forefront of social media! Their Twitter account is an automatic news feed, with no personality and no real-time updates. It’s also confusing to see universities like Aberdeen naming themselves one thing on Twitter ‘Aberdeen University’ and another elsewhere ‘University of Aberdeen’.

This copy is found on the Info tab of the University of Aberdeen Facebook Page:

:At Aberdeen we’re always interested to hear what you think about the University. Whether you’re a student here, an alumnus or are considering coming to the University, please feel free to leave us your comments, email us or check out our wall for what’s going on around the campus.”

Aberdeen show no regular presence on this Page. Prospective students are asking how to apply and have questions on accepting their offer with no official answer – missed opportunities? Spammers are also taking advantage of the lack of Aberdeen maintenance.

Aberdeen’s last post was on July 8, “We’d just like to say congratulations to all of our students that graduated this week. You made it!!! Don’t forget to join our Alumni facebook page!” Why should they if this is the standard you’re setting?

Queens University Belfast

Queens University Belfast runs its Twitter account through the web and not a social media dashboard such as Hootsuite. Makes life harder than it needs to be. At graduation time, for two weeks straight the account only tweeted about graduation. What about those followers not concerned with graduation?

Then there’s this:

This type of tweeting hurts my heart.

The Queens University Belfast Facebook Page shows many automated tweets, though you’ll also find events, photo uploads and campus updates. They are regular with posts, mainly seen with links to press releases.

There you have it. Out of the universities I’ve explored, Australia is ahead on Twitter, the US is ahead with customised tabs on Facebook and the UK? Um … Cambridge is doing well.

Next up – Canada.

Social universities part 2 | The US

Welcome to my second post in the ‘social universities’ series. Last week I touched on the Twitter and Facebook accounts for a few Australian Universities. How social are they compared with the US? The universities below are using Facebook custom tabs to communicate their institution’s strengths and brand to target audiences, not seen widely with Australian universities. Though generally, these US universities don’t stack up against the Aussies when it comes down to Twitter engagement.

Stanford University

The Stanford University Twitter account tweets university media releases and information about programs. It showcases professor achievements and brings attention to podcasts. The stream has a good amount of retweets and original authors are properly attributed, but there is no engagement with followers. This account is playing it safe.

The Stanford Facebook Page acts as a feed for promotional content, rather than using it as a channel for sharing updates and information with current and prospective students and alumni. Some of their posts generate insightful and intelligent discussions between fans. The page has a commenting policy that mentions fans posting on the wall, though it appears fans don’t have the ability to do so, only comment on and like posts. Stanford has also switched off the Discussions tab.

The Stanford ‘What’s Your Stanford Story’ Facebook application is a smart marketing tactic for extracting marketable sound bites – “If you or your son or daughter received financial aid from Stanford, what would you want to tell those who helped make your Stanford experience possible? Post your message and upload a photo or video and tell us how scholarships change lives”. Stanford owns users’ stories and has the right to apply them to promotional content, reproduce them or distribute them with the royalty-free, unending license handed over upon submission. Maybe not so much to ask if you received financial aid for Stanford.

Harvard University

The Harvard University Twitter account not only shares news stories, but faculty updates and useful course and program information. Their feed shows only a couple of retweets and no follower engagement. Harvard tweet recommendations for #FollowFriday, but they’re doing it wrong.

Harvard’s Facebook Page is used primarily to push promotional content, with some posts targeted toward specific groups such as prospective students. The posts receive many likes and comments, though Harvard do not seem to respond to fans. The Harvard Facebook landing tab displays an impressive use of clean design and branding while providing the perfect user experience. The tab gives exposure to other top Harvard Facebook pages and social channels, lists quick links and presents the terms and conditions neatly at the bottom. I don’t have any connection with Harvard and I want to like this page.

Texas A&M University

The Texas A&M Twitter account tweets occasional updates and reminders, though primarily shares promotional content, sports news and shout outs for faculty achievements. They don’t directly engage with accounts outside of the Texas A&M network. Their Twitter wallpaper should have their social channel information on the left-hand side, anyone with a screen larger than 13 inches is going to miss it.

When landing on the Texas A&M University Facebook Page you’re greeted with the wall feed, but there is a Welcome Tab (Howdy!) that would be better put to use as the landing tab. It highlights links for prospective students, though could also list links for current students, alumni and the broader Texas A&M community. I also like the specially designed tab for the ‘House Rules’.

University of Georgia

The University of Georgia Twitter account is an automatically updated feed of media releases and news. Disappointing.

The University of Georgia’s Facebook Page has a snappy, to-the-point landing tab and they include a tab for their comment policy. The wall is used to communicate with fans, unlike the Twitter account. One fan expressed their excitement at starting at UGA in the fall and UGA responded with “We’re excited you’ll be here!”. It’s nice to acknowledge people in this way and it makes me wonder how many people are being ignored in the Twitterverse by UGA.

University of Michigan

The University of Michigan Twitter account responds to followers, while also posting links to relevant news and stories. They spread tweets across communicating with current and prospective students, and the general U-M community. As with Twitter, the Facebook posts by U-M seem to be focused around campus initiatives and general updates.

The University of Michigan Facebook page does well with this welcome tab by letting fans self-select content and explaining what fans will experience by liking the page. A promotional video is used as well as a link to their mobile app and a short commenting policy is included at the bottom. The tab looks similar to the U-M website.

Missouri State University

While the Missouri State Twitter account doesn’t seem to engage with followers, it does tweet frequently about faculty and student achievements and events. It appears targeted toward the current MSU community, the opposite of how they’re communicating on Facebook …

The landing tab for the Missouri State University Facebook Page is just plain smart. Prospective students are the target here and helping them begin the admissions process in this way may be very effective. By labeling it a ‘community profile’ MSU are projecting a sense of belonging, telling applicants they’ll be able to connect with other members makes people (especially young people) feel welcomed. Remember, once you like a Facebook page, you’re taken directly to the wall when you visit, so this really isn’t an inconvenience for other fans.

The MSU homepage runs a social feed from MSU-affiliated Facebook and Twitter accounts under the heading ‘news and events’ – clever!

These US universities are bringing user experience to Facebook. Some of the examples above could do with a little work in terms of engaging with audiences, though whether these universities are using multimedia or quick links, they’re taking Facebook seriously.

Trying to apply university values and brand voice to worthwhile exchanges on both platforms may appear daunting. This isn’t as noticeable on Facebook due to community engagement, apps and welcome pages, though tends to result in inhuman Twitter streams filled with promotional news and updates.

In the next instalment of ‘social universities’ I’ll look at how UK universities are attracting and retaining their Facebook and Twitter communities.

Social universities part 1 | Australia

This is the first installment of my series on how universities around the world are using Facebook and Twitter, a brief overview for those of you who’re curious, looking for inspiration or want a snapshot comparison.

The university accounts listed below are the official accounts for each university (to be assumed when the links are found on their homepage), though some only concern themselves with news and updates and not with building a community. Regardless, it is refreshing to see universities actively using Twitter and Facebook as a way of keeping followers informed and sharing relevant information.

The University of Melbourne

The University of Melbourne’s Twitter account is an example of how universities can maintain professionalism on social media, while using a conversational tone. It speaks to a wider audience than simply other university affiliated accounts and when followers ask questions that cannot be answered, they tell the user their question has been passed on to those who can.

The account spreads itself across communicating with current students, prospective students and alumni, and shares relevant news about the university and industry. Questions are asked and responded to and the account follows up with others and tries to make amends with frustrated users.

The University of Melbourne Facebook Page asks and responds to questions, posts news and updates and seems active in building a community. Many posts link back to pages on their website and most posts seem to produce several comments and a fair amount of likes.

Their questions app generates more than 300 votes per question on average and they have a separate tab for alumni, directing that group to a portal. It’s a shame the page’s wall is the landing page. They’ve done a terrific job with this alumni portal and having a similarly designed general landing page would help convert first-time visitors and shape their experience.

The only thing I’d keep an eye on is fans posting spam, though their terms and conditions cover that concern, “The University of Melbourne does not necessarily review every post on its Page”.

Monash University

The Monash University Twitter account has a balanced combination of communicating university news and connecting with the community. The account responds to prospective student questions, but doesn’t go looking for opportunities to connect. It’s open to feedback and uses links and hashtags well and like the University of Melbourne, Monash is professional and conversational.

The wall is the landing page for the Monash University Facebook Page. The info tab lists who is monitoring the page, though doesn’t tell fans how they will benefit from liking the page. It doesn’t appear a moderation policy exists.

The main types of content posted by Monash are faculty stories, event information and photos. Their content receives a lot of likes and a good amount of comments. There’s an obvious difference in content strategies for the Twitter and Facebook accounts and they seem to be doing well at encouraging distinctive communities.

Macquarie University

The Macquarie University Twitter account operates mainly under a push strategy and university news is preceded with “MQ News:” which makes it feel a little dry. The account isn’t updated each day, with some lags in tweeting. When there is a conversation happening with individual followers, a sign-off is often used, “^Paul”.

The Facebook page for Macquarie University uses the wall as the landing page. Some updates are either straight URLs entered into the ‘update status’ field or feeds from Hootsuite.

My advice for the overload of students’ wall posts between each other for things like text books (comes across quite spammy and takes away from the pages intention) is to encourage students to use the discussions area of the page and not the wall for buying and selling purposes.

The page doesn’t appear to have a moderation policy other than ‘Please note, offensive comments will be removed.’ The info tab explains what fans can expect by liking the page and there are a few helpful links including transit info and a link for student enquiries.

I was surprised to find a Twitter account run by a University President who communicates useful and regular content. If you were to search Twitter for other university president-run accounts, you’d find tweets like “Going to such and such event today, should be fun!”, “I’m in in an overseas country talking with important people about important stuff” and “yay for the rain”.

Steven Schwartz may not engage with his followers, but the tweets he shares are valuable for professionals involved in higher education and it is obvious he has his finger on the pulse.

September 2012 update: Prof Schwartz has retired and is now tweeting as @wisereveryday

University of Queensland

The University of Queensland Twitter account responds to followers and posts UQ-related news, though doesn’t ask questions to generate community response. Their Twitter feed is filled with many invaluable tweets that don’t share information, only one-liners in response to something followers have said. It reads out of context and fills the stream with extraneous content.

@uqnewsonline tweet “Thanks for the RT” far too often and I would never suggest this when using Twitter. A retweet shows your follower read your content, thought it valuable and shared it with their followers. My response to retweets is to ‘pay it forward’ when someone retweets me. This article says it all: 7 Ways to Thank Someone For a Retweet. UQ has a presence on Twitter, Flickr and YouTube, but don’t have a Facebook Page, which I find interesting.

The Australian National University

The Australian National University Twitter account does not have conversations with followers, which is almost expected for a news-specific account. What they don’t do that I believe is important is retweet and share stories from other university affiliated accounts, such as faculties and initiatives.

The ANU Facebook page doesn’t try to generate discussion. The news and updates posted on the wall are informative and are ‘liked’, but not commented on. It also appears fans cannot post to the wall, only comment on existing ANU updates, which makes the page a running news feed, not a community.

The description of the page explains how fantastic ANU is, like copy taken straight out of a glossy prospective student brochure. It would be nice to instead read what I will get out of liking the page.

These are some of the ways a few Australian universities are using Facebook and Twitter, how about the rest of the world? I’ll be taking a look at how a couple of smaller US schools are stacking up against the Ivy Leaguers in my next post.

Is your university impressing you with their social media channels? What are they doing that sets them apart?