Thursday, August 20, 2009

Introducing Social Media to Non-Marketing Colleagues

As higher ed marketing professionals, we are keenly aware of the fact that social media is rapidly transforming the ways we connect with our audiences. While most faculty and administrators have heard of the major social networking tools, there is a significant gap in understanding for those who haven't participated themselves.

To help bridge the gap between the Web 2.0 haves and have-nots, here is a list I created for social media newbies at my institution:
  • Rule #1: Be professional. The ABA recommends the following common-sense rules: Be mature, be ethical, and read it again before posting. Assume that anyone--your boss, the news media, your grandma--can and will read it. When in doubt, don't hit the "publish" button.

  • Learn the channel. The best way to learn how social media sites work is to use them. Join as a member, and if you're nervous, turn on your privacy settings to the highest levels (keeping in mind that you'll lose the benefit of building new connections). As long as you follow Rule #1, it will be hard to get into trouble. Just like any other social environment, the social norms may vary depending on the situation. Here are the major social media tools in use today:

    • LinkedIn: This is the easiest place to get started. Primarily designed to build professional connections, the interactions here are very conservative and tightly controlled.

    • Facebook: With more than 250 million active users, Facebook is the largest social networking site. Privacy settings allow Facebook users to be more personal in their updates, as most only allow "friends" to see most of their content (and these friends must be approved). One caveat—because of the more personal nature of this channel, you may want to think twice before trying to "friend" professional colleagues.

    • Twitter: This popular "microblogging" site allows users to post updates of 140 characters or less. Twitter accounts can be made public or private, and users can "follow" or be followed by other users.

    • Media sites (i.e., YouTube, Flickr, Picasa): These sites focus on sharing videos and photos, which can be tagged and/or commented on (depending on the user's settings).

    • Blogs: Blogs vary widely on their content and levels of interaction and moderation. Some allow for anonymous comments, others allow for moderated comments (approved by the blogger/editor), and others don't allow comments at all.

    • Discussion Forums and Wikis: These sites emphasize user-generated content and discussion around a common topic. They are generally self-moderating, in that participants report inappropriate behavior to the site's management when they see it. The information shared should not be considered authoritative in most circumstances.

  • Consider the source. Discernment is key when following social media sites. Most savvy users can judge the difference between an anonymous opinion and statements made by a known authority. Don't give unattributed comments too much credibility, and if they need to be addressed, do so on the same forum where the comments were made. Try not to let violators of Rule #1 bother you unless they are in your immediate circle of influence (i.e., boss, employee, family member).
  • Remember your e-mail rules. Most of the rules that apply to e-mail communication also apply to other forms of online communication:

    • DON'T WRITE IN ALL CAPS–it is construed as shouting.

    • Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say in person. (See also Rule #1.)

    • Be concise. If a long discussion is warranted, try to do it off-line.

    • Everything you say is permanent. Your messages can be shared or archived indefinitely.

  • Take advantage of the benefits (off company time, of course). Social media sites offer great opportunities for keeping up with friends and family members, learning new things, and building your professional networks. So long as you use good judgment, participating in social media can be a fun and rewarding activity.


  1. Very good pointers. Mind if I, um, borrow it? ;)

  2. Thanks! Feel free to borrow (with reference to source, please).