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FAQ: Deciding Whether to Use Social Media to Engage

If you are thinking about engaging with social media for your academic or administrative unit at Franklin & Marshall, reviewing these Frequently Asked Questions should help with your assessment of whether social media is right for you.

What is social media?

Social media are "two-way" Web-based and mobile technologies that encourage engagement, interaction and discourse with users by allowing users to contribute to the overall content. This is distinct from more traditional "one-way" Web technologies where only the administrators or manager of the page manages and posts content, such as a common website.

Franklin & Marshall's social media strategy and guidelines for campus users regard social media as any two-way technology or other facility for bimodal online publication and commentary, including and without limitation: blogs, discussion forums, interactive geolocation (e.g. Foursquare), media sharing sites (e.g. Flickr, YouTube, Pinterest), podcasts, social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) and wikis (e.g. Wikipedia), whether existing now or in the future.

Why do members of college communities—academic or administrative offices—choose to engage in social media?

Social media can be a useful communications tool for academic or administrative units that need users to interact and respond to material. If the goal is primarily to relay information to users (about course offerings, policies, events, etc.), traditional websites, bulletin boards and print or mail continue to be among the most effective tools, but for academic or administrative units with sufficient resources to invest in social media, these platforms are compelling as communications vehicles because they offer opportunities for us to both listen and respond to our audiences in ways that print materials, static web pages and e-mail communications do not.

Additionally, social media is intended to encourage users with similar interests to engage with each other, forming online communities where content, including photos and video, can be easily generated and shared. Social media is intended to build relationships and create communities.

You can review the institutional strategy for social media at Franklin & Marshall to learn other reasons that the College and some targeted administrative units have made social media part of overall communications efforts.

When should I use a website to communicate, and when should I consider social media?

Your website should be the "hub" of your communications to your constituents. Even with the growth of social media, the traditional web remains the space where organizations establish their formal presence; it is the public's introduction to your department or office and what you represent. The F&M website offers consistency and credibility to the information you post there. Users are likely to visit your office's website to answer a question, so think about the information they are most likely to seek, and organize it in a way that makes those answers readily available. Some examples: Why should I study X at F&M? Who works here? When is your office open? How do I do X? What is your policy on X? What tips or guidance do you offer if I want to do X?

Consider social media to be "spokes" that lead your audience back to the hub, your website. You can direct users to visit the site when you've made updates or at times when certain information is most relevant (e.g. posting a note like this on social media directing parents to the traditional Commencement information website: "Parents of seniors: this will be an exciting year for you! Here are the preliminary details for Commencement Weekend.").

Social media is also a good way to share with your audience information from other sources, both at F&M (e.g. "Our student worker is featured in this recent story from F&M News.") and elsewhere (e.g. "One of our department's recent graduates was featured in The New York Times.").

Also, if your goal is to encourage a sense of connection with your constituencies by inviting immediate feedback from users, that is a reason you may use social media (e.g. "What was your favorite place to study at F&M during Reading Days?").

What resources do I need to consider social media?

Reaching your goals of interaction and sustained engagement on social media requires the administrators of social media accounts to maintain a regular and sustained presence on the platform, typically multiple times per week (or, for microblogs, such as Twitter, almost daily). Because of the need to be available to respond to users, you should determine whether you have staffing available to ensure that you can maintain a sufficient presence to maintain a relationship with your users. The College's social media policies also require you to monitor content on your sites to ensure that users are following guidelines for appropriate posting.

Also, social media platforms also are multimedia vehicles, so you should consider your capacity to post photos, video and links to other content.

How do I know if social media will serve the needs of my department/office?

First, determine the goals of your messaging and the intended audience. Then think about whether a significant portion of your audience is likely to be using social media and whether most of the information you plan on delivering is not privileged or confidential. And finally, decide whether you have the staffing resources to devote to sustaining the relationship with users. If you answered "yes" to all three of those questions, then you might consider social media to supplement your website and e-mail communications.

Or, put another way, does your department/office have an off-line community or the potential for an online one? If so, consider whether you have the time and resources to invest in using social media to enhance those efforts of your audience to connect with each other.

It can be tempting to embark eagerly into social media, but doing so without a strategy and clear goals can lead to a negative impression of the unit hosting the social media platform due to out-of-date content or lack of activity on platforms that are intended to be interactive.

Should I set up a Facebook Page?

If you have the resources, creating a Facebook Page can allow your unit to take advantage of the world's largest social media networks. Facebook may not be the best platform for all departments, as building a successful presence requires one of the largest investments of time among other social media platforms.

Some academic departments and institutional initiatives on campus are using Facebook Pages to create broad communities that bring together current students, faculty, parents and alumni. Routine efforts to share stories, invite comments and promote and manage events strengthens these communities.

If you prefer to use Facebook for maintaining a pre-existing, exclusive group (e.g. a club or committee), then you might consider creating a Facebook Group or Google Group, both of which offer better ways of communicating internally among members who maintain their individual identities (e.g. through messaging, event planning and document sharing). A LinkedIn Group is another option if your audience is built around a vocational or professional association.

See our Best Practices document for more information on using Facebook.

Should I set up a Twitter account?

Twitter is known for its brevity, its timeliness and the ease with which its users can connect with people, places and topics relevant to them. Because of its sense of being less scripted (necessarily so, because of the brevity of posts) and "in the moment," Twitter often makes users feel more personally connected. Most administrators of Twitter accounts should plan to post almost daily.

A Twitter account for you or your unit can be useful for sharing news, soliciting feedback, communicating real-time information about events and serving as a point of reference—and pride—for students and alumni.

Twitter should also be considered a platform for listening. Your account Timeline can deliver an instant pulse on the moods and interests of the individuals or organizations you follow. Knowing what interests your audience can help you tailor the content your share, not only on Twitter but on other social networks as well.

See our Best Practices document for more information on using Twitter.

If social media isn't the best tool for my department, what are other options?

Regardless of whether you engage in social media or not, your website should still be the "hub" of your online communications. Although much of the information on your website may be relatively static, you should make an effort to ensure it is up-to-date and accurate. Your website is still the world's introduction to your office or unit and what you do. The College's content management system makes it easy to refresh your pages with new images and links to content elsewhere on the web. This allows you to offer your users a reason to come back to your department or office home page.

Consider making use of the College's institutional social media accounts, particularly if the information you plan on sharing or the initiative you want to publicize is of interest to prospective students, current students, parents or alumni as a whole. Such messages work best if you can provide a link with more information (on your website, the campus calendar, an external article) to Social Media Coordinator and Web Producer Tim Brixius at .

Effective and judicious use of e-mail can be a useful way to reach larger audiences, but care must be taken that these communications, particularly to students and alumni, are coordinated with other offices on campus. Some campus units have created annual or semi-annual newsletters that are part of their website and shared with current students, parents and alumni via e-mail.

What if my question wasn't answered in this document?

A set of documents designed to help guide the F&M community's use of social media should answer remaining questions you might have. Before engaging in social media, please read:

For additional questions, contact Social Media Coordinator and Web Producer Tim Brixius in the Office of College Communications by emailing or by calling 717-358-7179.

Last updated 1/24/13

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