The social media track for this year’s eduWEB conference seemed promising enough to justify the trip from Vancouver to Texas.
I can only comment on the social media track, but many of the attendees are stuck in a higher education bubble, have the same fixations as each other and have similar levels of social media sophistication. One attendee had been to eduWEB four years in a row and told me the presentations hadn’t changed much in that time. More on how I felt about the conference later.
There were two standout sessions for me.
The first morning of eduWEB began with pre-conference workshops. I attended a workshop presented by Fritz McDonald and Kate Beihl from Mount Mercy University. With Fritz’s direction, myself and around sixteen professionals involved in social media shared our on-the-job experiences.
My takeaways from The Conversation Tree: The Art of Social Media Content workshop:
- Community managers are not the centre of the universe, but hold equal weight among the community.
- Shouting how great we are from our soap box has limited value. We’re not going to repeat our mission statement every time we talk to someone.
- Social media content is talk. Everything on social media happens because of talk (relationships, sharing, branding, community building). Everything is talk (photos, texts, games, bookmarks).
- As you build your community, members may need spoon feeding, but they’ll soon spoon feed others. (Awesome soundbite from Kate).
- Inspire your community to lead conversation and share content. Empower the community to run the community. Elevate community members into leadership and management positions. Give them a level of ownership and take the back seat – their involvement is more important than yours.
I was shocked to discover community managers treating their university social channels like personal accounts, e.g. being forwarded a ‘quirky’ YouTube clip by a friend, thinking this is super funny, and posting this to the university Facebook wall to generate discussion. It’s been my experience that university-related and valuable on-topic posts can generate thoughtful interactions. This tactic of posting ‘popular’ YouTube videos is condescending to say the least.
People like and follow you for reasons specific to your university. Trying to force engagement in this way is a cheap tactic and is not sustainable. Whether your community consists of prospective students, undergrad or grad students, they’re in the midst of an extremely complex period of their lives. They have genuine concerns and viewpoints on things affecting them and their world. If you post unrelated content that they can find through their own friends (and forwarded emails), how can you expect them to find unique value from your community?
Don’t assume they’re going to be interested in the same things you are, especially in your university’s forum. In the words of Diane McDonald from Texas A&M University, ‘It’s not my Facebook page where I insert my own wit and humor.’ This tweet from a US college illustrates my point:
The only other social media session worth mentioning is a presentation by Lauren Vargas from Radian6. She was engaging, knowledgeable and walked the walk. Lauren practised storytelling while preaching storytelling.
My takeaways from her session, The Nine Hats (and Counting) of a Community Manager:
- Social media isn’t going to fix your marketing or customer service problems. Have your house in order.
- Community managers are participants in the community, not owners.
- It’s incredibly important to understand the consumer decision-making process. (I love this one because it speaks to the fact not everyone can ‘do social media’).
- You must understand the environments and communities you want to embrace and identify relevant conversations.
- Be externally-focused, use storytelling. You don’t write about yourself, the same with goes when representing your institution – It’s not about you, it’s about them.
- You are a teacher for others in your institution. Figure out the golden nuggets to share with colleagues. You are the social media representative, find out how social media is affecting other departments and keep them in the loop.
- Sync social media with business goals and map the entire process.
Lauren Vargas was by far the most captivating social media presenter and attendees at Fritz McDonald’s and Kate Beihl’s workshop were fortunate to gain insight into their peers’ use of social media.
It was a hit-and-miss event. This is the risk you run attending an industry-based conference and not a topic-based one. Much of the social media track was targeted toward beginners and left seasoned professionals wondering where higher ed has been for the last 4 years.
eduWEB should challenge presenters to deliver insightful and constructive sessions rather than advocate ‘this is why you should be on social media’ and ‘this is the difference between Twitter and Facebook’. We’re past that – especially for a $595 registration fee.