Ease your student supervision speed bumps.

Forecasting Fall 2021 for Social Media Managers

Social media managers need support and resources as they synthesize lessons learned from the pandemic and implement strategic plans for the next year. This fall, attempting to create goals, plan out content, and carry out strategy may feel especially overwhelming – and impossible. 

This is why the faculty team from the Digital Community Building Cohort got together in late July 2021 to share self-care reminders, morale boosters, and very practical recommendations for social media managers. From new perspectives and reaffirmed strategies, this session explores how we plan future content with vision, advocate our own digital community builder needs, and move toward “going with the flow” while higher education figures out Fall 2021.

About Digital Community Building Cohort

Organized by Dr. Josie Ahlquist, this 3-month long program provides resources, training, mentorship, and community for social media managers. The Cohort uses a Mastermind format, allowing you to experience the benefits of online community firsthand as you learn digital engagement skills in a small group environment. With guidance and skill-building materials provided by Dr. Josie Ahlquist and a team of expert guest faculty, each member of the Digital Community Building Cohort will develop at least one strategy that can be implemented for your own audience and institution—and you won’t have to wait for next semester!

Highlighted Content from Panelists

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

[1:45] A recent Wall Street Journal article discussed the popularity of the social media manager position, and colleges are starting to get masters in social media. What were your Major(s) and alma mater? 


[6:42] What can we learn as social media managers through this pandemic and moving into fall, and how can we define success that’s realistic and sustainable?

One thing that helps me stay focused and grounded, especially when things get a little bit rocky or exciting, is always going back to: What is our north star? What is our strategy? What are we trying to accomplish? We might get derailed a bit because of what’s going on, or we might have to adjust, but if we all know where we are trying to go and can trust each other to get there together, that’s where I’ve found a lot of centering.

Regardless of titles or roles, find colleagues to connect with, and see how you all are trying to tackle similar challenges and tackle them together. The stress is a lot less if you can enjoy it with other people.

I think it’s important to not be in your world all the time and to nitpick yourself on “why things are not going out on time” or “why things are not going the way you want them”, and then you realize that there are people who don’t have social media at all, and you need to reach them differently or teach them why social media is important.

Our team had an unofficial motto for this past year: progress not perfection. This has been guiding our plans to be flexible, knowing that things will shift and change. Instead of focusing on things we might not be able to get or do for the next semester, thinking that the goal is to get a little better this semester than the last semester.

[12:00] Based on your experience and what you’ve learned, how are each of you planning for future content and campaigns a bit differently?

Being aware of virtual and digital burnout. So pivoting and exploring other innovative ways of doing virtual events we’ve done in this past year, such as exploring breakout rooms in Zoom.

We have very basic messaging priorities that haven’t been changed for years, though we’ve been flexible and adjusting to all the changes in this past year. Looking at the year ahead, a lot of the communication priorities are more internal, we are trying to reach a different audience, and really solidifying the community aspect - you are really trying to talk to your people and making sure they are getting the right messages. For me, it’s nice to know these messaging priorities and feel solid with them, and then for each new campaign or event, you just kind of weave them in and adjust as necessary. Sometimes it scares me to plan too far in advance because the week something launches, something unexpected would happen. For me, the campaigns aren’t necessarily exact steps, but more like general ideas.


Celebrate the work you get done and pace yourself, because you know there’s going to be more, and it’s ok if things aren’t 100%. Even if the content never gets out, celebrate it, talk about it with the team on what content you can pull for another event. If the message is still centered around your north star, it doesn’t hurt to hold it a little bit. That’s why when we create content, we try to be a little bit evergreen knowing that at any point there could be something that disrupts your normal content.


[18:18] Knowing that leadership might be in different places regarding their involvement and education with social media, is there any advice you can give that might be helpful for people to get others on board?

I create these mini-recover type reports that are only by email, it’s basically engagement, impression, reach, or any other highlight of recovery type posts. For example, there was one post that received over 1000 clicks which were our highlight. So how can you break out your little wins, put them in an email, and send it to your directors to say this is good to be shared. Think about things that you’ve been asked to report on, and how you can report around this task because this might also be interesting data to report up.

My suggestion is you have to do something. People above you sometimes don’t know what to ask for. You get to decide before they ask for it. Over the last year, we increased our numbers of reporting very intentionally, to make sure the right people know what’s going on. This has helped collaboration, get resources, organize things. I don’t have to advocate as high because there are other people in the room that are doing it.

Know your audience and make sure you are customizing reports, so taking the key takeaways and summarizing them in an email, and making sure that I can provide some sort of visual assistance like a screenshot, so the leadership can know what I’m talking about. Sometimes, reports for outside departments are as much about the education on the work we are doing as they are about the information on what’s effective or not effective. So tailor your things to your audience is the biggest takeaway I’ve learned in the last several years.

I learned to use the language that they keep on using to you. Whether it’s for your boss or someone from the executive board, if you can hear their concerns and learn what their priorities are, that would be great. A lot of times I will quote them back in an email about something they’ve been concerned with or what their priorities are. This lets them know that you are listening to them, and you are providing them content about that issue, priority, or concern that they have. Once you have their attention, trusting you, and wanting to hear what you have to tell them, that’s where I think you can do a lot of influence.

Being able to align social media and their goals: what are the executive leader’s goals and how can I make social media seem to be an asset to that goal?

When you open those doors when it’s calm, that’s when you can directly speak to the important people to keep things from happening. Because I listen and monitor our channels, so I had an ear for our audience. Some of my biggest successes were not about what I’ve created, but about what I’ve stopped from happening. And I could do that because of those opened channels when things are calm.

[28:42] What is a message or reminder that anyone tasked with social media could hear right now as a morale booster? What is something that you want to make sure that the listeners learn, so they can advocate for social media managers?

Take your summer - have your summer, use your days, go outside if you can, get back to a routine; know your school is not your responsibility, what happens to your institution is not on you, so remember audiences aren't yelling at you and you can’t solve all the problems within a school.

For the leaders, I have found it helpful for leaders to approach our work with curiosity instead of criticism. So instead of saying “why is everyone angry in the comment section?”, maybe ask “how can we get this message out more effectively?”. Because curiosity is much more helpful and productive, and we are always happy to discuss and share, especially when the person is interested in learning.


Don’t ignore the likes and only look at the comment section. Between 300 likes and 10 negative comments, the ratio is a net positive!

There is a positive reframe to everything if you can find it.

Pick your pace, we all have to figure out our paces that are sustainable and adjust. Talk about it with others so they can also be accountable for you. The whole world doesn’t have to happen all at once. If we are sprinting out in every lane, we won’t be healthy.

People will respect you more for having boundaries.


Krista Boniface, Senior Social Media Strategist at University of Toronto

Krista Boniface is a Senior Social Media Strategist overseeing the central social media presence for Canada’s top university, the University of Toronto at @UofT. She has 7 years of marketing communications experience in higher education, non-profits and start-up environments. Krista has created strategy, social media activations, video and web content for the central U of T communications team, the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, the Canadian Screen Awards, Toronto International Film Festival as well as a Canada 150 Signature Project for the Canada’s sesquicentennial. At the University of Toronto, Krista loves interacting with brilliant students, the endless possibilities of social engagement and making a real impact on student experience. Talk to her about social media strategy, creating an authentic story on social or otherwise, how to avoid burnout when you’re at the helm of social channels and poutine.

Jenny Li Fowler, Director of Social Media Strategy at 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.

Danielle Sewell, Director of Digital Communications and Marketing at York College of Pennsylvania

Danielle Sewell is a community-building and branding strategist for higher education. With experience in both corporate business and academia, she strives to blend the best of both sectors to empower individuals and institutions to tell their own story. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Wilkes University and a BA in English from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.

Tyler A. Thomas, Senior Director of Integrated Content at 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.

Katy Spencer Johnson, Higher Ed Content Strategist, Educator, and Consultant

Most recently working in higher education, Katy has been a social media strategist for 6 years, holding roles in Marketing and Communications, Event Management, Program Development, and Advancement. In addition to her role as a social media strategist, she was a public relations specialist, building a media relations strategy in conjunction with a social media strategy. She became a certified National Institute of Social Media social media strategist in 2019. She tailors content with context, delivering messaging to critical audiences, developing newsletters, donor letters, event contacts, landing pages, blog content press releases ensuring donor support, customer engagement, and actionable results.

Moderator & #DigiCohort Founder, Josie

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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