I believe that success is a behavior, not a moment in time.
When applied to social media infrastructure in higher education, success-as-behavior means a culture where ideas and strategy for social media come from many sources, are finely tuned by professionals, guided by vested administrators and leaders, and executed properly.
As I learned via recent (non-client) interactions,Michigan State is one university that is taking social media strategy seriously. The leadership at MSU has provided the resources and staff necessary to improve the university’s reputation through social media efforts.
To learn more about how MSU plans to succeed, I asked Paul Prewitt (@paulprewitt on Twitter), Director of Online Engagement and the leader of a new unit within Advancement Marketing and Communications at Michigan State, to comment on the content strategies and organizational structure that MSU employs to support its social media efforts. I discuss Paul’s responses in the following section and list the full Q&A at the end of this post.
Social media outcomes must be measurable for a university. There is simply no way around that fact. If a university is going to direct funding and resources to staffing for social media, especially if that institution is publicly-supported, there must be a visible return on investment. This does not mean exclusively how many “likes” or “followers” or “check-ins” that efforts accumulate, but more importantly, how social media facilitates donation of real dollars, helps gather valuable demographic data, improves message delivery, and sustains conversations with real people that otherwise might not have occurred. The “otherwise might not have occurred” element is the most critical piece.
At Michigan State, one of the ways University Advancement measures the success of social media behavior is through managing the accuracy of its alumni database. Using social media, MSU reaches out to and gathers valuable contact information from its alums, which it can then use to solicit gifts–another measurable outcome.
SUPPORT FROM SENIOR LEADERSHIP
As I’ve discussed before, content strategy that integrates social media is futile unless it has serious (and real) support from senior-level university/college leadership. This is particularly evident when departments within a university must coordinate messages and calls-to-action. Even if the organization espouses a culture of openness that makes it easy to share ideas, universities are historically hierarchical. This means that senior leadership must be able to understand social media tools and enable their departments to engage with others outside of their supervisor’s purview.
At MSU, careful thought went into establishing reporting lines and classic “dotted-lines” to ensure that communication channels are kept clear and persistent. Without such reporting structures, social media would likely become a victim of competing tasks and agenda items. By empowering a leader to champion social media content strategy through multiple reporting channels, the likelihood of achieving measurable results is much higher. Such a strategy does not guarantee outcomes, but it does ensure consistent scrutiny and analysis of how well the organization is engaging audiences via social media.
TRUST IN THE TEAM
An organization that is best organized for social media success is one that allows (and even requires) team members from various department to share ideas, discuss areas of concern, and get direct feedback from senior officials. If the “social media director” or equivalent does not meet regularly with the administration, then there is a huge risk that the outcomes of social media will not align with the organizational mission.
At MSU, this means an “open door” policy where not only are senior leaders available for discussion, but they have direct reports, such as Paul, who are responsible for fostering these interactions.
MAKE SOCIAL MEDIA SOCIAL
It appears that at MSU, the biggest opportunity for further improvement is through internal networking of peers and colleagues. MSU’s culture of openness is coupled with the expectation that each team member will contribute to meeting the desired goals of its social media marketing program. Paul and his team are beginning to lay the foundation for coming together as communications colleagues in a social media work group to document and share best practices, policies, and generally-accepted standards for measuring success.
One of the challenges of such a group is determining when to 1) coordinate, 2) integrate, or 3) separate efforts. This means determining the real value of certain communications to the institution as a whole and/or to its various constituents. These determinations are made when the people behind the efforts come together in real life and discuss how social media efforts can amplify institutional messages.
As I have witnessed in my experience at Washington University in St. Louis, a “Social Media Working Group” can be the foundation of a University’s effort to define and document social media policy and strategy guidelines. These are two unique items. First, a social media policy is an effort to provide structure and guidance to departments on campus as they decide to share content on Facebook, Twitter, etc. It is an important policy document especially during emergencies or moments of heightened awareness. Second, strategy guidelines are internal documents that enable departments and university officials to define how specific tools, such as Facebook, are to be used; discusses how to define audiences; suggests the proper voice and content for the tool; outlines rules for commenting and removal or correction of audience comments; and also describes how to capture metrics and performance data.
Typically, a social media policy is public while a social media strategy guideline document is written for each tool (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc..) and is kept as an internal document. For Michigan State, this list of social media accounts would be a great start for bringing together people into a social media work group: http://www.msu.edu/social/
Clearly, Michigan State University’s Advancement Marketing & Communications office is making a strategic effort to integrate the use of social media into the communicative culture of its organization. This means forming a dedicated and accountable staff, providing access to senior leadership, creating a culture of trust, and most importantly, understanding that the outcomes of social media efforts must be measurable.
Notably, MSU has an opportunity to widen its effort beyond University Advancement by reaching out and collaborating with other university entities. As you’ll see in Paul’s responses in the Q&A below, that is their plan. I believe that fulfilling this intention will keep MSU on the forefront of social media strategy.
MSU is an example of social media success.
Note: I am in no way affiliated with Michigan State University. These are my independent thoughts and observations.
Q&A WITH MSU ADVANCEMENT MARKETING OFFICE
Feedback provided by Paul Prewitt (@paulprewitt on Twitter), Director of Online Engagement, the lead in a new unit within Advancement Marketing and Communications at Michigan State.
Describe your organizational mission and how it is reflected in the structure of social media/web in your division and university. How did the current structure evolve?
Three years ago, MSU merged the Development and Alumni operations into a new University Advancement division. With this change, the communications and marketing for both organizations were also merged into one team. Both teams had separately developed web teams and were using separate email marketing tools. The combined web team took over all responsibilities for managing the MSUAA and the fundraising websites; however the content development and editing for these sites remained a communications function. Two years ago, as part of a new campaign staffing plan, it was decided that a new Online Engagement team was necessary to help develop strategy and manage content for all email and online content for University Advancement. Last spring, we began the process of creating this team.
This new team reports directly to the Assistant Vice President for Advancement Marketing and Communications and works very closely with members of the Marketing & Communications team as well as the web team. The Online Engagement team ‘owns’ online strategy, content development and email communications. The web team is responsible for site development and infrastructure and web hardware.
How often do staff and management discuss social media and content strategies? Are these meetings part of a regular routine or as needed? Please describe and provide examples.
Let me start by saying that my position and I are both relatively new to the MSU Advancement Marketing & Communications team; I started on Sept. 6, 2011. However, I can still give some insight to how the staff and management discuss digital communication strategies.
To start off with my boss Bob Thomas, AVP of Advancement Marketing & Communications, will openly say that the number one part of my job is to “be in strategic directional meetings” to enhance and improve our efforts with online engagement (not just social media). For example, I was included in a half-day long strategic meeting with the VP of Advancement, AVP of Advancement Information Systems & Donor Strategy, AVP of Advancement Marketing & Communications, AVP of Alumni Relations, and key high-level alumni volunteers to discuss the value of “engagement” and how to measure it here at MSU.
Secondly, and more importantly, the MSU Advancement work methodology is that of an “open door” environment. This allows staff (myself included) easy access to any of the senior management staff to discuss our efforts, ideas and thoughts.
As for the content strategy meetings, all I’ll say is that they are coming soon. I’ve been charged with helping to create an atmosphere where “print does NOT equal web.” My starting goal will be to make sure that online communications are at the forefront of projects to help us continue to make sure our online efforts are not developed as an afterthought.
How do you collaborate (or hope to) with other campus communicators? Is there a committee or group of people for sharing and learning? If so, what form does it take?
The Advancement Marketing & Communications team is a part of the Campus Communicators Group here at MSU. The group is designed as an open meeting to allow everyone the opportunity to share and learn from each other.
I’m also working with the Interim VP of University Relations and her team to develop a “new media” marketing group for Michigan State University. The purpose of the group will be to create a collaborative learning and sharing environment for new media efforts across the campus.
Also we are working on creating social networks for our colleagues across the campus to help them while also getting them comfortable with being in a social networking environment.
For example, the MSU Advancement HR Office has created a LinkedIn group for MSU Advancement Professionals. This group allows them to network with each other professionally and share (or request) resources to make their jobs easier; all while getting them acquainted with LinkedIn. Michigan State University is the first university to join LinkedIn’s College Pilot Program.
How do you measure the success of your social media strategies? Is this measurement reviewed and contributed to by senior leadership such as the President, Provost, etc?
The success of our strategies will be based around our ability to answer a simple question, “So what?”
Although it is common for Higher Education to get stuck on the “window shopper” metrics such as total page views, fans, members or followers I prefer to have much more valuable measurements. Don’t get me wrong, having window shoppers is definitely a must for any store but that is not how you measure success. My way of thinking on this comes from being in the advancement profession, along with having an undergraduate degree in business, where we always have a “bottom line” goal that we are working towards. Thus, just like the store, we appreciate the window shoppers but will measure our success by their impact on our bottom line.
So what are some of our bottom line measurables? The first and most obvious would be donations, but that would be a macro goal and we all know there are many micro goals that can be tracked along the way. The most important micro goal for us would be “constituent profile data” as we cannot ask our constituents for a donation without having their address, phone or email. Along with these measurable options I get to help define “What is engagement?” and how we’ll measure it here at Michigan State University Advancement.
Therefore, by using this model of “So what?” or as Bob Groves, the VP of Advancement would say, “Now what?” we will be able to have any senior leadership member at MSU help assess and contribute to our overall “new media” strategies.
What level of autonomy does advancement marketing have to respond quickly to social media and emerging content needs?
This is probably one of the best parts to working in MSU Advancement Marketing & Communications and the largest factor to my wanting to come here from Arkansas (yes, it’s noticeably colder). The entire team is given a high level of autonomy to help make sure that we get the best work done in a timely and professional manner. However, with autonomy comes accountability! Although we strongly believe in the “team” environment where “we succeed or fail together” each team member is held accountable for doing their best to help us succeed as a team.
With regards to our marketing efforts there will always be a level of acceptable failure. For “If one does not fail at times, then one has not challenged himself,” said Ferdinand Porsche. The challenge is rather to make sure that our failures are educational and we continue to improve based on our efforts. This will allow us to turn failures into successes as we grow.
Do you have enough staff to accomplish your goals? Why or why not? And, how does your social media staff interact with web (design, tech) teams? Please provide examples.
Some might find it surprising but when asked “What would you do with an additional $100,000 budget to improve social media efforts?” I will always recommend that the first choice be to hire the right person. Although I know of a few great tools that can quickly help to improve social media efforts at any university (that is not currently using them) I strongly believe that without the right people the tools are doomed to fail. Tools must be put in the right hands to see success.
However, with all that said, I would say that the MSU Advancement Marketing & Communication staffing model (PDF) has definitely put a good amount of human capital into achieve our online marketing goals. Also, another good part about our model is that we have pulled “new media” out from the “web services” team and have clearly defined the roles of both units.
I would honestly say that the “team” environment is what makes this model truly work. Anyone regardless of their position within MSU Advancement can share ideas or thoughts, knowing that we will all respect and value their ideas or thoughts. I know that sounds too good to be true but that really is the environment here.
However, for the Higher Education Administrators reading this, we have basically established an invisible dashed reporting line between the Director of Online Engagement and the Director of Web Services (they must be on the same page with all major projects). This puts the forward facing end user interactions (e-marketing efforts) in the Online Engagement unit and the web design and production within the Web Services unit.
For example, the AVP of Alumni Relations and I decided that we could do more with the MSU Alumni Association’s Facebook presence to increase “likes” and hopefully increase the number of subscribers to our e-newsletter. After finding some ideas on ways to accomplish this we meet with the director of Web Services to see what we could do (technically). Thus, the Web Services unit became responsible for producing any FBML and other web materials (used with the iFrame feature). Last, after the enhancements are implemented, the Online Engagement unit will be responsible for marketing the new feature and driving the success of the overall project.
Thus, as with any great marketing and communications group, the thing that makes us successful is our ability to operate as a TEAM. Together Everyone Achieves More!