ABSAP Conference – Social Media Best Practices and Lessons Learned

When we talk about best practices we aren’t speaking of a particular social media technology or the latest technique.

My personal notes for a panel discussion on social media in higher education.

1. What are some tips on generating more engagement through social media?

Summary: Social media demands that we break the pattern of always talking about ourselves, an easy trap to fall into, because as professional communicators we’re paid to get exposure for our message. In the social media scene we risk becoming the party bore. No one enjoys being trapped at a party with someone who wants to drone on and on about themselves and their interests, or even worse, the chap trying to market the latest home business. With social media no one is trapped in your presence, they can ignore you at any time, so it demands we be sensitive, skillful and emotionally intelligent.

Social media in higher education best practices include:

  • Know your social media channel. There are ways people write and interact on Twitter that don’t translate well to Facebook, and vice-versa. So knowing your channel (and audience, of course) is key. For example, at the McCombs School we may Tweet an article multiple times with various headlines over the course of the day, but only post an article to FB once.
  • Be conversational. Social media is, ideally, about being social. Letting your personality be evident, using humor, and interacting with key followers or fans is important to maintaining and building an audience. Yes, you may be a serious higher education institution, but the “official robot” persona doesn’t work well in social media.
  • Vary it up. Every update shouldn’t be an announcement with a link to your site. Ask a question, share a compelling photo, or respond to someone else (but not in a creepy Big Brother way).
  • Be a human. Watch your use of automatic/scheduled postings. It turns some people off and can lead to awkward timing, such as a posting about a new alumni event right in the middle of breaking news about a national disaster. (Personally, I do use Buffer to space out my Tweets from time to time.)
  • Experiment and adapt. Social media is young and still changing, so it’s necessary to periodically take some risks and see what other people may be doing that you can implement, too. Remember, social media usage goes through phases. What works for you today may be less effective tomorrow.
  • Be realistic about levels of engagement. Be clear about your audience, what you want them to do, and why in the world they will want to do that consistently. Matt Genovese, founder of door64 once told me “the value can’t just be the chance to get together, you have to answer the question ‘what is the reason to participate?’”
  • Be realistic about your role. Who appointed you, or your organization, king of the world? William Hurley (@whurley) self-described evil tech genius prefers to “be the instigator not the organizer.” You will likely find that people are not waiting around to populate your online world, but they may make room for you in their world, if you have compelling stories and ideas.
  • Take if offline! Matt Genovese remarked at the outset of his planning for door64 “I was excited about getting people to interact online, and that was the LAST thing to happen. First, they got involved in other things.” We’ve found that to be true with Texas Enterprise, the McCombs School online business commentary site. Many of our bloggers and readers have come to us first through our Texas Enterprise Speaker Series, a chance to share a cheap lunch and fresh ideas with a professor on campus.

2. What kind of investment does it take to start a successful social media initiative?

Summary: It is important to remember that when we talk about best practices we aren’t speaking of a particular social media technology or the latest technique. Yes, if you Tweet during certain times of the day and during certain days of the week you will get better results, and it is important to think about those things. But if you are an awkward or sporadic social media conversationalist, or if you bring nothing new to the conversation, it doesn’t really matter if you are using all the right tricks. People will see you for what you are…the party bore.

  • Invest your personal interest and involvement: If you are managing social media in your portfolio of communications channels you need to be actively using it yourself or you will misunderstand the nuances of the medium, the audience and the conversation. You can’t effectively manage what you don’t understand and, to a certain extent, love.
  • Invest a significant portion of your mission and resources into social media engagement: We spent two years restructuring the McCombs School communications office in order to embrace and operationalize three interrelated initiatives: 1) search engine optimization, 2) social media, and 3) self-published editorial content. That required us to make trade-offs in what we do, to reset expectations around the school about our department’s mission, to create ways to move some traditional communications functions back to our internal clients, and to rebuild our staff, in some cases with new people and new skill sets.
  • Invest thought and strategic thinking equal to that invested in other initiatives: You will need to consider audience segmentation, positioning strategy and message hierarchy, giving your social media efforts the same level of inquiry, planning and strategic thinking as your other engagement efforts. This is not just a matter of duplicating existing strategies and moving them to a social media platform, you must start over with a clean slate, because everything—audience, message, goals, etc.—will be different. A recent Deloitte Consulting survey shows that the top two factors for facilitating social media support within an organization are 1) clear vision for how social media supports business strategy, and 2) senior management support.

3. How do you nurture internal support for social media initiatives?

Summary: As mentioned in the last section, establishing a clear vision for how social engagement, social media and social software will enhance business strategy, and gaining senior management support are the two most necessary success elements for a social media initiative. Lack of a business case was the second most cited internal barrier, while the number one missing element was measurement. In the survey report, What Managers Really Think About Social Business, the most frequently cited type of measure of social software use was “not measured.” We can’t fail to do our homework in building a valid business case, provide no means to measure success, then grouse about lack of support from leaders! Some steps we’ve taken at the McCombs School to address these issues:
  • Tie Social Media Initiatives to The Strategic Plan. Four years ago when our new Dean arrived he commenced the process of establishing the McCombs Strategic Plan. As the communications director, I took an active role in helping to establish the underlying goals and initiatives that would later support our social media adoption. Was I cognizant that the formation of that plan would play a significant role in the amount of support I would receive from school leadership as I rolled out future efforts in search engine optimization, social media and self-published editorial content? You’re darned right I was. This phrase inserted in the strategic plan, “In addition to increasing the scope of our intellectual capital and efforts, more will be done to promote and disseminate their output beyond the academic community,” smoothed the way for later organizational restructuring, resource allocation and ongoing budget support for an array of communications efforts, including social media, at McCombs. Tie your initiatives to the strategic goals of the organization, then establish some goals and simple measurements. I say simple, because at a public university we do not have the resources to apply sophisticated measurements!
  • Convert Your CEO First. In the academic world, the CEO is the Dean or the President. Does he or she understand the role of social business at the institution? The Deloitte survey found that CEOs were twice as likely to perceive the value of social software to their organizations than CIOs. Yeah, that’s right, the information technology officer may not be your enthusiastic supporter. If you think about the traditional role of IT, data security and a controlled environment are signs of a well-managed program–but social is just the opposite of that. A 2010 Gartner survey found that 15%-30% of professionals used unofficial social software for work purposes, even when an official tool had been provided. The IT chief might also be skeptical because of the lack of a business case, as we already discussed. Building that business case begins with your CEO. He or she is likely to be thinking long term, and may be more open to recognizing the possibilities for gaining a unique competitive advantage through a new communications channel. I knew we had Dean Gilligan on our side when someone mentioned nervously that one of our younger McCombs Advisory Council members had been tweeting from a closed session. “We have nothing to hide,” he replied. That’s a CEO who understands the dynamics of information sharing in today’s technology environment.
  • Encourage Experimentation. Again, from the Deloitte survey: “Providing clear guidance about communications external to a business can be tricky, especially in regulated industries like health care and financial services. Too much guidance can put a damper on social business activities. ‘If I ask an organization for their social media policy, and I get back a 50-page document,’ says Andrew McAfee, ‘that might as well just say, we’d prefer it if you don’t use social media.'” When blogging was first being considered at McCombs we put careful thought into how many internally written blogs we would allow, and how we would categorize them. It quickly became evident that this was folly, and that all we really cared about was whether those who established blogs (whether for the MBA program office, or the International Studies office, or any particular slice of the school) were clear about their objectives, serious about maintaining an active online presence, and willing to comply with the basic brand guidelines of the school. We quickly switched from control mode to inspiration, guidance and support, conducting regular blog stewards training sessions where blogmeisters could share ideas on editorial content and get instruction on technology and brand compliance issues.

4. What is in your personal social media technology “tool kit?”


When I open TweetDeck it appears on two monitors (42 inches of visual landscape) with the following columns:

  • Inbox
  • Me
  • Home
  • McCombs + School
  • Texas + University
  • Longhorn
  • UT and McCombs Associates List
  • McCombs Students/Alumni List
  • Close Colleagues (couple of hundred)
  • News Feed

Buffer for Chrome

Easy way to capture, schedule and share content via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn

Bit.ly for Chrome

Fast link shortening when I’m not using Buffer.

Evernote for Chrome

Create instant web pages out of all types of content, from Word documents, jpgs, Powerpoint slides, etc.


This tool is being implemented across the McCombs School to help consolidate analytics and plan social media campaigns. I’m not currently using it as my main social media dashboard, although it is clearly designed for that, and more.

ABSAP Social Media Panel Slides

Presented at the 11th Annual Association of Business School Alumni Professionals (ABSAP) Conference on July 12, 2012, held at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

Moderator: Treshea N. Wade, Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University

Panelists: John Hill, Higher Education Evangelist, LinkedIn, John D. Pine, Goizueta Business School, Emory University, Ben Simmons, The George Washington University School of Business, and David Wenger, McCombs School of Business, The University of Texas at Austin

Special thanks to my work colleagues Tracy Mueller and Jeremy Simon for contributing their thoughts to this collection of notes. They are both savvy social media in higher education stewards for the McCombs School of Business!


One thought on “ABSAP Conference – Social Media Best Practices and Lessons Learned”

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