Inside Drexel’s New Social Media Management Consortium

In the deepest throes of 2020, Drexel made social media management a collaborative effort – and it’s keeping it that way.

By: Aaron Stern
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There couldn’t have been a worse time for Drexel University to lose its social media manager.

It was June of 2020, and while the pandemic had thrown every communications professional for a loop, perhaps none were subject to as sustained and arduous an experience as college and university social media managers. As the pandemic evolved and the nationwide social justice movement erupted, social media professionals monitored channels full of frustrated, demanding, angry, even threatening chatter, some of which was directed at them, the voices of their schools. It was a drain on resources and a strain on mental health.

And in June of  2020, Drexel’s social media manager, a grad student, graduated and moved on. The timing couldn’t have been worse, but at least there was never a better time to prove the old adage that crisis can create opportunity.

Quickly, Joe Master, the school’s assistant vice president of marketing and digital strategy, created a cooperative working group comprising three members of the marketing team, each of whom volunteered to own one of the university’s social media accounts and work together to manage the daily barrage. It was meant as a stopgap solution, but something funny happened: It worked.

Now, what was meant as a means of survival is the team’s new model for success. The role of social media manager is, in general, too big, too critical, to feasibly be handled by a single superhuman. Drexel’s new way of working could be a model for other teams – with adequate resources – to follow. If nothing else, it works for them.

A Social Media Consortium

As Master intended it, the consortium comprised three members of the marketing team: Lauren Nihill, digital content designer; George Heftler, web content writer; and Nigel Lum-Cox, SEO analyst. 

“This was at the height of COVID anxiety, which was coupled with daily protests in Philadelphia and a charged community that was turning to social as one of the primary means of communicating with the university,” Master said. “Social was on everyone’s radar — even leadership.”

It was more than added work, though. It was personal. 

“We were all grappling with our own private struggles while navigating the pandemic,” Master said. “Trying to keep our loved ones safe. Making personal sense of the social, political and existential turmoil. Having uncomfortable conversations daily. And then trying to do the same exact thing with our social media accounts.”

The key to the success of this operation during such a trying time was a structured operational plan – this was the consortium’s framework:

  • One Person, One Platform (Mostly): Each person took over ownership of one of Drexel’s social platforms. Heftler took over Twitter, Lum-Cox owned Facebook & LinkedIn, and Nihill took Instagram.
  • Shared Content Calendars: To start the planning process, the team created a content calendar and set each of the tasks by the month. “Each of us would research and generate content ideas, including some evergreen content, and add them to the calendar,” Nihill said. “For content ideas, we asked various colleges and departments to share any interesting developments on their end, and we searched for relevant news and events,” Lum-Cox said.
  • Weekly Planning Meetings: “Then, we would have a weekly meeting to discuss what content would be most relevant for our audiences on each of the platforms,” Nihill said. “It really is a discussion of what works, what does not, and what could potentially work now and in the future.”
  • Slack Reviews: As a matter of continuing process, the team shared creative for upcoming posts to their platforms on Slack to get feedback and ensure consistent style. Every post had multiple sets of eyes on it before going live. “By having people review the posts, we can ensure the voice sounds similar and that we don’t miss any of the important style aspects,” Heftler said. 
  • Tracking Results: To ensure their planning was paying off, the team collaborated on data analysis to inform future content creation. “We developed a shared document to log social media performance data, so that we could analyze outcomes,” Lum-Cox said. “Our process was to continually improve what we did,” said Nihill. “We would post content, measure how it did during the meeting, and adjust the content and messaging as we went to better serve our target audiences.”
  • Resource Redundancy: The beauty of the system is perhaps the most obvious – having multiple people managing operations meant there was always backup when needed.  “[T]here was always another [one] of us to rotate over and help cover their duties without hiccups,” Heftler said.
  • COVID Messaging Checks: When official statements went out from the president or provost’s office, the team devised a branded look and feel for each channel’s posts on all channels. Master would take an initial pass at chopping up the copy for each platform and send it to the team on Slack to poke holes. “More often than not, the holes they poked made our messaging better,” Master said. “And our social channels began to see impressions in the millions for COVID content.”

Underpinning all of the planning and execution was Slack, Zoom, and a spirit of camaraderie: ‘Teamwork makes the dream work’ is a hackneyed expression, but one that rang true. 

“[I]t quickly became both a mantra and our genuine approach to social media,” Heftler said.

Watching the team work was inspiring, said Master.

“I was so incredibly proud to work on a team that was willing to step up during a time when stepping up meant stepping into the fray, so to speak,” he said.

How It Works Now

The consortium approach was so successful, it became Drexel’s new way of working. They have since replaced the role of social media strategist; the dedicated strategist primarily manages all social accounts, and the consortium collaborates on content ideas, data analysis, and content generation.

And now, three disparate members of the marketing department have social media experience and expertise, not to mention a better understanding of the various people and functions throughout the entire university.

“[I]t was great to build relationships across the university and to learn how many wonderful stories the students, staff, and faculty at Drexel have to offer,” Lum-Cox said. “The connections that I developed have supported my work beyond social by giving me [a] better idea of who to reach out to for a given task when working with departments outside of University Communications.”

Today, the social media consortium lives on, and the collaborative approach continues, a recognition that it takes more than a single person to bear the responsibility and the emotional burden of running a university’s social media ecosystem.

Aaron Stern

Aaron Stern

Aaron Stern is the managing editor of Volt and the director of content for Volt’s parent company, eCity Interactive.

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