Ease your student supervision speed bumps.

Best Practices vs. Reasonable Expectations for Social Media Managers in Higher Ed

As the role of higher ed social media managers and the adoption and influence of platforms continues to evolve, establishing best practices and setting reasonable expectations for yourself, your team, and your institution is critical. And as our industry grows and we are continually challenged to stretch ourselves, how do we find balance before burnout? In this Higher Ed Digital Communities Panel, higher ed social media and marketing directors will discuss how to adapt and establish best practices, but also look at setting boundaries, establishing expectations, and advocating for oneself and one’s team.

About the Higher Ed Digital Community Builders

Founded and organized by Dr. Josie Ahlquist, this space is a clubhouse for higher education professionals to connect, reimagine and transform how we build genuine campus digital communities and strategic online engagement experiences. Every week, community members share resources, discussions, and opportunities to further develop digital communities that serve our students, families, and partners in timely, innovative, and supportive ways. Join our group today! 

Highlighted Content from Panelists

Links to what was mentioned during the panel (Click on the Image for Links). 

03:38 As social media platforms continue to change, how do you stay informed of these changes? What are some resources you use to stay informed and keep up with the trend?

Just because some platforms work well for other institutions doesn’t mean that it suits your brand, so you don’t have to be on every channel. It’s about finding what resonates with you, what you are doing, and what you have results for.


8:55 As leaders within your areas, how do you evaluate when it’s time to make a change based on platform updates? And how does your role influence this decision?

15:06 What are some of your tips for adapting to social media changes? How do you make the decision to stop or start doing something?

Sometimes social media managers might feel pressured to get on a new social media platform due to external pressure, but if you take an honest look at the content and resources you have, they can answer the question on whether you should or are ready to go to the next platform. It’s ok to say: we are not ready yet. And sometimes it’s worth the wait.

17:58 When did you have to say no, or give a time-out on platform and strategy? How did you navigate those experiences?

Jenny - When I’m saying no, I have to check if I’m saying no from a place of love and not fear. Those decisions are well-received because I can back it up by saying I’m not saying no because I’m scared of the outcome, I’m saying no because it’s not the right thing to do.

24:21 What’s your recommendation to balance and talk strategically about resources?

29:22 How do you establish expectations for yourself, your team, and your supervisor?

Sometimes when people just toss content in your direction, I find it helpful to respond with “Thank you and I will take a look at it, though I cannot promise you that we will be posting this”. Because when and if they follow up with me, I can have an educational conversation with them about what type of the content we do publish and build that relationship with them. When I initially respond with No, I find that they tend to push harder for us to accept content and there’s no opportunity for education.

34:49 How do you build relationships with other colleagues and stakeholders?

Despite the fact that there is a stereotype that social media managers are extroverts and life of the party, I think a lot of the time our social media managers are the best listeners, who have a pulse on an audience that other folks might not have the reach for.

When leadership reaches out for the first time to share content, I would work with them and give them a follow-up on the engagement of that content to encourage them to share more in the future. It's kind of like positive reinforcement!

36:46 Do you have any advice on setting expectations and not doing everything for everyone?

43:56 How do you normalize setting boundaries? What are your tips for refilling/protecting the tank for yourself or your team?



Jenny Li Fowler, Director of Social Media Strategy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Jenny Li Fowler is the director of social media strategy at MIT. Jenny is in charge of developing and executing Institute-wide social media initiatives and campaigns. She provides social media consultation and direction for more than 200 departments, labs, and centers; and manages the Institute’s flagship Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts. Jenny also leads the Social Media Working Group which has 160 members. Prior to coming to MIT, Jenny was the web editor and social media manager at Harvard Kennedy School.


Emma Gilmartin, Head of Social Media and Student Communications, University of Glasgow

Since joining the University of Glasgow in 2013, Emma Gilmartin has revolutionized the way the university approaches social media and student communications, putting its students and staff at the forefront of its activity. As head of the multi-award-winning team, she leads its creative vision, digital content strategy, and community engagement. She has unified the university’s online presence, established and strengthened the UofG social brand, and led an overhaul of Glasgow’s social output — using emerging channels, live platforms, and creative ways to bring the UofG story to life, break news, promote world-changing research and grow community engagement and all things #TeamUofG.

In 2019, Emma won the inaugural ‘Pioneer Award’ at the ContentEd Awards 2019 for being a leader in the Education sector and breaking new ground in content strategy. She has spoken at multiple conferences nationally and internationally and writes blogs on the importance and value of social media in the higher education sector.

Jenny Petty, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, University of Montana

Jenny left the corporate world where she worked with some of the world’s biggest brands including Dolly Parton, Family Guy, Harley Davidson, Phantom of the Opera, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and joined higher education in 2015. Jenny is passionate about modernizing the way we market to prospective students, can talk about inbound marketing all day long, and has adjusted to Wyoming winters by purchasing as many pairs of boots as possible.
She was a key, driving force behind The World Needs More Cowboys campaign, and her expertise in branding, marketing strategy, and strategic communications are frequently called upon at all levels of the organization. She finds joy in building teams and helping others grow, as well as flexing her creative muscles whenever she can. She’s a graduate of the Reynolds School of Journalism and the University of Nevada and is currently finishing her Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University where her studies are focused on the intersection of Servant Leadership and the marketing profession.


Tyler Thomas, Senior Director of Integrated Content, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Tyler Thomas builds award-winning brand engagement for the “BIG RED” brand. He directs the university’s strategic functions integrating social media, videography, photography, project management, and graphic design to deliver an effective communication strategy and editorial plan. He is a national presenter on social media and a self-proclaimed foodie. He authored Nebraska Beer and writes regularly for local publications.
Thomas holds a master’s degree in higher education administration from the University of Nebraska and teaches digital content strategy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism.

About Josie, Community Founder

Dr. Josie Ahlquist is a digital engagement and leadership researcher, speaker, and consultant. She teaches teens, young adults, education professionals, and campus executives how to humanize technology tools and prioritize building community online.

Josie absolutely loves fostering and educating about digital community building. So, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she created a Facebook group called the Higher Ed Digital Community Builders, which has grown to nearly 2,000 members. She also created and manages the Digital Community Building Cohort, a mastermind educational program for higher education social media managers to improve online community building strategies.

As a researcher and writer, Josie is extensively published and maintains an active blog and podcast, which have received accolades from EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her new book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education: Purposeful Social Media in a Connected World was listed as an Amazon #1 new release for college and university student life.

She also serves as a teaching faculty at Florida State University, creating curriculum to build digital literacy and leadership skills for undergraduates up to doctorate level students. Josie received her doctorate from California Lutheran University in Higher Education Leadership, Masters in Education from Northern Arizona University. She majored in sociology and human development at South Dakota State University.

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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