A Multipronged Approach
Franklin & Marshall College has developed a multipronged approach to align existing social media uses across campus to support F&M's overall educational mission and to ensure a cohesive social media community.
The purpose of Franklin & Marshall College's social media strategy is to work with the units and programs on campus that have assessed their communications goals and chosen to engage in social media to build and sustain a shared vision across the institution for:
- Developing the College's social media presence as an important forum for conversations about a wide range of issues;
- Increasing the prominence of F&M, its programs, initiatives and community members;
- Engaging their audiences in new, interactive and flexible ways; and
- Using social media as an integral part of the College's overall communications strategy for outreach and building relationships.
Why social media, and why a strategy?
The online world is growing and changing rapidly, and people are communicating with each other in different ways using new technologies. Some units and programs of the College have determined that traditional communication methods do not always resonate with their audiences nor elicit a particular response or behavior. While the F&M website can be informative and visually pleasing, static information does not easily allow for direct action on the part of our users in cases where that is the goal.
Social media, by definition, are interactive. Many units on campus have conducted an assessment and found that social media platforms allow their audiences a virtual gathering place to converse about topics of interest to them and interact with others who have similar interests.
F&M's social media strategy is an approach tailored to best align a unified social media approach for a liberal arts institution of our size. By carefully evaluating any creation of targeted new pages—and balancing that with a strong core institutional social media presence—the College can build a large, dynamic and loyal community by highlighting content from all parts of the College. This can help maximize our impact.
With clearly defined goals and wisely chosen tools, F&M will leverage evolving interactive media platforms not only to reach new audiences but also to truly engage them.
"Engagement" is understood as a continuum of interaction, starting from an initial visit to one of our social media platforms, growing to repeat visits—from "liking" to "commenting" to "sharing"—and finally establishing a sustained relationship with the College. Engagement comes about as a result of building a trusting relationship with the audience.
Ensuring that the College's social media approach is coordinated across units is a critical element for building confidence in the relationships the College seeks to expand with prospective students and families, current students and their parents, alumni, donors, and friends of the College.
This strategy document should help you understand common goals for embarking on a social media effort. A defined strategy allows all units across the College to learn from best practices, collaborate to take advantage of current and new platforms, and maintain the ability to adjust when older platforms experience declines in use.
F&M seeks to accomplish the following with its social media strategy:
- Increase engagement with and among the College's constituencies: from prospective and current students and their parents; to alumni, faculty and staff; to donors and funding agencies; and to policy makers and other critical thinkers, including the mainstream news media.
- Convey the key messages, news and information of the College and its units to clearly defined audiences in a manner that is effective, including integration of multimedia.
- Keep abreast of changing technologies to identify the most effective channels to reach the College's varying constituencies.
- Develop and maintain effective platforms for providing users with a sense of community.
- Tailor the tone and approach to platforms to align with various constituencies while understanding the need to ensure consistency in style and approaches to social media across the institution.
- Build new audiences by increasing access to faculty, student and administrative voices, including reaching previously underserved audiences.
- Establish each F&M social media presence as an authoritative forum for conversation about a range of issues by curating news and information of interest to the College's audiences.
- Maximize the impact of centralized resources to grow social media audiences on institutional platforms.
- Identify units whose roles and functions create unique opportunities for a department-level social media presence.
- Take advantage of economies of scale to test and negotiate uses for new and evolving platforms.
- Guide and counsel individuals and academic and administrative units about effective uses of social media and other communications alternatives to meet their goals.
There are many challenges to meeting these goals, including the constant evolution of existing platforms and emergence of new ones, and the fact that there is not a one-size-fits-all model for success. To reach its goals, a successful social media strategy must have the sophistication of tailored messages and approaches to reach increasingly discerning audiences.
Now, the Strategy
The elements of this strategy, coupled with F&M's social media policies and best-practices guidelines, will make it possible for the College to move in a unified direction in use of our social media.
These practices will assist units of the College in efforts to implement, sustain and enhance our social media presence, even as technology and platforms evolve:
- Keep current with new and emerging platforms, and carefully assess and join only those platforms that benefit the College in a particular way; preserve relevance and resources by transitioning away from platforms that are less used or outdated.
- Implement social media strategies in the context of a defined social media policy and platform-specific best practices to maintain consistency in the College's messages and to allow the College to speak with a unified voice.
- These documents serve as a guide for any College representatives using social media, providing platform-specific guidance, required protocols, information about applicable laws and other guidelines.
- Maintain these as dynamic and evolving documents, updating them to add new platforms and retire old ones.
- Continually ask questions to help define a unit's audience and goals to conserve time and resources.
- Because not every platform will benefit every unit, asking questions about audience, desired behavior and intended outcomes will maintain relevance and help F&M's social media administrators find ways to best engage users.
- For-profit companies often aggressively seek new users, but before establishing a presence on a new platform, perform cost-benefit analyses to determine if doing so is in the best interest of the unit or the College.
- Maximize impact by taking advantage of the institutional social media presence.
- Always remain cognizant of the institution's size and audience base, and be cautious about over-segmentation of audiences.
- Use institutional social media pages to highlight and bring attention to news and information from all units, including highlighting social media content from established units.
- Seek to establish a social media presence in areas with the largest potential audience bases.
- Maintain cost-effective partnerships with social media vendors (as applicable) by taking advantage of large-scale group discounts and contractual relationships that typically would require participation on a College-wide basis.
- Build new audiences by leveraging individual personal accounts held by key stakeholder administrators—specifically, the president and various members of senior leadership—to support institutional strategic positioning with targeted audiences.
- Support F&M's competitive strength as an institution with a reputation for giving individual attention by taking advantage of existing interactions of key audiences, such as current students, prospective students or alumni, with personal accounts held by the president, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid, and vice president for advancement, respectively (with postings aligned with the College's social media policies and best practices).
- Support F&M's competitive strength as an institution that provides a supportive community by taking advantage of existing interactions of current students in sports programs and other F&M-managed activities with their coaching and support staff (with postings aligned with the College's social media policies and best practices).
- Share best practices among the campus community members who manage social media for their units.
- Equipped with the policy documents as a guiding resource, ensure that campus social media administrators work in cooperation with College Communications to remain knowledgeable about changes in the social media landscape so as to make the most beneficial social media decisions.
- Communicate regularly among social media administrators on campus to share best practices and maintain the most effective application of social media targeted to meet goals throughout the life of the platform, beyond the initial implementation.
- Be of service to F&M's "family" of users by connecting them with other networks, individuals and resources.
- Use diverse mechanisms, including College-based resources, to provide avenues for alumni to engage in personal and professional networking.
- Take advantage of mixes of College-based and commercial resources to maintain effective mechanisms for students and prospective students and their families to connect, not only with the College, but also with each other.
- Build a reputation as an educational thought leader in the social media world.
- Curate information beyond news related to F&M to demonstrate that we can serve users' broader needs for news and information.
- Share, highlight and comment on information from news media, affinity groups and educational organizations.
- Use the College's social media presence on various platforms as "convening" spaces to demonstrate that the College has a role in influencing appropriate discussion among users, news organizations and educational institutions on a range of events and issues.
- Post engaging and interactive social media content to prompt contributions from users and build a self-sustaining flow of information and engagement.
- Remain mindful of the distinction between traditional websites that "broadcast" information, and "social" sites intended to maintain a strong and interactive relationship with users.
- Use social media to answer questions, provoke conversation, inspire and entertain, understanding that users ignore sites that allow them to remain passive.
- Implement a sustained approach of continually seeking responses with the understanding that it takes time to build trust and responsive communities.
- Ensure the overall appearance of social media is enticing and dynamic to maintain a strong user base.
This strategy will support F&M's efforts to communicate to the College's various constituencies about the strength of the education we offer, the scholarly activities of our faculty and students, the breadth and quality of research, the robust elements of campus and residential life, the wide variety of civic engagement, and other initiatives.
Implementing the Strategy
Franklin & Marshall College's social media presence is young but growing. Aided by a coordinated strategy, a set of social media policies, and an evolving set of platform-specific tips and best practices, College Communications in conjunction with other departments and offices can build and sustain a strong social media identity for the College.
A group of colleagues across campus who use social media will convene regularly throughout the year to assess effective uses of social media and to continually contribute knowledge and experiences to help ensure that the College's use of social media aligns with the needs of its users and with the mission and goals of members of the F&M community.
You can learn more by reviewing:
- Frequently Asked Questions about Social Media at F&M
- Applying F&M Policies to Social Media
- F&M Best Practices for Facebook
- F&M Best Practices for Twitter