Does Every Department Need Insta?

The importance of determining a need and defining a strategy for an effective social media presence.

6 minutes
By: Melissa Horvath, Christopher Romano
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Increased desire to open a new social media account for seemingly every senior leader, group or initiative has made “Can you put that on social media?” the new “Can you make the logo bigger?” This request indicates a misperception about marketing and what it can do for an organization. Although there is no sure-fire formula for creating a viral social media post or account, there are some key considerations and tactics to determine the need for a social media presence, as well as to define a strategy for effective use and maintenance. Simply put, not all social media is equal.

College presidents and administrators know that it is important to be on social media. Even if these leaders (vice presidents, deans, etc.) have personal social media accounts and are active users of certain platforms, they may not understand how to use social media to advance their institutions or which platforms are available or appropriate for brand development and engagement. Alternatively, they may have no personal experience with the various platforms but know that these can be important tools. 

An institution must first consider and justify the purpose of each new account or a particular post. Can a new account add unique content and value that is not already being covered by the institution’s main accounts or related accounts? Will there be enough fresh content on an ongoing basis to support a new account? Should this particular message be used by an existing account?

New administrators, for instance, may come onto campus wanting to have a social media presence because they know it is an effective way to engage with students—many of whom are fully immersed in social media. Yet, administrators may not fully grasp how and when social media might be valuable for their institutions. Before clicking sign up, here are some questions to consider:

  • Do they know which social media channels are suitable for certain audiences?
  • Do they know how each platform functions and the types of posts each requires?
  • Do they want to use social media as a thought leader?
  • Do they want to use social media to engage directly with the students and show an approachable, human side?
  • Do they fully understand the brand and brand voice in such a way that they can boldly and succinctly convey it through social media messaging on multiple platforms?
  • Do they have the time and skillset to post regularly and consistently?
  • Do they know what “effective use” of social media means in terms of resources?

In other words, these leaders must know that having a social media presence and not using it is more damaging to the institution than not having one at all. Ideally, an account should post one to three times per week on any platform, but the greatest factor is posting consistently. In other words, do not post 10 times during welcome week and forget about the account until finals because an account without an active presence implies disinterest. If the department or institution does not care about the content, why should the audience care? Notably, Twitter is a real-time platform that does not penalize users for over-posting, thus allowing universities to post at least once daily to inform followers of relevant and timely content. MarCom can play a strategic role in educating and advising a senior administrator on what social media options are available and providing examples of how to use each platform effectively. Here is a summary of considerations for each platform.

A chart about best-use practices for posting on social media from higher ed accounts.

Share this chart with senior administrators to help explain the platform options and to inform strategic direction when answering “Can we put it on social media?” MarCom can act as advisors and advocates when reviewing institutional stories and news and when determining what content matches each platform, including which can be the most effective at meeting institutional objectives.

An account for a senior leader, such as president or provost, should highlight high level thought-leadership and reputation-building content. Posts should include research studies, faculty publications, talks and external speakers, op-ed pieces, interviews, partnerships, student features, academic initiatives and commentaries on thought-leadership articles or published pieces. Although similar or identical content may appear on the institution’s main account, a senior leader’s account can more frequently present and promote this material due to the targeted audience.

The choice of platform depends on the account’s primary goals. For reputation building with external audiences, such as potential partners, other institutions, alumni and parents, LinkedIn and Twitter are the best options. Instagram and Twitter are good choices to engage with students and to showcase innovative ideas, as well as to promote internal and external research opportunities. Academic deans tasked with elevating the profile and visibility of a professor or academic discipline may be tempted to use Facebook and Instagram because they believe these platforms are trendy. However, deans should focus their efforts on LinkedIn and Twitter because of the access to external audiences. 

Some departments and groups may have unique needs and purposes for an account. For example, a campus police or public safety department has a perception issue and wants to build a more community-centered safety program. In this instance, platforms such as Instagram and TikTok can effectively engage the student body and embed the department in the culture, simultaneously humanizing the officers through picture and video. Unlike Twitter, which updates feeds in real time, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are algorithm based and are inappropriate for crisis communications.

As with all social media decisions, the department must understand what opening an account entails and the level of maintenance it will require. Moreover, department employees must be trained on the appropriate procedures for posting to ensure consistency and timeliness. 

These are but a few examples of conversations that should occur on campuses in the current social media age, and institutions should tailor the conversations to their own needs and brand images. As social media use increases as a tool for reputation-building and visibility, all intentions for social media accounts and posts should be met with the relevant questions of who, what, where, when and why. Fundamentally, the institution should determine the strategy behind opening an account or creating a post. That determination, as well as guidance from the provided chart, will drive a more strategic approach and purposeful intention to the social media accounts and posts, helping to build an effective and engaging social media presence.

Melissa Horvath

Melissa Horvath

Contributor

Melissa Horvath is the assistant vice president of marketing & communications at Ramapo College of New Jersey. She holds a PhD in educational communication and technology from NYU. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on social media and college choice, access and transition.

Christopher Romano

Christopher Romano

Contributor

Dr. Christopher Romano is the vice president of enrollment management and student affairs at Ramapo College of New Jersey. He earned his Ed.D. in Interdisciplinary Leadership from Creighton University, his Ed.M. in Higher Education Administration from Harvard University and his B.A. in International Relations from Saint Joseph’s University.


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