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Managing Social Media Community Managers in Higher Education

August 8, 2013

Social media in higher education. Is it marketing, communications, or PR? The answer is that it’s all three.

In our Marketing and Communications program at Concordia University Irvine, social media is integrated throughout our team. Social media marketing–Facebook advertising, for example–is handled by our digital director. Our communications directors utilize social media in our communications and PR strategies. And our web team integrates social into our website.

But our main objective with social media is monitoring, listening to, and engaging our various communities on our university social accounts, and on our program/departmental social accounts managed by our social media community managers across the university. It’s a strategy that I wrote about back in 2010.

Social media community management is partly PR, partly customer service, and largely brand advocacy. 

Leading this effort is our social media manager, Veronica Steele. Veronica is our social media leader on campus. She’s taken this strategy direction, fleshed it out, and built an impressive program that includes a social media website and many other resources, most of which are designed to empower our social media community managers.

Veronica is an emerging leader in higher education social media community management. She recently co-presented the Social Media Strategy Workshop at the annual Hobsons users conference with Rachel DiCaro Metscher. And she’ll be speaking on the subject of Social Media on a Budget at the Social Media Strategies Summit in Las Vegas in February.

Recently, Veronica wrote a guest post for the Hobsons blog, which I’m posting here with Hobsons permission. Veronica shares the challenge she faces as a social media manager when working with community managers in the very decentralized culture of higher education.


veronica pic

What Gilligan’s Island and Social Media Have in Common
by Veronica Steele
Social Media Manager at Concordia University Irvine

It became clear early on that my role as a social media manager is like being lost on an island between two islands.

The Skipper


One island consists of marketing’s version of “The Skipper,” social media laggards fearful of social media’s unpredictability, vulnerability, and transparency. These folks have a common phrase of “I don’t have time to be on [insert your favorite social media platform] and be putting out fires,” or better yet, “We don’t have the resources or budget to worry with people tweeting about their lunch.”



The other island holds your Gilligans–early adopters of social media who jump on every new social media network just so they can say they had an account way back when. You’ll recognize these folks because they’re typically the ones saying something along the lines of, “The [company] has to be on Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine.” The list goes on and on.

My island lies in the middle with two very shaky bridges connecting the other two. As the social media manager at Concordia University Irvine, it’s my responsibility to hold the hand of the fearful (“No,” “Not today,” “Maybe next fiscal year”), and turn down the volume of the pushers (“We should try,” “Did you hear about that?”).

The only way to merge these two islands into one is to map out a strategy that addresses the fears of the woeful and acknowledges the enthusiasm of the advocates. So what does this strategy of adoption and collaboration look like?

I couldn’t tell you. Unfortunately, there is “no one size fits all” strategy when it comes to implementing social media marketing. Having said that, there’s still hope by incorporating these key practices:

Plan for success. It’s amazing how one person’s vision can inspire others toward a common goal. Be a visionary and expect to succeed. My vision for Concordia University Irvine’s social media presence was (and still is) to be a leader in higher education engagement. When I report back to the campus on the successes of this vision, my faculty and administrative stakeholders get excited and are inspired to promote and engage with our students, parents, and colleagues.

Get your training wheels ready. In implementing a new social media strategy you are taking the role of a parent teaching their child how to ride a bike. The child is wobbly at first until they get the hang of it. Then when their confidence is built, it’s time to remove the training wheels.

Train your social media community managers in the same way. Start them off slowly by giving them ongoing training; support their engagement with convenient and comprehensive resources (social media playbook, company-wide policy, user guides) and then let them loose.

Know your competition. Doing research on what your competitors are doing on social media is one way to win over fearful executives and inspire buy-in. Creating RSS alerts and/or Twitter searches–for names, hashtags, images, video, and phrases–related to the competition makes it easy to keep track of competitor content as well as gain insight into how the market is interacting with them. Monitoring the competition oftentimes uncovers opportunities for you to engage with prospective students searching for information.

It doesn’t have to be lonely at the top. Find the executive leader and social media champions in your organization that can identify with the vision you have and bring them on board. This could be your admissions officers, faculty using social media in the classroom, or even your students. Skeptics are more likely to give your strategy a chance if their peers are doing the same.

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