Your Social Media Policy Can’t Wait

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Social media policies. Oh boy. So many questions.

Who does a policy police? What behavior does it guide? Who is it for? What incentive is there to follow it? Is it possible to spell out every single thing a person should know?

There are more but, in all honesty, just typing out those few made me want to hyperventilate. These questions have been bouncing around in my head for years, and the lack of answers–or at least the lack of easy or enforceable answers–has kept me from putting on paper any sort of formal policy for my university. It just feels so big. How can I possibly write a single document that will instruct campus departments in using their accounts, while also addressing individual behavior, and isn’t a lot of this common sense?

Breathe.

(That’s for me, not for you. But if I’m making you anxious, you’re welcome to breathe with me. Let’s breath together.)

And now, focus.

While my brain has been running through this paralyzing and endless list of questions, I’ve been missing something important. It wasn’t long ago that a brand new question started keeping me awake at night: What if something goes terribly wrong with a university account, and I can’t do anything about it?

This question puts the importance of a social media policy in an entirely new context. Guiding behavior is important, yes, but so is ensuring reasonable safeguards against the type of behavior that lands an institution in the national media. Think about it. If any given campus department posted something wildly inappropriate online, would you be able to take it down quickly? Would you know who to contact? Would you even know the account existed?

After talking with my university’s legal office, it became clear that setting some parameters around the administration of university social media accounts is extremely important. Further, a defined and enforced inventory of social media accounts and administrators is necessary as part of any campus policy.

Finally, FINALLY, I’ve drafted what I hope will become a social media account policy for my university. It does not attempt to address individual social media conduct, nor does it spell out every best practice for every network on the internet. Those things may come later. First, though, comes the groundwork for the “reasonable precautions” that should protect the university from liability.

These are the questions this draft aims to answer:

  • What is the responsibility of an account administrator?
  • What content is considered inappropriate?
  • What should administrators know about legal liability for social media content?
  • What reasonable precautions should be taken?
  • Who should have access to social media accounts?
  • How will University Relations inventory accounts, access, and behavior?

Bottom line: This policy thing is important. Shame on me for not realizing that sooner. So much about social media conduct is still hazy, but there are some definite, concrete rights and wrongs, too. Does your campus social media policy address these questions? What else might you consider mandatory for laying the foundation for responsible account administration?

Taking the #strategycar out for a spin.

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Once upon a time there was a  road trip. It was a fantastical road trip with two important stops between my home in Michigan and State College, Pennsylvania where the 2013 Web Conference at Penn State was to be held. First I picked up Nick DeNardis in Detroit. From there we made our way to Oberlin, Ohio to collect Ma’ayan Plaut. Good times and great conversations were had. I counted myself lucky to have time to get to know these incredibly smart people.

But the trip home was even better.

With 8 hours of driving ahead of us, my passengers insisted I take a break from driving. I found myself in the backseat of my own car. With hours and hours ahead of me, I had a brand new vantage point from which to do absolutely nothing but talk. And think. And ask. And learn. From Tumblr to Twitter strategy, crisis communication to cooking, the three of us talked through our challenges, hopes, and dreams. Am I making this sound lofty and important? It was!

As we neared Oberlin and the inevitable separation from Ma’ayan, I tweeted:

Ron Bronson, ever the wordsmith responded:

And #strategycar was born. Inside of said #strategycar, I outlined my future web series in which I would drive around the country, kidnap higher ed smart people, and make them talk to me in my car for hours so I could learn all the things. I would be the Rainn Wilson of higher ed and my Saturn Vue would be the Soul Pancake Metaphysical Milkshake van. Or something.

Of course, I have no budget and there’s this pesky full-time job that keeps me busy.

But. BUT. Twitter.

Today I will take my #strategycar out for a spin, hashtag and all, and talk to you fine people about some things I want to learn. If it goes well, I do it again. And then maybe regularly.

#strategycar is coming to a Twitter near you. Maiden voyage: July 12,2013 at 3pm EST.

A New Perspective on Social Media Reporting

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Assigning numbers—meaningful numbers—to our work with social media is not an easy task. Setting measurable goals helps us get there, but there are always decisions to make about the numbers. Which set of numbers tells us what we want to know? How do we manipulate data to get the full (or relevant) story? And then, what do we do when our goals aren’t all that clear or measurable?

A New Perspective

I have a confession to make. I’ve long been touting the necessity of goal-driven social media strategy facilitated by meaningful measurement. Yet, in my own role as a social media manager, I find it incredibly challenging to define concrete and measurable goals. I live in a world without access to the data or the resources I want, at least in my immediate reach. The result has been a set of very broad goals for my university’s social media efforts. I tell others (I’ve told you!) that it’s not enough to aim for community growth or engagement; and this is the very thing I am working toward. Controversy? Maybe not.

Yesterday, while pulling together my latest version of a quarterly social media report, I made two decisions.

  1. We can/should be striving for more than community growth and engagement, but there is value there.
  2. By examining the behavior and preferences of our communities, we gain valuable insight that can shape content strategy across channels.

Resolved as such, I set out to create a report that would tell me what my community cares about. Instead of reporting on the past as a measure of success, I reported on the past as a resource for the future.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to pinpoint which tactics yield the best results. Much work went into analyzing the time of day or media type that saw the largest reach, how many posts or tweets in a day affected follower counts, etc. No more. This makes no sense. From here on out, I am choosing to believe that good conversations will make for good interactions. Good content will lead to higher engagement and happier communities.

A New Report

I want to know which conversations and topics are getting traction across networks so I might understand what matters to our audiences. My new report serves to answer the following questions: What topics, regardless of the type of post, are resulting in the most impressions, reach, and interaction? Are topics received similarly across social networks?

To get these answers, I couldn’t rely on standard-format reports or spreadsheets. My examination of topic interest was limited to Facebook and Twitter, and I used numbers provided by Facebook InsightsBitly, and SocialPing. Below is a general list of steps for creating this sort of topic-focused report.

  1. For Facebook, export Facebook Insights data for the desired date range (page-level and post-level)
  2. Define a set of topic categories
  3. In Facebook’s post-level data spreadsheet, the “Key Metrics” tab, insert a column and assign a topic category to each post within the date range
  4. After posts are categorized by topic, average the numbers for Lifetime Post Total Reach, Lifetime Post Total Impressions, and Lifetime Post Consumers (total of values divided by number of posts)
  5. Graph averages by topic category for Facebook
  6. For Twitter, extract click-through rates for tweeted links from Bitly or a URL shortener of your choice (I copied and pasted Bitly’s stat information to a spreadsheet, which meant much reformatting and moving cells around)
  7. Assign topic categories to the tweets/links
  8. After tweeted links are categorized by topic, average the numbers of clicks for each
  9. Graph averages by topic category for Twitter
  10. Compare data and graphs to identify trends

In my case, the data showed that regardless of the social network, the best-received topics were consistent. Armed with this information, I can make better choices about which content I should share in the future, and which conversations my community wants to be part of.

This report, as always, will probably evolve in some way. In the future, I may need to adjust or better define the topic categories I assign. I may find a way to apply this categorization to Instagram or blog posts. Or maybe I’ll get my hands on the data I need to dig into lead conversion or campaign analytics. For now, I’m optimistic about how this set of data will guide future content strategy. No more social-media-report guilt.

Web, Social Media, and Content Strategy

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It’s kind of an amazing thing when all of the floating bits in your brain come together.

So, there’s this “social media” thing. This thing that allows people to connect, to build community, to engage with each other or causes or companies. This thing that gives voice to all of the people. And I love it. This girl who spent so many hours on message boards in 1999 is now spending even more hours online, doing all that she can to listen. We who integrate social media with marketing have an uncommon vantage point from within the community we aim to reach—and an obligation, I think, to ensure that the voices of that community are heard. It’s the beauty of the social media, really. We all get to be heard.

Meanwhile, there’s this other thing. I’ll call it “web.” While I’ve spent the past few years immersing myself into social media, I’ve been consistently wooed by this (as I saw it) divergent path. Where there were needs, I filled in, particularly when it came to project management and organization of web content. My team now finds itself at the beginning of a website redesign and content management system transition. There’s so much to do, and I care so very much about making sure this thing goes the way it should. This is our chance to do things right. What else can I do but devote all of my time to researching content strategy, usability, responsive web design, and all of those other concepts that “web” people must know?

Alas, there are only so many hours in a day and only so much space in my head. For months, the battle between social media and web has raged with no clear winner. Now, with so much web work to be done, there is little choice for me to make. Most days I have to spend more time on content inventories than social media analytics. Then there is guilt.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve wondered, “How do I reconcile the web with the social media? Why do I have to pick?” When my job description was changed from special events manager to social media specialist (or a variation thereof), I was ready for a new direction. I was excited about the challenge and fascinated by all it had in store for me. Today I find myself in a different place. First, I have no desire to abandon my work with social media. Second, I can’t. I need to find a way to make social media and web play well together, and to make time for all the work that needs to be done.

Enter “content strategy.”

Well, I suppose it’s unfair to say, “enter,” as though content strategy is brand new and I’ve only recently heard of it. The concept was long ago introduced to me by some combination of HighEdWeb and Georgy Cohen, and later reinforced by MeetContent and the Web Conference at Penn State. Always intriguing and inspiring, content strategy has been something I added to my list of things to learn more about. Had I been listening more closely, I might have realized that I’ve been striving for a better content strategy for some time.

One day, I found myself in possession of Erin Kissane’s “The Elements of Content Strategy.” You guys, she was talking to me! You may have read the book and thought it resonated with you, etc. But that book was written for me. I’m now waist-deep into Kristina Halvorson’s “Content Strategy for the Web” and, funny enough, that book was written for me, too. I’m not sure how either of these women knew that I was struggling to connect all of the web and social media and content and structure and strategy, but they did. It turns out then when we are strategic about content, we consider all of the channels and messages. Yes, this means the web and the social media. Can you believe it?

Why did this not occur to me a year ago?

I have so much more to learn, and so much work to do. I can’t wait. After all, Halvorson tells me, “You can do this. You can make things right.”

Survey: Social Media Reporting in Higher Ed

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I’ve long been chasing the perfect social media report, and discussing the importance of measurement based on strategic goals. To help inform my quest, I’m hoping to learn from all of you out there in the world of social media in higher education. If you are responsible for any sort of social media reporting for your college or university, please fill out the survey below. And then share the survey. I have only the promise of possible inclusion in a future blog post or presentation to offer you, as well as my eternal gratitude. Thank you in advance! Continue reading