The advantages of social media for college presidents

Using social media platforms is a cost-effective way to reach your target audiences while promoting your institution’s brand. Those who don’t employ social media are missing out on ways of communicating efficiently and quickly to stakeholders. What’s not to “like”?

The Miller report

When Scott Miller was appointed president of Bethany College in 2007, he and Marylouise Fennell created and tested a long-term social media strategy. The strategy focused on reinforcing the brand of a nationally ranked liberal arts college in a rural section of West Virginia, and on further engaging an already loyal base of alumni and friends.
In 2015, Miller was appointed president of Virginia Wesleyan University. Here, he has established multiple social media platforms that he uses as president. This is in addition to his visibility through regular e-cards, e-blasts and opinion pieces; monthly presidential e- letters; a weekly online newsletter; and online commentaries for The Virginian- Pilot, HuffPost and other news outlets.

Miller controls eight different platforms from multiple devices, including a desktop computer, iPhone and iPad. Among his platforms are Flickr, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a daily blog about campus life that feeds into the university’s website. All of Miller’s content reinforces the branding message of Virginia Wesleyan University.

In January 2015, Miller was one of 22 presidents profiled in Dan Zaiontz’s book #FollowTheLeader: Lessons in Social Media Success from #HigherEd CEOs.

The following month, he was named one of the top 14 presidents publishing op-eds in 2014 in a national study by PhairAdvantage Communications. He ranked third in the survey behind Michael Roth of Wesleyan University and Dustin Swanger, former president of Fulton-Montgomery Community College in New York.

Maintaining presence

Higher education administrators use social media in many ways. Some give students a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a university president. Presidents celebrate, advocate, recognize campus achievements, or simply interact, responding to questions, comments and concerns.

Current students and young alumni use Twitter and Instagram more often than Facebook, while donors and parents gravitate toward other platforms.

Different audiences gravitate toward different platforms and content. For instance, current students and young alumni use Twitter and Instagram more often than Facebook, while donors and parents gravitate toward other platforms.

Here are a few highlights on creating and maintaining an effective social media presence:

  • Social media platforms quickly and effectively allow you to send multiple, tailored messages to diverse audiences. The various functions of each platform allow you to expand your audience.
  • Social media platforms permit you to control the frequency and distribution of messages; keeping content fresh is a must.
  • You can engage with a variety of constituents with tools that gauge the interests and concerns of your audience.

Through analytics provided by a platform, you can see how many users view and interact with your post. Some platforms allow you to “time-deliver” messages to balance distribution.

In times of crisis, social media platforms are essential for distributing timely alerts, messages and updates. Their use not only gets out important information quickly, but also reinforces the administration’s 24/7 focus on communications.

The impact of a social media strategy far outweighs the time needed to implement it. And it’s clearly here to stay.

Marylouise Fennell, a former president of Carlow University in Pennsylvania, is senior counsel for the Council of Independent Colleges and principal of Hyatt Fennell, a higher education search firm. Scott D. Miller is president of Virginia Wesleyan University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This piece originally appeared in Enrollment Manager, a publication of Dwyer Education Strategies, and is reprinted here by permission.