-
By: The Higher Voltage Podcast

Tell Your Story: Creating Social Media Savvy in the Executive’s Office

The latest episode of Higher Voltage explores how and why higher ed leaders should embrace social media.

Marketing & Branding /
By: The Higher Voltage Podcast

Like it or not, your higher ed executives are already on social media – even if they’ve never logged onto Twitter. That’s because every time someone criticizes your school or calls out those leaders by name, they have a social media presence. But higher ed marketers can help institutional leaders create and maintain purposeful, authentic presences on social media, and not just so they can shape their side of any given narrative. Whatever their preferred platform of choice, social media enables school executives to level the earned-media playing fields between small schools and large ones, cement relationships with alumni, and reclaim the water cooler talk that has moved online.

That’s the perspective of our two guests this week on Higher Voltage, and they should know.

Our Guests: 

Our Host:

Heather Dotchel is the host of Higher Voltage. She is a Philadelphia-based higher ed marketing professional who most recently led two area colleges as their chief marketing officer.

A few highlights and key points and suggestions from this great discussion include:

  • Just because higher ed executives should be active on social doesn’t mean it has they should shoulder the burden alone – they can and should get help with social listening so they don’t have to hear all the bad stuff, and are alerted for when to respond. Of course, that said, they should do a bit of that listening themselves, so they are able to have genuine interactions and familiarity with those platforms and communities.
  • Social media is a space for permission marketing, not interruption marketing – if you’re telling a good story, others will tell that story on your behalf.
  • Claim your identity on every platform, even if you’re not ready to use it yet.
  • Shocker: Twitter is a frustrating bastion of performative outrage. “Why would you put that on Twitter when you have my number?” Kimbrough has asked students before. It’s why he logs off of social platforms during lent each year.
  • It is essential to speak on social platforms like a human, and to thereby define yourself that way.
  • “People have different styles. What’s going to be comfortable for me, is not going to be comfortable for other people,” Kimbrough said. “As long as it shows it’s authentic, those are the ones that stand out.”

A couple of Kimbrough’s and Ahlquist’s recommendations of higher ed executives managing social platforms really well. Ahlquist has special admiration for people who are elevating the status of their community colleges, and for others who may not have huge followings but who have a lot of heart, and who embrace platforms other than Twitter.

  • Mamta Accapadi, the vice provost of university life at the University of Pennsylvania. “She writes these full of heart Linkedin blogs that just any human in higher ed needs to read,” Ahlquist said.
  • Daria Willis, president of Everett Community College, and Steve Robinson, president of Lansing Community College.
  • Mordecai Brownlee, vice president for student success at St. Phillips College, who is active on YouTube.
  • Santa Ono, particularly when he was at the University of Cincinnati. “It was interesting to see how he used [social media] to expand his presence at a place that had 40,000 students. That was always interesting to me,” Kimbrough said.
  • Pat Mcguire at Trinity [Washington University], she says what’s on her mind, she doesn’t care,” Kimbrough said. “She’s just throwing flames. There’s a group of people who are sort of radical in that presidential role that sometimes just don’t give a damn, and she’s one of them. And she’s good at it, too.”

Read the full transcript:

Heather Dotchel:
Hello, and welcome to Higher Voltage, a podcast that explores the ins and outs of higher education marketing, and touches on all aspects of the business of higher education. As always, my name is Heather Dotchel. You have most recently encountered me leading the marketing and communications teams at two Philadelphia area colleges.

Heather Dotchel:
We have a slightly different kind of episode today, and I couldn’t be more excited to share it with you. Dr. Josie Ahlquist, higher ed digital communication renaissance woman, seriously she does it all, recently released a fantastic book, “Digital Leadership in Higher Education: Purposeful Social Media in a Connected World.” Furthermore, we are not only talking about the amazing resource she has created, but also conversing with Dr. Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University and leading executive voice on social media. Thank you both for coming to Higher Voltage today. I can’t wait to jump into this conversation.

Heather Dotchel:
Josie, can you give our audience a nutshell bio of how you came to love higher education and make it your career calling?

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
Well, I think if I was to scroll back, the minute I stepped on a college campus, I was hooked, absolutely loving the environment. Obviously, when I was a college student, it was probably for different reasons. And then, I got involved and realized the transformational opportunities. I worked on college campuses for 12 years, and always had that bug to get my doctorate, and it was in the doctorate where I discovered these opportunities to research social media. I was an early adopter let’s say in higher ed to social media and applying it to student engagement. Sometimes back then, you were definitely seen as a troublemaker if you were so quick to jump to Facebook or to Twitter. It’s just been such a cool journey to be able to connect opportunities with social media, with opportunities in higher education.

Heather Dotchel:
Walter, similar question, what was your path to your current role at Dillard?

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
I began college with this idea that I was going to be a veterinarian. I went to a magnet high school in Atlanta for Math and Science. So, I mean, I did science fairs, I was really all into it. Then, got to University of Georgia. The plan was to get into vet school after three years. It’s usually four years undergrad, four years vet school. I got in after three. Then, once I got in early, I was like, “Oh, this is horrible. This is not what I really want to do.” But, as an undergrad, I was very involved, particular within my fraternity, and I had a national leadership position.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
So, I was at one of our national meetings, I had talked to a college president who was at Alcorn State in Mississippi, and I said, “You know, I want to be a veterinarian, but at some point in time, I want to do something else.” Maybe I want to be a college presence. That was sort of the bug that was planted, I was 20. So, once I left veterinary school, I went on and graduated with a degree in biology from the College of Agriculture, which is just funny to me now.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
But, really had a chance to start pursuing that higher education path, and particularly working in student affairs, so that was my goal. Even though, knowing that when I started studying the presidency, a lot of presidents came out of the hard sciences, and even for a minute, I flirted with that idea after I finished my Master’s. I went to North Carolina State to do a PhD in Animal Science. I was there a month, and I was sitting in a Microbiology class, and the guy was going on and on, and he was having a good time. He was like, “You should love this,” and I was like, “Oh no, I’m not doing this anymore.”

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
So, I just dropped out of the program, and really just focused on student affairs and higher ed. I said, “Look, if I don’t become a president because only four percent of presidents come from student affairs, I guess, fine. I found what I love doing.” But, it worked, and so I’m finishing 16 years as a president now.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
I had no idea that you had wanted to be a vet at first. That’s awesome.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
Yep. So yeah, I bred rabbit for science projects, I had gerbils. My kids finally, we got a dog during the pandemic, so we have a French Bulldog, which of course I’m loving that, but they are too.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
That’s great. I was also born and bred through student affairs, and I got a couple dogs in the background if you haven’t already hear them.

Heather Dotchel:
All right, so before we jump into the topic at hand, I’d like to remind our audience that we’re brought to you by eCity interactive. For more than 20 years, eCity has been creating marketing strategies, websites, and digital experiences for higher ed institutions large and small. Inspired by challenge and proven by results, eCity can help you solve the greatest challenges facing your institution today. So, let’s get into it. Josie, let’s talk about your book. I would like to know the genesis, the evolution. I’d like you to touch upon the format, because it’s not just straight narrative, your incredibly wide array of participants and case studies, go. Let us know all about it.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
Ready to go. So, I call it the first baby beta research that the book was born from was in 2014, where I convinced my advisor that I wanted to do more research than just my dissertation. Well, of course she thought I was crazy, but I also was just very curious because at the time, there were a number, especially in student affairs, vice presidents who were jumping onto Twitter. And students, from what I could observe, were very excited to have them there, which I worked at many other institutions where vice presidents not only were viscerally reactive to Twitter, but I also don’t think students would probably receive them on some social media platforms.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
So, as a baby research, I wanted to know why. So, I observed our Twitter accounts for six months, I interviewed them, to find what was the start of a framework that the book is built around. So, as in any good research, because there’s plenty of books you can pick up there, those airport books that are just thoughts and leadership and interviews, I wanted to give people lots of data because leaders do not have time to just be hopping around these different platforms without some clear pathways and strategies. It is not a recipe to follow, rather than examples like Walter, where you can look to and be inspired from, as well as have a more clear direction and purpose about why you’d use Twitter or what the heck you’d do on TikTok.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
So, the research expanded to a quantitative study of 420 higher ed professionals, and how they are navigating and showing up on social media as well as hundreds of observations and interviews, especially that came out in the features of the book that was a lot more storytelling. Again, someone can tell you all day, go on this tool, do this thing, but to have more meaning, we need real people with real examples so we can discern our own place because there is no right or wrong way to do this, and there also is no formalized requirement yet for a president to show up of what my book calls for is authenticity and for values.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
I do think that will help leaders find a stronger ROI, not just watching vanity metrics, but to actually see, okay, these are the values of my institution and myself, and that is why I would be on this platform and why I would do this type of content. I mean, I don’t want to start to talk about Walter’s story, but for his own Twitter handle, to know the rationale behind that and the story behind that is meaningful for folks to understand. Even what we put in our bios adds meaning to the platforms and why individuals would connect with us, and really find meaning behind it.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
The reason why I put in exercises is because I’m an educator. I came from a kindergarten teacher, where I was cutting out exercises at the age of four, and I know we need experiential experiences in order for transformation and discernment, especially within leadership. So, I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of people that just breeze through the book and look at the exercises and jump on, that’s totally fine. But, at least you can sit with some questions to think about. What was my very first experience in technology, and does that impact how I look at some of these tools today. Is there a leadership theory that without even thinking about, social media has informed my life and how I build teams and show up, no matter where. How could I have that show up in digital spaces?

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
So, to talk about the journey, it was over four years. The editing process was a doozy, and also platforms change constantly, as well as people’s positions, so that was also to the very last minute trying to change what person had changed to what institutions. Is there any talk of COVID in the book? No, because I submitted it the week before we went into lockdown. I hope [inaudible 00:09:37] actually relieving to read the book and not to maybe see that language we hear over and over, but it is still very, very applicable despite that.

Heather Dotchel:
I feel like there should be some, “In these unprecedented times,” kind of joke inserted right here. Walter, what made you want to participate with Josie’s book? And could you tell us a little bit about your social media history for those who aren’t as familiar with digital communications?

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
Yeah, I became a president in 2004. I became president of Philander Smith College in Little Rock. It’s a very small school. At the time, had less than 900 students. When I got there, I talked to people in the community to say what is the school known for, and they really talked about these new buildings they had gotten, two really big grants. They had some really nice, new buildings on campus, they had a great choir. I was like, “Yeah, but that doesn’t say higher education. It means you got nice buildings and a choir.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
So, how do we really start to understand the history of the institution and tell a different kind of narrative so that people would value the institution? Because when I start looking at certain people that came out of that institution, people like the first Black Surgeon General [Joycelyn 00:10:51] Elders, that it’s located literally one mile down the street from Central High School and the Little Rock Nine actually came to that campus to be tutored by Philander Smith faculty and students. When you started really telling those stories, it was like, wow, there was a really robust history of the institution that exists. But, we weren’t able to get that message out. The other thing that was happening, really interesting at that time, is that the University of Central Arkansas had a president who was rumored to be a former state senator and was thinking about running for governor. They were spending a million dollars a year on ads locally on television.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
So, any time I went to the gym, and I went every day, no matter when I went, within that hour I was on the treadmill, I always saw a UCA commercial, and he was on all of them. So, he was letting you know, I’m getting this name recognition out and my face, because I’m going to run for governor. Now, he had some other issues later, and he ended up leaving, and I think he’s at a school in Florida now. But, it was like, how do you even get a message out when you have this, what Seth Godin calls interruption marketing. It’s just everywhere all the time. So, for me, social media became the level playing field. I started with a blog. I was like, this is a way I can start telling the story and get people to follow what’s going on. Facebook became a way that I could start sharing, because it starts in 2004, so that’s when I started. So, my entire presidency goes along with the advent of social media.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
So, I had a blog, I was using Facebook to post pictures. We had a great photographer of events. So then, students could share, they could tag, and particularly when we had different guests, conference speakers, and celebrities, they would tag it and all their friends saw it, and their parents saw it. So, then you start to generate this buzz. Then, I got to Twitter in 2009 I think it was, and I was hesitant. I was like, “I have blog, what do I need a micro blog for?” That’s the funniest thing now because our Director of Communications at times kept dragging me, like, “You need to do Twitter,” and I was like, “No, I am not doing Twitter.” She had a consultant come talk to me, and I was like, “No.” So, I finally got on the Twitter. I just kept adding these platforms, and Instagram. I use them a little bit differently.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
So, my entire presidency, I haven’t really known the presidency without social media. And as different platforms have evolved, I’ve been able to add them as I choose. Some I don’t use. I mean, I have accounts on different platforms I don’t use, but then I’m now protecting the whole HipHopPrez moniker so that nobody else uses it. So, some of that is just protecting that entire brand. But so, that’s how I sort of got involved. For me, being the president of a small institution that doesn’t have the kind of big book marketing resources, this was a way to level the playing field, and it still works today. I teach people here in Louisiana, I say, “I have three times as many followers as the president of LSU. They have 40000 students, I have 1200.” I have many more media people that follow me than the president of LSU. It’s leveled the playing field. So, I can get as much attention, and it helps drive resources to the institutions, and I can do it for free. So, I work it into my daily schedule.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
If I get a Google News alert that says Dillard, it’s something that’s really good, I click it, I click the little twitter icon, I click the Facebook icon, I clicked the LinkedIn icon, boom, I’m done, I’m back to work. I mean, I’m in and out of social media all day long, because for me, it’s sharing that information. Then, particularly for what we’re doing in alumni call, we’re doing several this month, but they love it because now I get a chance to celebrate some alum that probably nobody knows about that just got this major appointment. So, they see their institution is blowing them up on social media, that’s a great thing. It endears them to the institution. You start to really generate new givers that kind of way, so it just makes a lot of sense for me. Like I said, for a small institution that you’re not going to have a multimillion dollar ad buy, and really once again, that’s more of that interruption.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
I’m a big disciple of Seth Godin. He talks about this interruption marketing versus permission marketing. And listen, I’m really into the permission marketing. If I’m telling a really good story, people will tell that story for me. So, it’s not just saying, let’s tell our story and pay money to tell a story, let’s tell a great story so that other people say, “I want to tell your story.” So, that’s the way I’ve used social media to help other people tell our story, and do it for free.

Heather Dotchel:
It’s a significant way that you’ve built community, and I do appreciate the fact that you mentioned that you immediate claim your identity on any of the platforms, whether or not you’re actually using them because I think that presence staking is very important. And when you have that developed brand, I know in my positions I’ve urged my executive leadership frequently to take a look at HipHopPrez on Twitter when I’m trying to convince them that this is something that they need to explore, and I point them in your direction. So, knowing that on any platform I can point them in that direction and say, “If he’s active, this will be his moniker is incredibly helpful. And 2004, Josie, what is the importance of early adoption when our leaders are staking out their terf in social media?

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
Well, I’ve always looked, as a researcher and practitioner for social proof. It’s why I started my podcast, and Walter was one of my early guests to the book, to the research. We know in academia we look to scholarship and we look to some tradition. So, I wanted to feature in that early research those that were doing it, to be able to talk to other leaders about them, as well as grad students and new professionals who were navigating through their own journey and their digital presence, because examples can be really powerful. Like Walter said, then you can have stories. I love the combination of both using it for influence and amplification, but also the benefit of access and relationships, connecting those two strategies, because I do think we are redefining leadership in higher ed and many other industries where I presented, like you said, to your executive teams, my framework and examples, and they reflect back, “This completely goes against all the mentorship I received my entire career, to be accessible and to be open.” For some, not for all, while social can seem simple, it actually is quite significant some shifts in how we’re asking leaders to show up.

Heather Dotchel:
Which brings me to another thing. I actually underlined it and then I wrote it on a sticky note and put it on my computer monitor as I do with things that I really like to read. In the chapter, one sentence that stuck with me, or phrase really, was people first, platform second. As somebody who comes from a rhetorical background in graduate work, that echoes with me because we always look to audience first, and that’s really what you’re meeting the needs of there, is the people that you’re talking to. Then, you use the best tool to reach them. Can you explain how, Josie, we should center this in our strategy?

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
So, there’s a course in many higher ed conferences and books. There’s semicolons after the title, so it’s Digital Leadership in Higher Ed: Purposeful Social Media in a Connected World. And purpose is something that in leadership and in social strategy just came up over and over again, for just my own values, but also in the research that we have to stay centered on those that we serve because unfortunately, what happens is we start to do these dances to different platforms and different strategies where we need to prioritize the people and our purpose because we jump to platforms and production. As I get asked often, “Well, what tools should I be on and what the latest tips and tricks?” I’m like, “Okay, those are fine, and those are going to change tomorrow. Let’s first get really focused on who you actually want to engage with.” And it’s reversed to who is actually on Twitter. You might want a certain population on that tool, but who’s actually receiving you and connecting with you there, and to know who you’re actually connecting with on that platform.

Heather Dotchel:
Walter, which platform do you think best serves you and your audience for connecting?

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
It’s definitely Twitter. I mean, we’ve done some studies even for our campus, we’re a Twitter campus. Our students really have not done a lot with TikTok, but… And like I said, I would segment it too because it depends on the population, for students, for media type people, for other higher ed people. Sometimes, general audience, Twitter is good. Facebook, that demographic skews a little older. I can hit a lot of our parents to get them information, Facebook is a place to go. I’ll get messages from parents even, direct messages on Facebook. A student’s having some difficulties, a parent will send a note. Or sometimes, you just sort of see… We had a parent that was having an issue with a student, and they posted their frustration, and one of my assistants saw it, and sent it to me.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
And I just reached out to the parent on Facebook like, “Hey,” and then we’re able to have a conversation, which when Josie talks about it’s people first not the platform, I think a lot of times in our culture, people rely too much on the platform. Sometimes the platform isn’t a good way to really have the conversation. So, she had a level of frustration that when we had the conversation, the conversation was robust, it was good. I mean, she felt good about it, and it wasn’t just like I’m talking to an administrator or the president. We were having a conversation as two parents, and that’s a different kind of conversation.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
Even I try to tell our students, if you’re frustrated about something, and I mean, you should sort of see, Twitter becomes a bed for everything, particularly I would hate to be in the airline business because anybody loses a bag, you know about it because they’re blowing up Twitter. But, whenever the power goes out, they’re beating up on the energy company. So, Twitter does have sometimes this negative energy that it’s like, “I’m just going to complain, complain, complain.” Sometimes I’ll tell the students, “Why would you put that on Twitter when you have my number?” So, it becomes easier then to have this performative outrage versus having the conversation.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
So, I think one of the things I worry about is that people are losing the ability to have real conversations. That’s the challenge with it, which is why every year around Lent, once Ash Wednesday starts, I’m off social media until Easter. I have to just take a… and I look forward to that every year because it’s just a time for me just to almost detoxify some of this stuff. I mean, I’ll read my feeds on… Well, I don’t even read the feed. On Sundays, I’ll post to say, here are things that are going on, or news stories, or those kind of things, but I won’t read my feeds for six weeks, and that’s how I balance it. Now, I always look forward to that too. It’s a delicate balancing act, but I try to use it as a tool, particularly with students. I’d rather talk to them in person. So, if I have to send you a direct message on Twitter to say, “Hey, when are you free? Come see me,” I’d rather do that. So, I try to use it as a tool and not for that to be the end all, be all of the conversation. It becomes an avenue for the more robust conversation, which will happen in person and build some kind of platform like this, those kind of of things.

Heather Dotchel:
I think one of the reasons though that your platforms are so successful with you reaching out to these one on one relationships is that your social media presence is so very authentic. It is you posting.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
Yeah.

Heather Dotchel:
I know that that’s important to you, so could you speak a little bit to that when you decided that the only person ever putting material out from HipHopPrez was going to be Walter?

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
Yeah, I don’t know if it was a conscious decision, it just seemed like that was the way to do it. I mean, it wasn’t based on any studies, I mean, I read people talk about it, [Santa Ono 00:22:59] has talked about how he does his, and he does the vast majority. But, I wasn’t being strategic, I felt like that was just the only way to do it. I’m a low maintenance type person anyway, so that’s part of it. If somebody says, “Well, hey, I need to meet with you, let me get what with your staff.” And one of my assistants was teasing me like, “Yeah, he doesn’t let us do anything.”

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
Because I’m like, “Why am I going to send somebody to you to schedule something for me, when I can just as easily look at my calendar and say, ‘All right, it’s free. Let’s plug it in and keep moving’?” It’s like that’s an extra step. It’s just like, why do I need the extra steps, let’s cut down on steps. So, I’m just low maintenance, so I do a lot. Same thing, if somebody gets mad about something that’s on my feed, hell, I did it. I mean, there’s no question, I posted it. It’s me authentically. That’s just how I am. I wasn’t being strategic or thoughtful, this is just who I am as a person. When I found out that people had other people posting for them, I was like, “Really?” It just never just was a thought.

Heather Dotchel:
Josie though, for those of us on campus who are trying to convince our leadership to have this social media presence, and know from their schedules, or perhaps they’re just not totally comfortable in those mediums quite yet, how do we establish authenticity when they’re shared governance of an account?

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
Yeah, there are different models to look to, from independent to hybrid, and the list goes on. I do think it really depends on who your executive is, and the realities and demands of their position, as well as their skill level. So, I get a lot of, “I can’t be Walter,” “I don’t feel like his presence or his style is me.” And so I was like, “Well, good. You aren’t him. Let’s figure out the strategy that will work for you.” So, we are seeing a lot more presidents and chancellors having other cooks in the kitchen for their strategy. The only thing that bums me out is I start to see their accounts look like institutional accounts, that they become a bit more like billboards. We have so much to celebrate, but can I just see a little bit more of your voice? This is where if you’re going to have other cooks in your kitchen, they have to know what ingredients you love. To you drink coffee or tea or latte with foam. I’m actually serious about those details about your life because I encourage in the book, personalization. I don’t use, what’s personal, what’s professional, how can we humanize your platforms because you’re a human who want to connect with other people.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
So, we have the people that support your social may need to know way more about you than you might reveal to others, not that they’re going to put that out on social media, but they are representing you as a person, who happens to be in a position again that wants to connect with real people, especially on a platform like Instagram where we are visually representing who you are and those moments and emotions. So, they may also need more access to your calendar. Honestly, if they could have a text message relationship with you for in the moment updates, that kind of access, I do think is necessary, especially if you’re going to give so much control over. Then finally, to be able to attend things, whether that now is in Zoom meetings or events, to capture photos, to capture quotes, and to be that person. Because a lot of these platforms, it is a benefit to be able to be very timely in what we post. What I would encourage if someone’s listening and has been tasked to support that, is just to start really slow on one platform, and to prioritize building the relationship with that leader as much as the presence and the strategy on that platform.

Heather Dotchel:
And I do think it is possible when you work that closely together and you have that kind of personal relationship, to be able to anticipate. When I was at Holy Family, our president there, Sister Maureen, and I used to joke we could never remember who actually wrote the thing that was coming from her because we collaborated so much on those communications in the beginning that there was that very strong sense of shared voice if it was a communication from her as president. So, I think that that’s excellently put, and especially if you’re doing social media, having a texting relationship like that, you get a sense of the cadence and all of that. And you’re making sure that nothing is being posted without ownership, even if you’re helping that along.

Heather Dotchel:
Let’s talk a little bit about weathering both fair and foul climates, because I know one of the push backs I’ve gotten over the course of my career when I’ve urged executives forward is that if you’re going public like this, you’re really opening yourself up in ways that perhaps leadership is no used to, and being so very accessible to the public. So, what are some of the trying consequences of being so public? But, why is it worth it? Walter, you want to start us out with that?

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
Yeah, well, one of the things I think even in a conversation that Josie and I had for a conference, I try to tell presidents in particular that even if you aren’t on social media, you are. I mean, you don’t have to have an account, you’re on social media, your name is going to be mentioned. So, you might as well be able to shape a narrative by the things that you share on social media that will help other people support what you’re doing. I mean, for example, this is recently, I was interviewed for the Wall Street [inaudible 00:28:55] talking about HBCUs with the Trump administrations, and someone interpreted it as I was saying that I agree with the president when he made the statement that he saved HBCUs. My complete Twitter feed is against that. I’ve got long threads providing documents how this didn’t happen.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
So, someone tried to start and say, “There he is, saying blah blah blah,” and then I had a parent of a current student just go in on this person, and they just… I didn’t have to say anything because they’re just like, “You’re not paying attention to what this guy’s… Look at all of his… What are you talking about?” So, the person ended up having to delete that tweet because he just was relentless. So, it just helps you to define who you are in that space because if you’re not in that space, somebody will define you for you. So, I think it’s important just to be engaged if you’re in that position because like I said, you don’t have to have a Twitter account, your name will be mentioned whether you’re on there or not. So, at least to have some balance. I mean, yeah, they’re going to be times when people, they’ll at you and they can say ugly thing and either you mute them… I don’t like to block, I like to mute because when you mute them, they don’t know that you’re not paying attention. That’s to me the funniest thing to do. When you block, you give people a chance to be outraged, “Oh this person blocked me.” I don’t block, I just mute, so it’s like you don’t even exist, and you go on.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
I mean, that’s just part of it. It is the messy part that does exist, but I still think the pros outweigh the conferences, and you don’t have to be on it all the time. like I said, you get to a point where you have to decide how you engage with those. I mean, I’ve been able to, particularly during this election season, I’ve been able to engage with people I have very different philosophical points of view from, but do it in a respectful manner that people have really appreciated that. I’ve had people, like [inaudible 00:30:45] say, “Look, I’m going to ask you this because I believe you’re a straight shooter.” To me, that’s the highest compliment because they know we don’t agree. So, I think there’s a way to model some of that, which is what I try to do. It doesn’t have to be vitriol all the time, which is what we see. So, I think that’s part of it. But yeah, I mean, it’s going to be messy sometimes, but just because you’re not on there doesn’t mean that you’re not on there. You’re being talked about whether you have an account or not. So, you might as well get in the game and at least help define who you are so people don’t define you for themself. That’s as simple as I can put it.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
I just think it’s another example of how leadership is being redefined or what is being asked of leaders, both in access of information, and their communities access to them. What used to be maybe water cooler talk that you wouldn’t hear in your boardroom is now in your face and on your screen. So, I love the examples that Walter shared of things that he does, both for let’s say self care about logging off on Lent, as well as when you choose to activate or not on Twitter. Also, such a great example, if you build relationships online, your people will have your back. They’ll find that tweet, that thread of no, actually, this is what he said, and you don’t even have to do that work for you, so that it will pay off dividends if you really have been doing that. So, it is challenging, and change already in many leaders and in just society, we are exhausted.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
So, I think another piece of asking leaders to show up on social is mental health. That is why I have seen some executives, this is the one place that maybe they do have some social support that can vet a little bit of the replies and the comments, so if it gets to a point where it is impacting your mental health so much that you have someone else doing some social listening for you to know which ones you have to act upon. Maybe that’s in just certain season, but you have to know your own resiliency in some of these platforms. But also, not to run and hide when your community is calling and asking for honestly. I think what we saw early in this summer, and even today when you put out these press releases that feel like a robot wrote them, I’m not surprised that your students, alumni, and staff and faculty are pushing back. Again, redefining leadership, can you speak like a human? It’s just a little bit like, I think your community will receive that a lot more when in times of struggle.

Heather Dotchel:
Yeah, I always find these concrete examples to be really helpful in my own professional process, and I hope that our audience finds them helpful too. We’ve talked about some short terms wins, when your community comes to support you in situations. Can we talk a little bit more about longterm evolution? One of the gems in that chapter was leverage your influence to transform your community. I loved this concept, but when you’re talking about transformation, we’re not necessarily talking about blips in time or reaction to a singular articles or this, but ways that having this consistent public presence does truly transform what you’re doing within your institution. I’d love to hear from both of you, Walter, things that have happened in your own experience, Josie, some examples from the scope of your book that perhaps also don’t lean on the presidential authority but in other leadership roles on campus.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
Well, I think it’s important that we also are talking about not just presidents and campus executives, as you do see a variety of different styles and strategies being enacted throughout the field. At heart, I’m also a digital community builder, so I love to see higher ed pros organically building community officially and unofficially. So, one of the people in the book, Jennielle Strother, she is the vice president of enrollment, and she’s the co founder of EM chat, a chat on Twitter. Started years and years and years ago, and she’s very much driven through authentic leadership. She’s calling in her community, especially I think it was a year or two ago, when all of the news was out about the scandals in enrollment, through the Hollywood parents, and she was always showing up day after day asking discerning and challenging questions to the community on Twitter. But again, just being driven to build that community on Twitter for enrollment pros.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
I think the other example, she’s an executive director at UCLA, La’Tonya Rease Miles, she’s built a Facebook group called Empowering First Generation College Students. As a first gen student herself and a researcher on it, she’s grown 5400 professionals as well as first gen students to come together on Facebook. The platform itself has featured her Facebook group in some of their promotions.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
So, both of those have really specific audiences who they want to build community for, and a purpose behind them for connection. So, even when we take off positions, we can have deeper purposes beyond our institutions that I’m excited to feature folks like that.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
Yeah. I’m just trying to think of just in terms of longterm impacts for me. I don’t know, it’s a difficult question, because I think a lot of the relationships that are built are really with those individuals. You try to get them connected to an institution, but invariably it comes down to those personal relationships, and those sometimes are not transferable. So, I think more and more people have to be engaged in the space to develop those relationships because at some point in time when I leave Dillard, it’s not to say that those relationships stay here, those relationships go with me. So, you’ve got to have lots of people… So, as Josie said, it’s not just at the presidential level, you have to have people who are developing relationships all throughout an organization that can leverage those relationships for that institution, during that point in time that they’re there. Because when that person leaves, those relationships leave too. In many cases, there might be some that become longstanding and that kind of thing.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
The key relationships that you want to build are people who naturally have an affinity to that institution. So, if I can reconnect alums to the institution, those will be long, permanent relationships that you want to continue to develop. So, that’s a good question. I’m still thinking more about it, but that’s how I see it. I mean, that’s a challenge when you look at most… If you have a president particularly that has a really strong social media presence, they have many more followers than the institutions. I mean, it’s sad, because people follow people. They want to deal with the people story, not just the institution. So, that’s always a challenge.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
[inaudible 00:38:10] I laugh a little bit. I love my marketing and communication colleagues, but sometimes we can want to own platforms and have some control, because there’s so much we can’t control, like many other accounts out there. I think Walter just hit on the head about having leaders, educating and getting their platforms amplified. I would say, let go of the the idea that you’re always going to own that tool. You are helping a person in a position, not a brand or that’s going to stay with the institution because it is about the relationships. I’ve seen plenty of presidents and vice presidents start a new account elsewhere because that was their own choice. But, I think we’re still figuring out the Terms and Conditions. HipHopPrez is going to go with him wherever, right? That’s very clear. Sometimes we see these interesting negotiations between comm and executive cabinets about who owns what and then platforms and things. I would just let down those pieces and let it really be that person, and allow it to be for what it is, because it really needs to be about those relationships, which are so key to this entire equation.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
Yeah. If push comes to shove [inaudible 00:39:30], use your name. If you just use your name, take that with you, it doesn’t have to be something special. But yeah, [inaudible 00:39:38], should your Twitter handle be Dillard President number seven? No, because I’m not… I mean, I would always be that, but if I’m president somewhere else, why would I keep using that account? So, it’s better to have something that is… It is that relationship changes. There are some places, like Josie said, they have those conversations, but I’m not a fan of using that institution because and particularly generation X and younger, we work multiple places. So, to be linked to a place that we’re not going to retire from in 25 years with a gold watch doesn’t make any sense.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
And it’s much different than if you have a student social media ambassador, who you want that separate handle for because you want to make sure that you’re reminding them and their audience that in this particular instance, they are representing their institution. But, when we are talking about leaders who do move beyond institutions, MarComm needs to be very cognizant it’s value added. When you have somebody coming in with there own social media presence, it’s value added. It’s just one more way to reach your constituents. You still can have your institutional accounts that get out that information, but how fantastic is it if you have somebody who’s known in their own right on social media.

Heather Dotchel:
Let’s talk about models that we follow. Walter, who are some other leaders on social media that you look to as peers and as innovators who have ways of using social media to aspire to?

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
When he was at University of Cincinnati, for me, it was Santa Ono. Because it was interesting to see how he used it to expand his presence at a place that had 40000 students. So, that was always interesting to me, that was always in the back of my head. If I ever became a president of an institution big like that, he sort of figured out how to it the best way. So, from that perspective, I look at him. Pat Maguire at Trinity is sort of my kindred spirit because she says what’s on her mind, and she don’t care, she’s just throwing flames. There’s a group of people who are sort of radical in their presidential role that sometimes just don’t give a damn, and she’s one of them. She’s good at it too. So, I mean, I’d watch what she says, because she’s [inaudible 00:41:53]… There are a range of people that I look at in terms of how they leverage. I mean, I look at how Michael [Sorrell 00:41:59] does a good job leveraging, showing the partnerships that they’re building with the institution at a broader…

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
But, I mean I just look at a lot of people in terms of how they use it, just to sort of see it. Josie said this earlier, people have different styles. What’s going to be comfortable for me is not going to be comfortable for other people. So, as long as people are within their skin, but I think as long as it shows that it’s authentic, I think those are the ones that stand out to me. I get excited about those kind of things. But, I probably take from lots of different people, and not just within higher education. I follow a variety of accounts just to see the kinds of things that people are sharing and how they’re doing and that kind of thing. So, I pay attention to a lot, but I like what I do. I mean, it fits me, so I’m sort of good in my skin too. It’s like, this is what works for me, and I just go with it.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
Well, and I think that’s in the book, why I use leadership and why I use discernment is because you kind of do have to sit in your own skin to sort out how you define authenticity, if that word even sits with you, because there’s some power and privilege potentially even with that. You could use the word real, genuine, honestly whatever helps you sleep at night. If you’re feeling like the way you’re showing up on Instagram is just you’re not feeling it, pay attention to that. That is why I love to give so many people examples in the book and elsewhere of who’s out there. Watching Santa’s journey from his presidency now up in Canada, you have an example of one model of how a president made a transition, even now to work in a different country.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
I mean, I think we’ve seen a lot of HBCU presidents fully leaning and being active. If you want to work at an HBCU or you know that’s your path, hone in on those presidents and those vice presidents. They are laying the groundwork for you of what might be expected, or role models and mentors. Also, don’t be scared to DM some of these folks with value and ask for a phone call, or just let them know, “Thank you for contributing, or that post. That was really meaningful to me.” I’ve also loved to see community college leaders taking to these platforms I think for very similar reasons, limited resources with marketing, but also a unified message amongst community college. So, I really enjoyed Daria Willis. She’s the president of Everett Community College. She’s started blogging her year as her first presidency as community college president, and she’s on all kinds of different visual platforms like Instagram. Then, Steve Robinson, he’s the new president at Lansing Community College, he’s got podcasts.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
So, I also like to look at how are people creating different kinds of content, not just who are on Twitter. I think we also know Twitter is very busy. You might need to look at how can you tell the story in other ways, so those are couple cool examples from me. I also want to share people who don’t have a lot of followers, but I find have a lot of heart. So, [inaudible 00:45:13], she’s a vice president now at Penn. She writes these full of heart LinkedIn blogs that just any human in higher ed needs to read right now, but also shows up that same way on Facebook. Mordecai Brownlee, he’s at St. Phillip’s College, the vice president there, and he’s been making YouTube videos. So, I’m also excited about different types of content to connect with community. But, I also have tons of Twitter list, so if people are just quickly trying to find women executives, community college, I mean, and I know Walter has a HBCU Twitter list too. Those would be great to add for folks to find some ones again that fit for you or you follow. Follow folks that you would never use social media that way, but also just be able to learn through social listening how they’re showing up.

Heather Dotchel:
Perfect. As we draw this episode to a close, if you haven’t listened to this previously, I always like to ask a question that is not directly related to our professional endeavors, but maybe tangentially related to the people at hand, and I think you’ll figure out where this one comes from. I’d like to ask each of you who’s a music artist that more of us should be listening to right now?

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
So, I’ll start. I’m going to use one of our local musicians here in New Orleans. His name is Dee-1. He’s a hip hop artist, but his background really comes out of religion and faith. I teach a class on hip hop, sex, gender, and ethical behavior. He comes to class pretty regularly as a guest. But, he’s been somebody that’s really been able to bridge that gap to talk about some of those issues in a way that doesn’t sound like, sometimes people say hip hop and Christian music, it doesn’t really sound as good, the production isn’t as good. But, very thoughtful, and just his whole background. He went to LSU, he graduated, he taught school. So, I mean, he’s a different kind of guy. He made a song about paying off his student loans call Sallie Mae Back. So, my wife is like, when she pays off her student loans, we’re going to have a Sallie Mae Back party. So, it’s just a play on words. So, there’s a luxury car, Maybach, and then Sallie Mae. He’s just a creative guy. Dee-1, he’s like my little brother, so I have to talk about Dee-1.

Heather Dotchel:
I love that. You actually teach the class, right?

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
Oh yeah.

Heather Dotchel:
On hip hop?

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
Oh yeah. I got to start planning for the spring, but I normally get a range of guests that come. I mean, I had to do a lot of it last spring virtually, which was still great. I mean, I had some really good artists and entertainment journalist. I mean, we deal with a range of subjects, so in December I’ll start plotting out my course in terms of how I want to cover it, but yeah.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
So, I’m a small town country girl from Wyoming, and the album that I played every cross country trip to college was The Dixie Chicks. I love their story and their transformation for me now as an adult to The Chicks. Their album and their song, March, if you just need an anthem right now-

Heather Dotchel:
It’s a banger.

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
Yes, that’ll do it.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
I would say their version of the national anthem is… I heard them recently, I was like, “Wow.” So yeah, yeah.

Heather Dotchel:
All right, I love it. Where can our audience find you if they’d like to continue the conversation?

Dr Josie Ahlquist:
So, on the socials, I’m @JosieAhlquist, and my website is JosieAhlquist.com.

Dr Walter Kimbrough:
@HipHopPrez pretty much everywhere you go. It’s either that or you see my name, Walter Kimbrough, like on Facebook and LinkedIn, but those are the only two places you’ll find me.

Heather Dotchel:
All right, great. So, that’s the end of this episode. Thanks to both of you so much for taking your time to join us today, and we’re looking forward to more great conversations with higher ed thought leaders in the weeks and months to come. If you’d like to explore our topic further, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter at @HDotchel.

The Higher Voltage Podcast

The Higher Voltage Podcast

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Newsletter Sign up!

Stay current in digital strategy, brand amplication, design thinking, and more.


Recent in Marketing & Branding

The Lessons of 2020 That Will Shape 2021

The Lessons of 2020 That Will Shape 2021

January 13, 2021 | The Higher Voltage Podcast

A graphic design of a trophy with a star on top

Why Stellar Student Services Require Internal Marketing Resources

Student don’t find services just because they exist; thinking of them as a target marketing audience can help.

Marketing & Branding /
By: Eric Stoller
Graphic design with image of a man wearing a mask standing in front of numbers for the year 2021

The Lessons of 2020 That Will Shape 2021

A look at the major trends in how, where, and when we will reach our audience as higher ed marketers in 2021.

Marketing & Branding /
By: The Higher Voltage Podcast
Graphic design with orange background behind the word Volt.

Why Marcomm Should Be in the Cabinet

Because CMOs can’t effectively tell an institution’s story if they’re not involved in strategic planning.

Marketing & Branding /
By: The Higher Voltage Podcast
A graphic design of a trophy with a star on top

Why Stellar Student Services Require Internal Marketing Resources

Student don’t find services just because they exist; thinking of them as a target marketing audience can help.

Marketing & Branding /
By: Eric Stoller
Graphic design with image of a man wearing a mask standing in front of numbers for the year 2021

The Lessons of 2020 That Will Shape 2021

A look at the major trends in how, where, and when we will reach our audience as higher ed marketers in 2021.

Marketing & Branding /
By: The Higher Voltage Podcast
Graphic design showing facemasks next to facemasks with question marks.

To Show Masks, or Not to Show Masks? That Is the Question.

A guide to rethinking higher ed imagery amid the pandemic.

Marketing & Branding /
By: Melissa Horvath