Since the first social network site “Friendster” debuted in 2002, there has been a huge surge of individuals connecting online. Today, LinkedIn boasts an audience of 300 million, Twitter reports 284 million monthly active users, while a staggering 1.35 billion monthly active users flock to Facebook to connect. Among U.S. adult internet users, a survey conducted in September 2014 by the Pew Research Center found that 71% use Facebook, with 70% of users logging onto the site daily. Roughly half of young adults ages 18-29 (53%) surveyed use Instagram, and among college-educated adults, 50% use LinkedIn.
The way people share information is changing the way we communicate with our target audiences. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are just the tip of social media iceberg; there are more applications out there and more to come, which means more ways for you to personally connect and engage with your constituents. Whether you’re reaching out to the public in general or to alumni, parents, faculty, staff, donors or friends of UC San Diego, social networks should be brought into the mix.
The Role of Social Networks
There was a time, not so long ago, when universities and colleges ignored the potential of social networks. Today, we now know that, if used correctly, social media can help us share information and build relationships with our various audiences. From recruiting new students and faculty, to raising money, to diffusing incidents and situations—leveraging Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other networks are powerful tools in the hands of communicators.
In a 2010-2011 study analyzing social media use among four-year accredited U.S. higher education institutions, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth found that:
- 100% of colleges and universities surveyed use some form of social media
- 98% of colleges and universities reported having a Facebook page
- 86% reported using YouTube
- 84% reported having a Twitter account
- 66% reported having a blog
- 68% reported monitoring the internet for buzz, posts, conversations and news about their institution
So, how is social media different from traditional approaches to marketing and communications? It's all about engagement. Instead of broadcasting information to an audience, social media enables us to connect and converse. This is a medium in which traditional approaches to "telling" people won't work or be accepted. Certainly, we can inform people about events, programs, and news, but that is just part of how these tools are used. The rest is about having a conversation. That's the "social" in social media. However, social media cannot stand apart from your marketing and communications strategies, but should be incorporated as part of a holistic communications approach.
Tools to Connect with the World
Universities are using social media—the only web tools that allow two-way discussions—to connect and collaborate with their target audiences, and as a way to supplement traditional news distribution. But before we get into strategy and best practices, a brief glossary of social media terms and networks will be helpful:
Facebook – facebook.com
- Description: Founded in February 2004, Facebook is a social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers. The company develops technologies that facilitate the sharing of information through the social graph, the digital mapping of people's real-world social connections. Anyone can sign up for Facebook and interact with the people they know in a trusted environment.
- Use: If you want to have an online conversation with students, connect with alumni or create a forum for discussion with the community, engage them through Facebook. You can also use this media to drive traffic to real events and activities.
Twitter – twitter.com/signup
- Description: Twitter is a real-time information network powered by people all around the world that lets them share and discover what's happening now. A rich source of instantly updated information, Twitter asks "what's happening" and makes the answer spread across the globe to millions, immediately.
- Use: With its 140-character format, Twitter is an immediate way to chat with and hear from those with similar interests. It's also a great way to "tweet" news and other announcements in addition to mainstream media sources.
LinkedIn – linkedin.com
- Description: LinkedIn exists to help make better use of an individual's or organization's professional network and help the people they trust in return. LinkedIn's mission is to connect the world's professionals to make them more productive and successful. This media offers faster access to insight and resources they can trust.
- Use: LinkedIn is an ideal alumni connection tool; it's also home to a myriad of discussion groups offering affinity for collaboration and connection. Start your own groups to create tailored networks of interest.
YouTube – www.youtube.com
- Description: YouTube is the world's most popular online video community, allowing millions of people to discover, watch and share originally-created videos. It provides a forum for people to connect, inform and inspire others across the globe and acts as a distribution platform for original content creators and advertisers large and small.
- Use: YouTube can be instrumental in sharing your unit's research and other successes, capturing events and activities, and offering video contests.
Instagram – www.instagram.com
- Description: Instagram is a mobile-based tool for sharing photos and videos. Users can apply digital filters to their photos and videos before sharing them with a variety of social networking services—such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr—in addition to Instagram itself.
- Use: Instagram is best for sharing compelling, authentic images. Since the service is mobile-based, it’s a great way to capture “in-the-moment” images. With the majority of users (90 percent) under the age of 35, Instagram is particularly useful for engaging with prospective and current students, as well as young alumni.
Google+ - www.plus.google.com
- Description: Google+ is a platform where users create “Circles” of contacts in order to share posts selectively. Status updates can include text, photos, links, videos and events.
- Use: Google+ is great for sharing photos and video. It also allows users to host “Hangouts,” a form of video chat. Since the platform is integrated with Google Chats, YouTube and other Google tools, posting to Google+ can help elevate content in search.
Pinterest – www.pinterest.com
- Description: Pinterest taps into the trend for visual content. It’s a source for aspirational and inspirational images, and subscribers use it to collect and organize things they love.
- Use: Pinterest is a great way to visually tell your organization’s story and communicate values. As with all social media channels, be sure to pin images that add value for your audience. Avoid being overtly self-promoting.
- Description: A blog or “web log” is a type of website or part of a website. Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries filled with commentary, descriptions of events or other material such as graphics, audio (podcasts) or video. Below is information about popular blogging software used by higher education institutions:
- Tumblr – www.tumblr.com – Tumblr is a microblogging platform and social networking website that allows users to post multimedia and other content to a short-form blog. Users create original content as well as curate, or re-blog, posts by others.
- Wordpress – www.wordpress.org/about – WordPress started with a single bit of code to enhance the typography of everyday writing and with just a few users. Since then it has grown to be the largest self-hosted blogging tool in the world, used on millions of sites and seen by tens of millions of people every day.
- Use: Blogs offer an excellent format for brief articles, observations or references; this media’s “comments” section also welcomes feedback from and interaction with readers. You can create links between your blog and the other social media networks to cross-promote your blog.