Implementing Social Media on your campus

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Community, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Social Media, Strategy, Thoughts | Posted on 12-09-2008


2008 has been the year of ‘social media’, no doubt.  Everywhere you go, everything you read.. there it is.  Some people still aren’t sure exactly what social media is.  For me, I’ve watered the explanation of social media down to this:

People having conversations online.

If you understand that, you will understand what you should be doing with social media.  Put the megaphone away and start listening and talking back.

A few weeks ago I threw out a simple question on Twitter, and the responses were fascinating.  Please take the time to read through these, and then realize that you/we are not alone in our struggles.

My plan for this post was to go through and offer suggestions for each response, but instead, I want you to read these and then leave a comment below with your thoughts or answer to the question/responses. And from there, we can discuss together.

In other words… let’s have a conversation. :)

*First time to  Subscribe via Email or RSS today!

UPDATE: Kyle and Rachel have posted video comments (Comment #20 and #22), here is an embed of the videos in the order they have been shared. Please post the link to your response as a comment if you’d like it added here.

Comments posted (46)

My initial thought: lack of resources is huge. Buy-in seems to be decreasing over time. Some campuses are struggling with who does what, and how it all fits together.

So probably 50% of the people listed resources. I’m sorry but that’s to easy of a cop-out. Please tell me what the heck that is suppose to mean?

I’ll tell you it means staff, it means a person who is a champion of social media who has the time and understands the medium. There are enough free resources that resources isn’t money on products. Resources isn’t an awesome computer because you can do most of this on an old computer or even a fancy cell phone. Resources might be knowledge, but that goes back to time.

Institutions need a person who has TIME and I’m not backing down from that.

You can’t convince me that you need buy-in because every school has students on Facebook/MySpace.

Soapbox… Off.

Buy-in for me should maybe be relabeled as prioritization. The higher ups know about SM and see the students there, but my priorities are still put elsewhere.

SM doesn’t have a high enough priority yet to put a lot of time into it. I think the more buy-in you have from upper management the more time they will want me to devote to it. It’s a catch 22.

Right now, I am in the process of showing more of a need for it and the results are coming slowly but surely.

I agree with your resources part.

Great list. It’s really interesting to see what challenges others in the community are facing.

Resources = time

Also, the issue with buy-in isn’t with students buying in, it’s with the higher ups. We all know this is where our audience is, but it’s about educating and motivating the boss to let go of a bit of control and really dive into this with a sense of enthusiasm and honesty.
If your boss doesn’t buy-in it is almost impossible to succeed.

OK, Kyle, I’ll elaborate.

When you work on a college campus and (for some reason) are identified as a good worker bee, self-starter, marginally competent (etc.), more and more projects come your way. Many of my colleagues who commented above fall into this category.

BUT these same colleagues are also the first ones to embrace social media because, well, we’re worker bees (want to get things done), self-starters (know that good work doesn’t require a 10-page proposal and navigating a hierarchy) and marginally competent (i.e. can see the benefit of social media while some people are still wonder what this “Internet” is).

Most of us believers (I’ll use that word again) find the most expedient way for this to succeed, while the technology is still hot, is to take it on themselves or recruit other (mostly overloaded) worker bees. Which is to say, we try to find time in our busy days and do half-measures, sporadic start-ups and well-intended but not solid efforts. Money and personnel continue to flow to the the usual admissions and student-affairs silos beholden to “best practices” projects. No such “best practice” ribbon exists in social media, and too many people don’t understand it, so it remains in its own silo.

Sure, social media is people having conversations online. But are they quality conversations? I could walk into a cocktail party and talk to people about the weather or Britney Spears or “American Idol.” Are those quality conversations? No.

If we aren’t prepared and armed with some kind of staff and institutional support, then you just have an overburdened workaholic few and maybe some buttonholed student workers. But, like with John Saxe’s poem about the blind men and the elephant, we can’t paint the full picture and thus create quality conversations. Like a tired hockey player trying to kill a penalty in the third period of a tough game, we can certainly try, but shorthanded and overextended are not key ingredients for success.

I too often hear “lack of resources” as a reason to squash a worthy idea. It has become a convenient excuse along with “we’ll do that in phase 2″ which never comes. Well, I do agree people are stretched thin, but we’re not powerless against it.

I try damn hard to get people to realize the underlying causes and back it up with a solution to end the madness. And the solution I promote is to centralize what is often a decentralized approach where each department, initiative, and whatever else gets its own custom website in terms of design, functionality, architecture and overall strategy. That’s an insane way to develop a large website with the number of people typically on staff, not to mention the chaos it creates for site visitors.

So centralize (i.e. standardize) the website so that all departments can plug into it. Create a single strategy (based on audience type in my opinion), architecture, design and overall experience. Once you do that, you can wipe away a huge amount of design, IA and development work. In that world, if you want to add blogs, then you can plan it and implement it across the board (or wherever applicable) instead of piecemeal, one department at a time.

Decentralization still has a place and usefulness, but not as the prime mover of how the site is managed.

Agree with TimN wholeheartedly. Its hard to justify to the powers that be spending time (=resources) creating and implementing a social media plan that i can’t even effectively show will have a ROI. Especially if the plan consists of me.

A ray of hope came today when the PR department realized that with the demise of newspapers they need to make contact with ‘the bloggers’ but there is still a real fear of the unknown that prevents serious adoption.

You nailed it, Mike. I’ve heard ‘Phase 2′ so many times I could scream. I’ve never seen it happen.

I see resources = time in most of these cases, not people/manpower. If you’re on twitter, you probably know your way around the social media block.

Isaccson – The Indy Star just called us today to get more info on 3 of our student bloggers who have been blogging about a situation on campus. I was surprised the info was passed through to me, but excited to see that they are able to act as the voice of our students.

Great comments everyone, keep them coming.

I attended a CASE conference in Atlanta recently (Institute for Senior Marketing and Communications Professionals in higher education). SM was a hot topic, and the lack of resources and budget seemed to be the prohibiting factor for many marketing tactics they would like to employ. SM can be done cost-effectively, but as we all know, it is time consuming to manage.

Just to better address the time as a resource. I think it actually fits to include the post I wrote today in the discussion about Student Workers as an Untapped Resource. What do you know… there is that Resource word again even used by me. I’ll even throw out a quote from the post talking about student workers.

“They GET Social Media. Are you having trouble wrapping your head around Social Media and how to use it? If your students are like mine they already spend two hours a day on Facebook and offering to pay them to spend more time… well you see where I’m going.”

Students are good to learn basic functions from, but asking them to tie it into a multi-facted, campus-wide strategic plan does not make much sense to me. I don’t think most students see it like that, from the ones I have talked to.

They use social media, they GET social media, but they don’t UNDERSTAND social media. They live in the world of it and it’s ingrained in their lifes, but I’ve been hard-pressed to find some students who understand how to effectively utilize it to achieve set goals.

A lot of this comes back to Heather’s comment.

‘lack of resources and budget’. Who controls that? Administration. It comes back to my usual statement and mantra of ‘educate and inform.’

We are very fortunate to have been handed the keys at our university, Kyle. I think for the other 30+ who responded on Twitter… it’s a struggle to get buy-in, which determines resources and budget.

I took the approach of do something even if it is just a little. That way as people become fans, followers, subscribers, etc. we can then take those numbers to administration and say “Just think what more we could do with a little more (fill in the blank).” That could be the foot in the door that you may need. If you never start anything, it is hard to convince administration your case.

I ran the idea of SM past our university communications group and haven’t been met with any push back from them, but it hasn’t been made a priority past that approval.

I also listed buy-in as the number one challenge. It’s not just buy-in from “higher ups,” but also from other communicators who haven’t embraced social media. Frankly, I see a lot of fear and confusion about it. It is really difficult to explain something like Twitter to a person who hasn’t seen it in action.

I’m thinking that ‘social media’ is a little too much of a broad term to be terribly useful. I only like using abstract language when there’s time to adequately explain what I mean in more specific and concrete terms, with examples, etc.

Here at Warren Wilson, we have some student bloggers, we monitor the blogosphere / MySpace / LiveJournal / etc. and make stealth posts sometimes, we have someone on staff work on our wikipedia entry, and we have a presence on Facebook. However, we’ve never called all that a ‘social media strategy,’ nor have we really thought of it as being necessarily specially related or distinct from our other efforts. Is that the sorts of things people would include in a strategy?

In general, I’ve been saving strategy-building energy for when OpenSocial and Facebook Connect get a little more mature. It seems like the world of social networks is on the brink of a serious shift, and I’d prefer not to sink too much time into a big project only to find it made obsolete.

I think lack of buy-in is the main issue for us. There is plenty of buy-in from my department and boss in terms of “Go ahead! Get us on all the social media sites, and make it totally great!” OK . . . I can try but some buy-in in terms of them getting involved too would be nice. Over and over I ask the faculty and staff members of the department to join. I know a lot of them are on facebook, for example. I don’t ask them to do the work of running the site – I just ask them to add themselves as fans to our page, and then post their events, news, thoughts, etc from time to time. Or even just link their blogs to the department blog. With all the faculty and staff, even if they posted fairly irregularly as individuals, overall the sites would be so much more active, varied, and useful for the students. Students do contribute but to be honest, ours are mostly “lurkers” in a lot of cases. Students at our school, I am happy to say, generally LOVE their instructors and I think seeing their instructors and other school staff get involved would engage them a lot more. And great for prospective students checking it out . . . to see the instructors willing to interact with their students that way could be a huge selling-point for our school, which markets itself as a genuine, caring institution with small class sizes and a personal atmosphere.

Brad what I find interesting about your commend about student workers not getting it is that you yourself count your time as a student worker as part of your work experience. There are some awesome student workers out there that do get it, or can be easily taught. I wouldn’t discount them so easily.

I still feel like, resource-wise, the problem is not money but people. We’re already running a very tight ship time-wise. I’m with everyone on “it’s free so there’s no financial constraint” argument, but building and maintaining a SM setup takes time.

But I think as communications continue to shift more towards the web it’ll become pretty obvious there’s a need for a SM time commitment. Not far now.

I thought about how to reply again… but instead just went w/ creating a video.

Like it or hate it you know I’m right.

@Karlyn – like I said, I have been hard-pressed to find a kid that I would hand things over too. But yes, there are students wh could be trained to handle more. Strategy and sites were much simpler 5 years ago, as well. Forums, blogs, photos, done. No Youtube/Facebook/Twitter/etc.

Here’s my video response to @kylejames, in response to your post!

I have posted a video response, and embedded all 3 above at the end of the post so you can see them in order and then leave a comment here. Feel free to post a video on YouTube if you’d like and I’ll embed it with ours above.

Kyle and Rachel, I think the only way we’ll get this solved is a virtual game of roshambo… DM me your rock-paper-scissors selection ASAP. :)

Great job w/ the videos.

Love that Kyle’s emotion/passion comes through in the video vs. just words on a screen. Did he say *whiney baby* – wish he would have dropped an f-bomb, but Southern Gentleman and all, I understand.

Rachel, never met you in person but a very calm/clear rebuttal – guessing you could talk me out of jumping in a pool fully clothed. Nice job to the two of you!

Thanks Brad for shaking the cage, hope the conversation continues…

Watched the videos and scanned through the comments, and I think that you have to fall somewhere in between Kyle and Rachel. If you sit around and wait for a strategy to develop and go through the traditional approval process, it will be too late. If you just do it—depending upon your situation—you might end up in more hot water than it’s (personally) worth.

It’s unfortunate for me to say, but I don’t have a strategy. At this point I’m in the ‘just do it’ mode. It’s better than nothing, for sure. My fear, though, is that I’m just doing something and perhaps not maximizing the resources (what limited ones there are). Hopefully I won’t have to backtrack or compete with others on campus later.

I don’t think the problem is necessarily buy-in. I also don’t think it’s necessarily resources. It’s some weird combination of those two where people don’t exactly get what social media really is—but they know it’s out there and something with which to be concerned—and because of that can’t quite justify allocating person-time to it. Ignorance? Avoidance? Cluelessness? Ignoravoidlessness?

On my campus I’ve seen people who have this stuff written in to their job description, but they are not the people actually doing it. That’s what’s really unfortunate.

Adam — I’m ready for a big confession here. When I created our Facebook Page in Nov. 2007 – I was absolutely in “Just Do It” mode. But looking back, I think I could technically say I had a strategy. I was fishing where the fish were. :)

Rachel – same here. And to Kyle’s question of “has anybody actually told you ‘no, do not implement Facebook [...] has anyone told you not to do it.”


When Facebook Pages came out, I brought it to my boss and told them what we could do with it. I was explicitly told that Facebook should not be a part of our recruitment strategy and that I should not create the page.

Well, I did anyway.

And when I came back a few weeks later and showed the 2-300 fans and spoke of what possibilities we had with it, they started to see why we needed it. Sure, we haven’t done much with it yet… but we do have 1,000+ people ready to be engaged.

Adam – great thoughts, thanks for sharing. Definitely a middle ground that needs to be reached at the majority of schools.

You must have the right people ready to engage, or you risk losing some of your brand’s image. Brad, I understand the risk that your boss felt when you wanted to launch the Facebook page – if you build it, the students/prospectives might come, but will your faculty/staff? That is the biggest risk I see in implementing a social media-based marketing and web strategy.

Let’s be honest – every university could operate with nothing but students and faculty. Those of us that don’t fit in that category are expendable to a certain extent. If you can’t convince the core of of your school to engage on your social media outlets, then you are diluting your brand. Tech mavens can dabble for a while, but it is critical to have a long term strategy to engage your faculty/staff and turn them into the primary content creators. It is the role of the early adopters to build the infrastructure and evangelize.

This isn’t an impossible task, but it must be intentional. “Build it and they will come” only works as far as students are concerned. The same isn’t true for faculty.

@Brad – To your video. First off No I wasn’t given the key’s to the institution. In fact the strategy I was putting into MySpace was completely shut down after we got it going coming from the top. Point was we had the presence and controlled it. Fine that’s not our strategy there are other services out there we can go after, but the point was we got it going.

Secondly you don’t know your strategy until you “do it” and get your feet wet. If you get 1000 fans of your facebook page then you know to work there. If you are TSand and bangin’ at producing videos then YouTube is your winner. Point is you don’t know until you jump in and try. Even then I’d argue that my strategy for Facebook/MySpace/LinkedIn is as an Administrator. I don’t necessarily incourage the conversation on those platforms. We want the presence and “landing page” to drive people back to our site and things that we want to get them engaged with. We want them subscribing to our news feed, signing up for email alerts, reading blogs, watching videos, etc that is what is important to us not spending all our resources in facebook. Facebook is just the store front that leads them back to our site where the content is. So these social tools introduce or invite them to come explore our site where we put all the effort.

Great conversation, guys! My main issue is collaboration. There is no centralization of communications/branding/marketing to target populations and without it efforts can be done on larger scales. There is a lot of politics involved, and people feel ‘left out’ or ‘stepped over’ but are unwilling to work together. Departments sabotage others with red tape. That being said, I’m still charging ahead. Providing research. Starting small efforts, with the intention, as Brad put it above, of showing the value and worth of being a part of the conversation. I’m a big believer in a strategy, but also of having a ‘teaser’ in the back pocket: something to show the momentum we can leverage.

@Kyle- I think the notion of “our content” and using sites like Facebook as a way to drive people to “our content” is a dying strategy. Universities are discussed in many places-,, etc.- that a university doesn’t control, can’t control, and, to my thinking, shouldn’t control. Link to these places and let visitors decide whether it’s valuable or not. There’s a lot to be learned at these sites as the conversation isn’t scripted by PR and marketing types. They’re just regular people talking about regular topics and regular places.

“Our content” tends to be spin and overly dissected. At my university, we have a bizarre obsession with portraying ourselves as a racially diverse place which it isn’t. It’s a bait and switch for students concerned with the topic. One of the sites I mentioned above even has a testimonial of a student who felt swindled by our misleading portrayal. We have plenty of diversity in terms of political persuasion, sexual orientation, and so forth, but racial diversity, the thng that doesn’t exist is the only aspect we focus on. Students are savvy and see through a lot of this spin, but on the other hand, PR can be so well done that even savvy internet users can be fooled.

Resources keeps coming up as a limiting factor. Third party sites are creating content within the socially connected world we all want to enter. A simple technique would be to link to these existing sources. I know upper management would have a holy cow if that were done, but it could quietly be linked to from deeper pages to see what happens. Besides, it’s not like people aren’t finding these sites already, right?

In regards to Facebook and student bloggers, that was “Just Do It” mode. My boss (the director) supported it, but we knew if we had to take it to an official body for permission, they would probably convene a panel to create a committee to select a focus group, and Web 4.0 would have broken out first. That said, it was easy for people to accept because so many are on Facebook already.

The blogs would have been a much harder sell due to lack of control. That took a lot of belief on a few workers’ part and, again, not seeking official approval, lest the process take years. We had great traffic and comments in the first week that made the sell after we’d done it.

So I guess we begin backing into the “what is our social media strategy?” question after we’ve started. But that’s sort of like staking out land first and then drawing up blueprints for what you want to build. I’m OK with it.

Interesting conversation. I long ago learned that it is easier to do something and ask for forgiveness later, so on that point I agree with Kyle. I wish I could do my job that way 100% of the time, but in reality I can’t.

I don’t always have the time and “make the time” isn’t that easy. I suppose that it depends on your job. Here at UW-Green Bay Todd (aka tsand), as the Student Affairs Webmaster, is able to spend much more of his time on the social media piece, and rightly so. Thanks to him we are out there on a number of the social media sites. Had we waited for the powers that be to say go we would just be getting into it or still waiting to. However, it is still an up hill battle. People still question us on using social media. Just this week we were questioned about putting a link to our student information system on our Facebook account and whether or not we should be doing that. Silly question in my mind, it isn’t like we are putting out the admin account or something, but none the less we had to deal with it. Responding to those things takes time.

The care and feeding of it takes time, or at least it should if you want to do it right. Time spent on these new things (whether you think they are worthy or not) does mean that you are not spending your time on something else. So what goes? Because staff resources are not showing up any time soon in this economy.

A long response to explain why I said “D all of the above” in response to Brad’s original question. I think it takes resources, buy-in and strategy.

Great comments and conversation. Since I am new to the conversation (I just found the post on twitter)I want to give full disclosure about me. I worked in academic advising and student affairs for 10 years, and now I work for OrgSync. OrgSync is a social media platform for student life offices on about 70 campuses. Sorry the intro was so long.

I understand everyone’s reasons. Even if you have the resources (and I think generally the resources are there if the campus wants it bad enough)there are still some road blocks. When facebook first came out campuses hated it. It was before they have some of the security measures they have now, and the “older” people did not really get it. That still lingers on many campuses today. There has to be a education of the educators. Coming from a student affairs prospective I think people who use technology forget not everyone gets it. We learned early on how important on site training is for people to fully understand and utilize our service.

I could actually talk forever on this topic, but I should leave it there for now.

thanks for this thread – it couldn’t have come at a better time for me and my day-today. I also don’t think the problem is buy-in, but this is an issue that is institution dependent. Depending on your particular college culture, which we know differs radically from place to place – big/small/lots of support/none. We all seem to work in silos at times like Jess said so that makes it even more difficult when many of us are attempting to do similar things and collaboration/communication doesn’t happen – or it does but it seems to take more work than it should. For me it’s a time issue and I do what I can when I can make it happen. Try it all and hope that something works – that’s what makes me happy

Gail, good point on the silos. I tried to use that to my advantage when starting projects. I was far enough down the chain I was under the radar. If things were going well I would make a visit to the silos to invite them in. I think we all understood the not enough time issue. That is why I turned to social media. When used to it’s full potential it gave me more time to work with students.

[...] has been a lot of talk about how to Implementing Social Media on your campus. Yesterday with both Kyle and Rachel from .eduGuru posting videos and then a slew of twitter [...]

Brad – I was the first one to answer your tweet, and I have to admit to being a little flip in my answer … I’m lucky to have buy-in here for the things that the web team and I have just gone ahead and done – Twitter, 2 facebook pages, dabbling with posting on YouTube and Flickr. My problem is two-fold: 1) I need the concentrated time to pull these things together and actually DO something with them and 2) I just don’t know where is the best place to put my efforts first (although I think it has to be blogs). Plus I have to admit I’m more than a little afraid of failing if I can’t put enough effort in to make this worthwhile. To which I can hear both you and @kylejames answer “Don’t be afraid to fail – just try it and if it doesn’t work out, try something else!” Still, it’s all a little daunting.

Thanks for a good post + comments that give a lot to think on!

I’m not having trouble with buy-in in my immediate vicinity, but it is a problem with administration and older faculty members. They’re afraid social networking isn’t “dignified” or that we’ll look “bad.”

I’m the social networking guru by default–I have the expertise and I make the time. My attempts to pull students in have been futile. No one except me wants to hand over responsibilities to students. They’re afraid of what they’ll say. I say bring it! I can’t even get support for student-produced audio and video. It’s insane.

[...] has been A LOT of discussion on Higher Education Blogs and at Higher Education conferences lately about this [...]

[...] the school’s advantage proved to be more challenging that I thought. As Brad J Ward wrote in his post, there were the issues of resources (my time basically), buy-in (which I couldn’t even think of a [...]

good luck

We just started doing it. I created a YouTube corporate account over a year ago and now we’re an education partner. I’ve also created a corporate Flickr and Twitter account and we’ve also got a Facebook page. I spend more time on these when I’ve got a bit of spare time and do the bare minimum when I’m busier. The buy-in comes after the sites are created and for the most part has been positive.

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