Social Media Strategy in Higher Ed

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Concepts, Lifecasting, Social Media, Strategy | Posted on 12-05-2008


There’s been a lot of talk lately about social media strategy in higher education and more specifically, a strategy/action plan. I’ve bounced back and forth on this topic quite a bit.  I can see value in having a ‘social media plan’, but I know that most plans would be outdated before most schools even get started on it.  Colleagues across the states are short on resources to handle the emerging market and budgets are being cut at many schools, which is creating an interesting situation.

After chatting with several colleagues and administrators this week, I am seeing more and more that there is indeed a need for a plan, a roadmap, of where to go with social media at the 30,000 ft. level campus-wide, as well as how to integrate efforts.

I mentioned on Rachel’s recent post that I have never operated under a defined social media strategy. I have strategy and goals in my mind, I have papers pinned to my board outlining projects I want to do each 4-6 months, but I have never taken the time to put much on paper. But as more and more sites come up, as opportunities to engage and create community and conversation arise, and more importantly, when a job like mine will not be enough to handle all social media communication, there will need to be a strategy in place.

2009 is going to be a very exciting year as the realm of social media continues to develop and mature. If your institution hasn’t jumped on board yet, it’s probably a good idea to start coming up with a strategy before the decade ends. It doesn’t have to be comprehensive, it doesn’t have to detail every single action step, but it does need to start integrating efforts.

On the other hand, having a strategy in place might be good to keep projects on the radar.  When I pitched Lifecasters in June 2007 I was told “let’s try bloggers first and go from there.”  Now, 1.5 years later, I’m still ‘in beta’ and hoping for buy-in before August 2009, over 2 years after the concept was pitched.  I can think of a few other projects on the table that might have benefited from a timeline that was put on paper and agreed upon.

What do you think? Are your schools still dabbling or are you ready to do some serious integrated stuff?

Comments posted (13)

Oh yes, I’ve got the entire Communications & Marketing department on board here to develop that 30,000 ft view of how our brand will shape its identity in social media. I’m calling it an ‘interactive strategy’.

They’ve rallied around it for two reasons:
1. Coordination across the university [our web office is exactly two people to run it all]
2. To focus less on the technology, and really plan for how we want the relationships to work, so that when next technology pieces come up, we can quickly evaluate and jump on board if need be according to our strategy

Lack of a strategy is why we were no less than a full year late to join our peers on iTunes U. No one could see the value.

First of all thanks for checking out my field blindness. ;) And again another great post to get us thinking.

I agree that its a difficult thing – writing, or not writing this ‘plan’. I basically put together main strategies (listening, value, integration, governance, etc.) and how I’ll carry them out but dont feel its neccessary to really put a step by step together until things morph a little more.

Working at a big broad university, there are many SNS and media already started but not pulled together into a plan targeted to anyone in particular, nor are they readily accessible. I’m mostly writing something up that will leverage these existing efforts and give everyone’s work more traffic by putting it into a user friendly context. I’ve repeatedly let people know there is a plan and a strategy but the tactics will morph and change as tools get used in different ways by our audiences.

There is so much being done that it just needs to be cleaned up and served up on a platter!

An interesting piece, Brad. If Hamlet were alive today, he may well soliliquize on to write or not to write a social media strategy; whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of a thousand people resisting buy-in, or to take arms against a sea of shrinking resources.

We’re in the phase of debating whether to debate writing a social media strategy, i.e. out to sea. That said, I think of an SMS informally as a jazz tune: You know a basic set of priorities and structure, where you can improvise along the way.

In my experience, the value of the plan is that it starts with the question, “What are we trying to do?” Even if it goes right from objectives to tactics, at least we started with a goal. The danger with social media is that it’s new (not a lot of experience about what really works) and its labor-intensive, so you could spend a whole lot of time doing a whole lot of things that don’t create results. So we’re in the process of doing a “mini plan”, which at leasts gets people to think about goals (beyond “increase enrollment”), which we can then use to prioritize options

I am constantly advising colleges and universities to put Social Media plans together. When I see an institution enter a Social Media channel and ask about the “logic in the decision” I get the answer “well, it looked like everyone else was doing it” 99% of the time. This is the wrong answer. I am not advocating a 1,000 page plan with tons of detail. I tend to agree with Deb Maue (above). Putting together a high-level FLEXIBLE mini-plan can serve you very well and help you avoid pitfalls like running down the wrong channel and wasting time and money. A mini-plan will help you think through your strategy, which should be constantly evolving, as you progress through Social Media.

Thanks for your comments, everyone! The more I advise schools each week and see where they are, the more I have changed my position on the necessity of a plan.

What *I* have been able to do as a ‘lone ranger’ of sorts has been effective, but as we progress, and ESPECIALLY at larger institutions with more stakeholders and departments involved, the more I see where my past comments have needed adjustment.

Bringing multiple entities in across a broader spectrum requires more planning and thought and less of a ‘figure most of this out as we go’ method.

And as I’ve said many times before: every school is different, every need is different. Research on your target market is imperative.

Tim – comment of the week. Great analysis. :)

[...] Social tMedia t Strategy in Higher Ed Thoughts on t… t(07 December 2008), the higher ed recruitment blog from Brad J Ward…. [...]

Still dabbling. Or trying to gain a foothold. Or learning how to decide what works for us, versus what doesn’t. I’ve seen this not just here, but other places I’ve been before here. It’s an ongoing thing. As it ought to be. The levels of proactiveness are varied, but the sentiment is the same.. “we need to do this. Not sure why. We just know we do.”

[...] J. Ward poses the question, “”Do you need a social media strategy?” in his post Social Media Strategy in Higher Ed at [...]

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