Last week we opened our call to find 50 of the most influential HE professionals on social media in the UK. But what consitututes good practice?
It wasn’t all that long ago that the notion of social media in education was somewhat frowned upon. A flash of Facebook’s familiar dark blue glow on a computer screen or the lighter blue of Twitter would immediately let off warning signs that attention wasn’t on the job at hand – far be it that these channels could actually be useful in the professional environment.
Thankfully, most colleges and universities today recognise the huge potential of social media for sharing key messages, outputs and directing people to your content.
For example, it’s highly likely that your organisation has a primary Twitter account that’s designed to represent the organisation as a whole. There may even be a number of divisional or sub-accounts relating to different departments or project areas, if you’re part of a big college or university, or your organisation may decide to host its own Facebook or LinkedIn groups.
But confining your organisation’s social media activity at the corporate level does miss out those people who are likely your biggest advocates: your staff.
A personal approach
I can entirely understand why some colleges and universities are hesitant about supporting the employee voice on social – with concerns about how the organisation may be represented online, or what they might say or do given free rein.
The way I see it, though, is if you have happy and productive workforce, why wouldn’t you want them to feel as though they’re able to promote themselves and the work of the organisation in a positive way through their social media accounts?
Think about it this way. Each individual member of staff will have their own network of contacts and friends, representing multiple opportunities to amplify your message and increase the reach of your content. If allowed to do so, they have the power to generate significant levels of engagement, brand-awareness and content-reach through their own online profiles.
Individuals on social media are generally more likely to trust real people over corporate accounts too – another reason to let your staff do the talking.
Raising awareness of your channels
Of course, in order to leverage staff as social advocates they actually need to understand how your organisation approaches social media, and feel encouraged and empowered to join in.
This kind of attitude starts at the very top. Staff need to be made fully aware of your corporate social media channels, what they’re used for and – just as importantly – what they’re not. Your social media policy should cover these details and be updated regularly to incorporate any changes. It should also be stored online at an easily accessible point of presence that can be accessed by all staff, so it can be referred to as needed.
You might also want to consider incorporating your social feeds wherever you can internally to remind people that they’re there and serving as key communication channels. For example, highlighting your organisation’s Twitter feed on the front page of your intranet, or featuring your Facebook homepage on any internal communication screens in the office, can create an attractive visual feed of current activity for this very purpose.
It goes without saying that some staff are likely to be a lot more comfortable with and active on social channels than others. A number may even already be talking about the organisation’s work online.
These active social media users are the first individuals to harness. Speak to them directly about your approach to social media, how you’d like to get their support and what you can do to benefit each other.
Remember it’s not all one way and you shouldn’t expect them to simply pump out your content. Retweet relevant tweets of theirs, share their blog content, join the conversation on LinkedIn. If you can show active support in wanting to help further publicise what they are doing they’ll likely do the same. Adding their Twitter handles to contact pages or any other prominent places on your website can also single them out.
If you have a new piece of content that’s written by, or focuses on, a certain individual, and you’ve established that they are happy for you to do so, tag them in any social activity that you schedule around it. Showing public acknowledgment of an individual’s contribution generates real goodwill, and is also likely to lead to retweets or shares of posts by the people concerned and subsequently those close to them.
Similarly, if you are running an event or a project, assign a hashtag and actively encourage staff to get involved. Whether they’re sharing photos, live tweeting, or simply observing, the more people using hashtags helps to widen the conversation reach – and your audience with it.
What about that second wave of staff – those people who want to get started on Twitter or LinkedIn, for example, but just don’t know how?
As with anything, training can boost staff confidence. Using social media well is a skill, just like anything else, and those unfamiliar with newer technologies and platforms can benefit from some form of training, whether that’s run internally or by an external expert.
Also helpful are third-party tools that allow you to share suggested messages to staff which they can choose to disseminate via selected social channels themselves. These can provide a structured approach to helping staff build their networks – particularly those who are new to using social media in a professional capacity.
I believe the reciprocal benefits of encouraging employee advocacy on social media far outweigh the risks, and the mutual trust and goodwill that can be generated alongside the increased reach and positive representation of your brand online, make it a real winner in my eyes.
If this has given you food for thought - or if you know your staff to already be leading the way in using social media - why not check out our initiative to find the 50 most influential HE professionals on social media, follow the #Jisc50social hashtag and put yourself or someone you know forward for nomination.