Ease your student supervision speed bumps.

12 Must Have Skills for Student Social Media Strategists

Do you supervise students who run social media on behalf of a university program? Are you a student tasked with this? Have you, as a student or supervisor, ever thought about the skills required to accomplish this?

Whether you are a campus professional or college student, being asked to manage any kind of social media platform is not as simple as it seems.

“Oh yeah, just tweet a few times this week,” or “Take photos on your phone to post on Instagram,” or “Can you please share this post with all of your Facebook friends?” or “Hey can you get us 100 more followers on Instagram by the end of the month?”

None of these statements offer guidance or support to you. But I bet you have heard them…or you are going to.


Last year I shared a post on how we should train student leaders holistically on social media. This goes beyond teaching social media strategy, and applying competency-based outcomes into digital leader development.  Read more about these (here). This post, however, goes back to the strategy of social media; many student leaders are tasked in this responsibility.

Getting hired to Tweet sounds like a pretty cool responsibility – and it is! But students who are charged with running social media accounts for the institution, a department, program or university leader need more than just the user name and password to these accounts. Students managing social media accounts need to be formed into social media strategists.

This post breaks down 12 must have skills that student social media strategists need. However it is not  exhaustive. What would you add or subtract to this list? What about the skills required of a higher education professional supervising a student social media strategist? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #SAsome.

1. Understand Your University

Running an account on behalf of your university is not an easy task. One wrong post could end up on Buzzfeed or your local nightly news. The media loves a social media mess.

To set yourself up for success, the first skill you need to acquire is getting to know the major players and procedures on campus. You need to have open communication, especially with your direct supervisor. If they do not offer specific expectations and training, you need to demand this.  I’m not joking. Go into their office right now.

shutterstock_193437935If you need some more resources on running social media accounts in higher education, start with a post I wrote last year on social media strategy in higher education. Some expectations should include many of the items presented on this list. However each campus is different. They may restrict what platforms you can create, logo usage or whether you can include certain people (like kids) in photos.  

Further, getting to know your university involves reviewing the campus mission statement, vision, and values. Ask yourself if there is any content that would not align with the mission of the university.

2. Be Aware of Policies (campus, local community, state, national & platform specific)

shutterstock_241531489Building from skill number one, being aware of policies is an advanced skill of being a student social media strategist. Every campus has a variety of policies that may or may not apply to you as a student (depending on if this for a campus job, work-study, leadership position, volunteer etc). Look into policies that connect computer use or technology, as well as social media.

Further, keep updated on state legislature or federal laws that could impact how you approach your tasks. I have written about some of these just in California (here).

Finally, every platform has terms of services in how businesses can use their services. For example, Facebook Pages are required of businesses and not Facebook personal pages. Pinterest also wants business to not be designated as people.

3. Accuracy Above All Else

Spelling and listing correct information may seem like a simple task – but a very common mistake made online. From room locations to tagging people, make it your priority to get it right.  Read it three times before posting – then read it again.

Communication skills are also present that include being appropriate, engaging and responsive. This includes verbal and written communication.

Part of the accuracy skill is a balancing act of accounts. There are too many examples by professional social media managers who thought they were Tweeting from their personal accounts – only to tweet out inappropriate content from the professional companies page.  Both the Red Cross and Chrysler are included on this list.

4. Plan with a Purpose

One Tweet or Facebook post per day does not make a solid social media strategy. Reflect deeper about what the goals of your office/area/program/department/university. How can digital communication tools further the efforts to connect the student experience – and not just how many followers can you reach?

shutterstock_180364424Part of this process is really getting to know your audience. This includes the audience you currently have (following/friending/subscribing) and those you want to be part of your social tools.

Planning year round requires you to pay attention to the ebb and flow of the academic calendar, as well as holidays, campus events, etc. Look into tools like Hootsuite, which will allow you to plan out posts in advance, and manage multiple accounts.

For more about social media strategy, review my some of my social media best practices in higher education

5. Be Approachable & Interact

Don’t be socially (media) awkward. Social media is like a dance between two partners. While one may lead (post content) the partner (subscribers, followers) make it an art form for those watching wanting to be part of. To be an approachable social media manager, content should not only connect with your audience but you should prioritize interaction. A comment on your content is a gift! Simple goal, reply to everything.

This approach asks social media strategists to move away from using social media for only marketing. Look at your content to add value to your community, such celebrating others. If 50% or more of your Facebook or Twitter content is only about your program, you are doing it wrong.

6. Connect & Collaborate with other Student Social Media Strategists

shutterstock_276926147Chances are, you are not the only student on campus running a university related social media account. From a Greek organization officer, to part-time employee at the rec center, all areas of campus are attempting to use students to be the voice of social accounts. These students probably have the same questions and experiences as you.

A simple way to move in this direction is to collaborate with other students on campus; to provide additional support to their own social media efforts. Simple RT’s and shares are great ways to spread the campus love. Build upon these collaborative efforts for future intentional strategies in the future.  

7. Re-imagine Existing Content

The fantastic part about the Internet is the viral nature of popular content – that can be easily found, shared, remixed and referred to such as YouTube videos, memes and lists.  If, for example, you are managing a first year experience Facebook page – what are the common experiences for freshman students from July to May? What were the popular cartoons and fashion trends as kids ten years ago that could be found in a trending video or meme?

Note on this skill: use discretion and maybe even seek out approval for content that may toe the edge of appropriate. Just because you think a photo from Tumblr is hilarious, doesn’t mean it is the right fit for the accounts you manage. Same thing with content that relates back to political or controversial views that wouldn’t align with the university.  Finally, consider copyright. Always always always properly credit where content was shared from/by. Do not ever claim content as your own unless you really did created it.

8. Go Live & other in-the-Moment Methods

This skill has two parts. First, is staying attuned to trends within social media, as well as carving out the time to make them happen.

The latest social media applications have a common component – live content. The success of Periscope, Meerkat, and SnapChat shows youth are drawn to these applications because of  the instant access to realtime content.  The likelihood that your campus is active on even one of these is low. As a student social media strategist (already mastering the skills above) I want you to start thinking about how you can capture live content. From campus concerts, featured lectures, move-in and on and on. Be the voice for what social media applications students are actually using, and why.

28230565_mlThe challenge – you are only one person who also is trying to be a student! You may not be able to share live content every week. Maybe part of your live strategy is simple: Periscope you in the office answering questions or giving an office/campus tour. You can also build this skill into more common platforms, like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Get pictures up on Facebook from a function within 24 hours. Live Tweet at your events. Post on Instagram immediately.

9. Recover from Hiccups

You are going to have a hiccup. Either your phone will die when live-Tweeting or streaming an event, or a post will have the wrong date/time, or someone will be offended by a picture, etc. You need to have a plan for problems. From having a phone charger/extra battery to strategic plan for responding (or not respond) to outside news agencies.

shutterstock_103782935Work with your supervisor on coming up with the advanced scenarios, including who should be called after hours, whether a post will be deleted, who manages the accounts on the weekends, and so on.

Know you are not alone. Seriously. Google your scenario and there will be other stories. Learn from them and be open to share you own, especially with other student social media strategists on campus. This experience will be a perfect job interview answer to, “Describe how you have recovered from a mistakes on the job.” Learn from it, improve from it, and be better from it.

10. Show the Impact

Even if your boss or advisor doesn’t ask for it, provide consistent updates and measurable outcomes of what you are up to online. Set goals and track progress. The most basic is an Excel spreadsheet that tracks weekly posts, responses and shares.

shutterstock_92765635However most social tools spoon-feed you with analytics pulled from likes, favorites, shares, follows, etc.  Use this to tell your story and why positions like you are important to the university.  Ask if you can share these statistics not only with your supervisor/advisor (both stats and quotes), but also with others on campus, such as the Dean of Students or Student Body President. This will provide additional skills in program evaluation and documentation generation.

11. Student Personalities Matter

Chances are, if you have been given a social media account to run for the university, they want to connect with students. This means the account should have a personality that appears as a real student would. This is great news for you as an actual student, but is actually a bit more challenging than it seems. This doesn’t mean that your personality is going to be the personality of the page.  But what?!

Go back to your reflections on who is your audience for the page. Is it first year students, seniors, alumni? Now go into creative mode. Write down three personality &/or character traits of your pages’ personality (e.g.  funny, out-of-state student, outgoing).


Go further. What residence hall do they live in? Where do they park on campus? Major? What perspective would this personality have about campus life?  All of this matters for the final skill a student social media strategists needs: to create the future you.

12. Create the Future You

Say this with me: “I am going to graduate!” Even if it seems like graduation is far away, it will come – it better! This means when you graduate, you will no longer be running these university relates social media pages. That is, unless you do so amazing they hire you. Even better!

shutterstock_283656011But for most student social media strategists, this experience is just one page along your career novel. This is awesome. Use this position to provide you unique skills that you can easily articulate in interviews as transferable skills. No matter the field – every industry is exploring the use of social media to connect with clients.

Setting up the future you means ensuring this “new you” will have everything they need to be successful. This include usernames, passwords, technology, lessons learned, contacts and more. Ideally before you graduate or move on to your next campus position you would provide hands-on training to you 2.0.

If this is not possible, ensure you have handed everything off to your supervisor/advisor. As a final step, delete any accounts from your phone from your previous position and remove yourself as an admin from related accounts.

BONUS POINTS: New Media Specialized Skills

I see a very specialized set of skills that are setting any social media strategist/manager apart from others. This includes their abilities in shooting quality photos, as well as producing and editing video content

Further, those that can create original content through design skills are a priceless skill set in new media presentation.

Final Thoughts

Have fun and good luck to all those that run social media accounts at campuses around the globe. Both students and full-time professionals as social media strategists are an emerging field – which comes with emerging sets of skills. Connect with others using Hashtags like #casesmc #satech #SAsome #hesm to stay fresh on the latest learning.

What would you add or subtract to this list? What about the skills required of a higher education professional supervisor a student social media strategist? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #SAsome.

Are you a student social media strategist? I’d love to hear about your experience! Please email me at info@josieahlquist.com to give me your reactions to this post and what is (or is not working) for you in this role.

12 Must Have Skills for Student Social Media Strategists

  1. Understand Your University
  2. Be Aware of Policies
  3. Accuracy Above All Else
  4. Plan with a Purpose
  5. Be Approachable & Interact
  6. Connect & Collaborate with other Student Strategists
  7. Re-imagine Existing Content
  8. Go Live & Other in-the-Moment Methods
  9. Recover from Hiccups
  10. Show the Impact
  11. Student Personalities Matter
  12. Create the Future You

BONUS POINTS: New Media Specialized Skills: Video, Photo & Design

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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