Hey Higher Ed: Has Your Social Media Gone Gremlins or Gangbusters?

I love to turn to movies to explain the order of the universe. Even the goofy, really bad ones some of us secretly loved, like the campy 1984 horror comedy “Gremlins.”

For those of you who missed out, here’s the synopsis: There’s this guy, Billy, whose dad buys him a Mogwai, this weird yet adorable “Precious-Moments” type of creature. They name him Gizmo. There are three rules to owning Mogwais: Don’t expose them to bright light, don’t get them wet, and whatever you do, be sure not to feed them after midnight. Of course, halfway through the film, all the rules have been broken, causing Gizmo to spawn a bunch of evil little reptilian gremlins who wreak havoc on everything.

Creative-Commons licensed Gremlin pic by Inti.

Right now in higher education, social media is our Gizmo. We think social media’s adorable; we’re trying to take care of it, do all the right stuff with it. And this has led us to doing some wonderfully creative things and taking some interesting risks to reach our constituents in new ways.

The flip side to this giddiness? Those of us who are marketers and communicators at our schools are experiencing this mad rush by every department, division and program on campus who all want their own Facebook Pages, their own YouTube and Twitter and Pinterest accounts. On one hand, it’s cool because we’ve been dying for our campuses to try new things. On the other hand, it’s crazy, with random Facebook Pages popping up every day for things like the Office of Financial Aid. In other words, well-intentioned, important programs and offices that may not have the time, knowledge, or resources to market their content effectively.

How will students know where to look when they’re bombarded with so many places at once, all these voices and announcements? Isn’t this why they’re ignoring their university email accounts? Seems like if left unchecked, it could become a real Gremlins-type of situation. As we brace ourselves for another busy year, here are my rules for not having our social media go Gremlins on us:

1. Have tools and resources at the ready to deal with the flurry of social media creation.

A few years ago, Frostburg’s Social Media Group put our heads together and created eFrostburg Community. It’s got everything from a registry where faculty and staff can register their social media to social media guidelines to a downloadable marketing guide. We did this so we could empower people to educate themselves on how to use social media effectively (empowering people is always the way to go, versus dictating, in my opinion).

When a department or office calls me to talk about launching a social media site, I first invite them to check out eFrostburg Community’s resources and then we meet to discuss it. This gives them a better idea of how they can use social media to their advantage and sometimes even convinces them they don’t need their own Facebook Page after all.

2. If you don’t have one already, create an editorial calendar and use it to convince people that they may not need their own social media site.

One of the best things you can do if you work with social media is create an editorial calendar of regular features that highlight your university’s most important marketing and branding priorities. It keeps you organized in how you plan content, makes things less daunting, etc. The best thing: it makes it so you can highlight something for someone without them worrying about creating their own social media.

I often ask people if I could simply promote their area through a feature on one of the well-established official university social media accounts I oversee, instead of them launching their own communities. I present it to them as something that could make their lives easier and point out how it might get more visibility that way. This sometimes works out really well.

3. Don’t worry about student organizations’ social media.

I realize not everyone agrees on this, but I think worrying about student organizations’ social media is a huge waste of time. They are going to create their own stuff regardless of what faculty and staff want them to do. And we should be okay with that … what better way for them to get ready for careers than experiment with marketing their groups online?

In the best case scenario, student affairs and career services should hold regular workshops with student organizations on social media topics like privacy, personal branding and job searching, etc. But I don’t think communications staff need to add micromanaging student social media to their plate. Trying to control students on social media is a fruitless endeavor. Same goes for rogue alumni groups.

4. Cultivate a culture of excellence by acknowledging those on campus who do social media well.

Last year, I attended a faculty chairs meeting to do a presentation on eFrostburg Community; the meeting happened to fall on Valentine’s Day. So I created certificates of appreciation for the departments who were doing excellent work in marketing their programs on social media, saying I wanted to “show them some love.” I also handed out Ghiradelli’s chocolate. Doing little things that let people know you appreciate them is always nice, especially if it inspires a little department-to-department colleague competition! And especially if it involves chocolate.

So in conclusion, feeding higher ed people chocolate, at any time of day or even after midnight, is okay. Letting them run rampant with their social media without some helpful guidelines, suggestions and resources in place that can empower them to use social media well may lead to chaos.

These are my ideas … what are you doing at your institution? I’d love to hear from and learn from you. Hit me up with the comments below.

Becca Ramspott (@beccaramspott) is a writer and social media specialist at Frostburg State University who leads FSU’s Social Media Group. Her past projects include organizing a social media scavenger hunt for alumni, crowdsourcing YouTube video contests and creating a “graduation gift” of resources for Frostburg’s Class of 2012 on Pinterest. She also writes features stories, Web content and select communications for FSU’s president, Dr. Jonathan Gibralter.