We all live and work in complex communities. We have a tremendous scope of interests, talents, and perspectives within our faculty, alumni, and current students. We’ve all been told the power of crowdsourcing content, but as a school, how do you leverage your diverse constituents (future content generators) to provide mission-centric social media content that will enhance, not dilute, your brand?
At a recent conference with other school communications professionals, the same question was posed in a small group session I was leading. My response to the group was one I have become familiar offering: Do you have the framework in place to structure crowdsourced social media? The answer across the board was a resounding, no. I shared our approach with that small group and will do the same here. It may not work perfectly with your organization, but it will hopefully at least provide a starting point for better leveraging the powerful messaging of your constituents.
Step 1: Develop a Social Media Policy
This may seem like an obvious first step, but what does your organization’s social media policy look like? After years of having a somewhat rogue, fire-at-will social media policy, the reach and influence of our social media accounts grew to the point that we clearly needed a policy to guide our actions. The policy we drafted laid out the details of what is appropriate to post/not post and the official hashtags and school accounts we want people to use in order to ensure people are sharing to a common place where your official accounts can reshare. Our policy went one step further, however, and provided constituents with rationale for why we want social media to be a part of our school’s branding efforts. By discussing the WHY, and not just the HOW, behind using social media, we provide transparent education to our internal constituents as we guide them toward being effective brand ambassadors.
Step 2: Have Face to Face Conversations With Your Constituents About This Policy
This is perhaps the most overlooked step in creating an effective social media policy, but your policy does you no good unless people access it! You must cut through the incessant digital noise that consumes us and have actual human interactions with people. A policy can live in the student/faculty handbook and on your website, you can email it to the community, but it will never truly have an impact on your branding efforts until you have face to face conversations with people. These conversations in our community have ranged from discussing the power of student use of social media on Proctor’s branding to one-on-one conversations with program leaders who are launching their own social media accounts linked to the school.
The effectiveness of these face-to-face conversations lies entirely in the way you approach them. By framing the conversations around empowerment, rather than policing, people have a far greater willingness to buy-in to the policy. Educating students and program leaders around the opportunity they have to help shape Proctor’s brand by leveraging their personal networks creates excitement. Telling people they can’t post something crushes excitement. Let’s face it, very few people dislike their school, most adore it and want the best for it. Providing the structure through which constituents can help share mission-centric social media content provides a tangible, low-barrier avenue for constituents to contribute to the school’s advancement.
Step 3: Align Crowdsourcing with Specific Interests
One of the challenges schools face is creating content that elicits emotion with their constituents. This post discusses the value in having multiple Facebook pages to pique interest around specific programs/constituents. Maybe your lacrosse coach starts her own Twitter account, your theater department has a Facebook page, and your Admissions team wants to run their own accounts. This is all fine, as long as you can effectively corral the rogue content generators and have them buy into your plan.
Having multiple Facebook pages, Twitter accounts or Instagram accounts will also help engage each constituent base in a way they want to be engaged. Those who want to hear about lacrosse scores will get to do so. Sneak preview into the theater production will be posted to the theater Facebook page and those who like it can see it. If you have people excited about a specific area of your school, capitalize on that excitement and spark crowdsourced content that your communications office would never have time to create.
Step 4: Empower A Content Curator
After gaining access to crowdsourced content, the role of content curator takes the reigns to ensure your school brand remains consistent. Schools not only need to create unique, original content, but also need to broaden the scope of their social media platform to curate content from crowd-sourced material and mission-centric articles, links, images from outside sources. Hopefully, your efforts in the first three steps of this blog help more mission-centric content enter your content stream, but you still need to have someone who can manage and curate and consistent brand for your school. This role should not be underestimated — it is the single most important in ensuring a consistent digital brand. Be sure you have the right person to solicit, filter (It’s ok to say to someone, “No, your content isn’t quite in line with what we want to promote, but here’s what you could do to tweak it.”), schedule, and deliver your school’s content within the right context so it is digested by the right people, at the right time, at the right place.