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Is Social Media Sustainable for Campus Executives?

Even without social media, serving in an executive position in higher education has become extremely taxing. Add on social media and sustainability gets even more strained. While vast opportunities and excitement exist to get a campus president or Dean on Twitter or even TikTok – the question must be asked, is it sustainable? In this shorty episode, I offer a simple and even soulful approach that will require something that most campus senior leaders are overdue for a social media strategy. This strategy will be fueled using a discernment process I created for digital leaders. Listen in to reflect on your own presence and/or the executives you are trying to support on your campus. 

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The internet is real life, which means the perception of your campus online is reality. Do you know what your reality is and if it aligns with your strategic initiatives? Social listening can help answer questions you have about your campus’s online conversation—both what people are saying to you when they tag you as well as about you when they don’t—and how to incorporate insights from that conversation into your institution’s goals. And getting started doesn’t have to be a huge investment of time or money. Campus Sonar, a higher ed social listening agency and sponsor of JATP, has the goods to help you get started, whether you’re just looking to read up or want to try a low-cost, introductory project. Learn more at info.campussonar.com/podcast.

Notes from this Episode:

Worksheet: Discernment Process for Digital Leaders

Worksheet: Simple & Sustainable Strategy Recipe

Ed Cabellon, Vice President of Student Affairs & Enrollment, Bristol Community College

Mordecai I. Brownlee, Vice President of Student Success, St. Philp’s College

Angela Batista, Vice President of Student Affairs & Institutional Diversity, Champlain College

Tim Miller, Vice President of Student Affairs, James Madison University

President Ajay Nair Podcast Episode: josieahlquist.compodcast/ajaynair/

The Connected Exec Coaching Program

The Connected Exec Facebook Group Community

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Email: josie@josieoldsite.meljudsonclientportal.com

Website: www.josieahlquist.com

About Josie and The Podcast

In each episode, Dr. Josie Ahlquist – digital leadership author, researcher, and speaker – connects tech and leadership in education. This podcast will bring you leaders on-campus and online.

From Senior Vice Presidents on Snapchat, YouTubers receiving billions of views and new media professionals. All through the lens of social media and leadership. Josie hopes you will not only learn from these digital leaders but also laugh as we all explore how to be our best selves online and off.

Thanks for listening! Please subscribe to receive the latest episodes, share widely and let me know you’d checked it out!

Josie Ahlquist: Hello, and welcome to this shorty episode of Josie and The Podcast. I am Josie, and I am thrilled that you have joined me here today, where I connect tech and leadership. This show would not be possible without my friends from Campus Sonar, a social listening agency for higher education. Here’s a reality, the internet is real life, which means the perception of your campus online is reality, but do you know what your reality is, and if it actually aligns with your strategic initiatives? The great news is social listening can help answer these questions that you may have about your campus’s online conversations, both what people are singing to you when they tag you as well as when they don’t. How to incorporate insights from that conversation right into your institution’s goals.

Getting started doesn’t have to be a huge investment of time or money Campus Sonar, a higher ed social listening agency and sponsor of Josie and The Podcast has the goods to help you get started. Whether you’re just looking to read up or want to try a low cost introductory project. Learn more at info.campussonar.com/podcast.

Today, on this podcast, I am going to be digging into something that’s been on my mind, and I think would also beyond the minds of those that serve in these positions, is social media sustainable for campus executives. This last fall I’ve had the opportunity to get in front of a number of different institutions and conferences, where executives had been in the room or the session was directly for anyone serving in the cabinet, or a management team setting, at that institution or conference, and we’re actually cracking open potentially a bigger issue in the field. You could remove the word social media and ask the question, “Are these executive positions sustainable in higher ed?”

And I recently had an institute where I spent six hours talking about digital engagement and leadership to senior student affairs officers and there’s some struggles. The next day after they met with me, the topic was all about wellness. Both of the students that they serve as well as themselves. I’ve been approaching this conversation about executive positions, executive presence, social media, and how we can make it simple and sustainable. If we already know, these positions inherently are challenging with time, and resources, and wellness. I completely understand why someone like me comes in and starts rattling off all these reasons that you should be on, and doing one more thing is a huge barrier to entry, and why one might not be completely open to it if what you’ve already got on your plate isn’t sustainable.

So, this is a moment of pause, and empathy, and understanding. The reality is that there are positions now on our college campuses, in executive positions, where the value and soon the requirement to have executives actively engaged on social, is becoming more common and apparent. We can’t just keep adding platforms or encouragement for this to happen. There needs to be strategy that is sustainable, that’s simple. And even what I shared at the institute, where I was a faculty of, what if this could actually feel soulful, soulful strategy? So, we can get back to the value’s work. We can’t afford to be on these tools, no matter if you are a vice president or you’re running social within your department.

I think it’s a huge shift that we need to have, is while these tools are free, our time is not. Having the concept of, “I’m going to get on Instagram and be active and engaged,” but not have a plan and a way to measure it and an insurance to make sure your plans are aligned with some other strategies and goals that you have going on in your institution or even in your life. I could see where things would feel misaligned, and that it’s not sustainable to have as an executive. So, I’m here to give some guidance. For some presidents, deans of students, provost, What we have found so far is a lot of folk’s activity is part of your DNA, that you are naturally open to sharing and documenting. You’re a great storyteller. It’s one of your skillsets, so you have already been attracted to and been active on these platforms.

But even with my research, what I have found, those that are just naturally drawn to these platforms and are showing up in a really natural way, even they tell me they don’t have a strategy. When I say a strategy, I’m not proposing that we need to turn in complete, buttoned up every minute of the day, what’s going to be posted, when, where, and why, but we need to get a little bit at least closer to having the conversation about having a plan. Again, one that’s simple and that is sustainable. My strategy process that I put executives through actually has them first think what platforms they need to get off of, and that kind of makes them sit up for a moment, because I don’t start with what we’re going to add.

The very first thing we actually start talking about is, who are the people that you want to connect with the very, very most, or the ones that you seem to be having the most challenging time connecting with? And we expand what that people category is to a variety of different audiences and we can break it down and segment it even further. Then, we get talking about platforms and the final thing is the actual strategy, but what I find what we’re doing is everything in reverse. We’re finding a platform. We’re hoping our people are there, or they’re still there, and then we’re guessing our strategy along the way. I’ve also found a few other missteps that I find those in these senior level positions might be doing within social, and the number one is social silence.

This could show up in a variety of different ways, that you may have forgotten that you’ve got three Twitter accounts, or that you do have an account but you haven’t posted for years, or you have an account and you are active, but gosh, there was really something that you probably should have contributed to and posted something about based on something that was going on within the campus. The second mistake that I find are bulletin board methods. We have turned into promoters on our college campuses, and again, I understand we have lots going on, deadlines, programs, events, services, campaigns. But when you scroll back through your feed and if it’s all about asking your community to do something, that’s asking a lot.

How can we build a strategy that feels a little bit more blended and holistic so when you are asking them to go to something, to sign up for something to give, it really feels special and insignificant, and that it’s not just another tweet with another promotion. The third mistake is a hands off approach. I can tell when I scroll through feeds of those that have just quickly signed up for platforms but then handed them off to others without a lot of integration and understanding that that isn’t actually that president or that vice president’s voice. You can tell that is someone else. It feels quite maybe stale, cookie cutter, institutional, you could even say. Because these platforms do require personality, and I do find examples where a chief of staff, or an executive assistant, or a director of marketing have successfully been able to fully manage a executive social media presence.

But it doesn’t happen overnight, and one needs time to really build that. And the final mistake that I find executives making are misdirected ROI, that you may have unrealistic expectations of what it’s going to take in order for your platforms to grow, what your audience is actually wanting to engage with as well as your own time required. But even with those mistakes, recognizing those, there’s so many shining examples for you to find. Some of these you’re not going to be able to tell just through scrolling someone’s Twitter or Instagram feed what their strategy is and whether they would define it as successful or not. So, my homework for you is, for those that you enjoy to follow, those executives that seem to have a presence that you find attracted to and maybe you’d want to integrate some of their practices into your own presence, is reach out to them.

Ask them what their strategy is, what their framework is, their practices. Even down to their when do you log on and engage, because I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more things going on behind the screen that you may not be aware about. I think it’s more and more important that executives from the peer level as well as those that are marketing communication professionals, we need to be able to share what our current practices are that we can continue to try to make them more sustainable. I have a few examples that I’d like to share of folks that I’ve worked with in the past, what their strategies have been. Because I also recognize as you maybe enter your first executive position, or you’re transitioning to a higher level, or you’re preparing to move into one of these executive roles, there’s a lot to consider.

I’ll include the folks that I’m going to talk about their contacts in the show notes. A number of these professionals I facilitated a panel at the NASPA Annual Conference in Los Angeles last spring. And the session was called Next Gen VPSA, so it’s vice president of student affairs, and it was all about their digital practices, and their intentionality, and strategies behind their digital presence. But as well as how they’re approaching their vice-president positions and what that’s going to look like going in to the future. Ed Cabellon is the first one I’d like to share. He is the Vice President at Bristol Community College. He’s on a variety of different platforms. He was very active in digital spaces, early, early adopter, you could say, and he was also on the podcast.

Recently transitioned into that vice presidency role within a community college. His strategy, he chose to segment and separate his Instagram account. He has a account that is much more of the home life, the marathons that he runs, the adventures, the travels, and the colleagues and connections, but he also has another one that’s branded, a lot more clear of his vice presidency role within Bristol. A lot more of elements within the campus, very much branded. If you look through that feed, and again I’ll include it in the notes to the show, I’ll let you know and you’ll just see a whole grid of school colors and celebrations. He continues to have his LinkedIn presence. If you look at his LinkedIn, which I really encourage you to follow him there, he has created individualized graphics when he’s announcing positions.

So, it’s not just dumping the link of the latest position you’re hiring for, but he’s creating a visual, which those actually do very, very well on LinkedIn. Of course, those can also be shared out to places like Twitter and Facebook as well. He’s also chosen to document a lot of the development that he’s doing with his director team over the summer and into the fall of different professional development opportunities. So, showing the growth that he’s taking his portfolio through, I think, is a great example. And while one might think, “Well, you’ve added another Instagram account, how is this making your social media strategy more simplified?” For him, being able to curate his audiences was a strategy. Did make it more simple to know what he was going to post where, especially on Instagram.

This is the biggest navigation that I find that campus leaders come to me with is, “Gosh, I’ve used this page, all the postings about my kids, and my travels, and my home life. I’m not quite there yet and ready to just add on my position into that same feed.” Versus the days of folks creating two Facebook accounts, which I still to this day do not encourage. On Instagram, what we can create is a Instagram personal page. And maybe you completely close that down and make it so you only accept connections, you get to make that choice. But the other one that I really like for a branded account then is these branded accounts you can create on Instagram, that not only give you more data, but you could do sponsored ads and collaborations that way.

And I would just say, just make it really clear based on the two which one is forced. Your institutional account that you want to connect with students on, make that bio super clear and inviting then for everyone to find and connect with you there. Maybe make the difference in your bio and even your username on that other account something that also communicates clearly what that is or isn’t. My choice, if I was in an executive position, I would not want to. That is just like too, too many things to do, but what’s nice on Instagram is you can easily switch accounts just like on Twitter within the same frame, in your mobile, so that is nice. So, at least the toggling dynamics can be simpler.

You all heard last week, hopefully, from Mordecai Brownlee, Vice-President Student Success at Saint Phillips College, and we got all into his strategy, how he’s jumping on to Twitter just about every day. He’s got a video strategy for Monday. He’s doing inspirational, aspirational stuff throughout the week, and then a call to educators at the end of the week. He has a plan set in place where he is going out of those platforms to know the content that he’s going to share. One thing that we didn’t get into that I don’t have an answer for, but I would love to know, like when he does choose to jump back in to reply, to engage. Because that’s another huge element that you cannot forget about, is going back into actually engaging and interacting back with content that you just put out there.

So, make sure to go check out that episode and you’ll hear even more about our conversation. Dr Angela Batista, she’s the Vice President at Champlain, and I asked her about how has your digital engagement use changed since she became a vice president within this last timeframe. She shared, “I’ve identified particular areas in higher education to post about regularly and strategically highlight areas of passion, expertise, and critical learning for the profession.” I especially see her doing this on Twitter and on LinkedIn, and she’s posting articles, informational, highly timely topics for that educational lens things that she’s passionate about, things that she thinks that the field needs to know about.

She goes on to share, “I believe that it’s important for our constituents and network to have a sense of who I am as a person, but that I must be intentional and managing that presence. To this end, in addition to posting about my work, I use my Facebook and Twitter to post about travel and cultural experiences, social community, volunteer experiences and, of course, my puppy Toby, which I love.” Puppies also can be part of your strategy. Having honestly just that list listed out is that is a strategy to start with. I also want to share about Tim Miller. He is the vice president at James Madison University within student affairs. He has a Facebook business page.

Business pages are those like pages, also, then you can have more data, which we really need to talk about that a whole lot more, but you also could potentially invest in running ads and sponsored opportunities on those pages. He shared with me the reason why he created a business page as a vice president was because he found on his friend page, he was jumping into groups, especially the parent groups to clarify and to communicate with parents. But then what would happen is they would then all go to his account to want to be friends, or to DM him with questions and concerns. So, his strategy with this Facebook business page was actually to primarily engage with parents.

We know that less and less teens and young adults are on Facebook, but we have a whole lot of users that fall into that adults category, and especially those that are our family members and parents, and even alumni, and community members. Business page, Facebook pages, all for those audiences, especially for parents, and what’s nice about the business page on Facebook, you can add multiple users. So, when you do get those DMs, the ones that maybe are timely or ones that you can send to other people on campus to be able to give you resources for, you can have other people logged in within that account. I have heard some concerns and even frustrations about how many DMs executives are now getting from Facebook, to Twitter, to Instagram.

Instead of just being frustrated about it, we do need to talk about it. We need to have a strategy for it. Either you make it clear in your bio that you will not reply to DMs and where’s the best place to contact you, because they’re just trying to connect to you in any way possible. I sometimes have a hard time finding folk’s emails on the campus website. So, that might be the other issue, is they just can’t find your email where you actually want them communicating and connecting with you to ask questions. However, if you refer to [inaudible 00:19:19] interview last fall, he talked about how he was engaging with direct messages with students. A lot of these were just really quick replies, getting other folks in his office also to support in answering questions, but also potentially then clarifying, “You know what? This is our process.

This is where you should go next for to answer that, to get that fixed.” That can also be a strategy. Going back to Tim’s use of social, and again, he’s a really fun follow Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram. He’s also got the website blog that he’s present on as well. I asked him, “Well, what is your why for being online?” This is also part of the strategy, and I think we’ll bring in that soulful strategy that I think will really resonate with a lot of campus leaders. He says, “I believe we need to be in the spaces where our students exist. I connect with parents on Facebook and students on both Instagram and Twitter. I connect mostly with the field of professional folks on LinkedIn. Each place has its purpose and audience, and I find they all have value. I also think that we can’t allow our online presence to overwhelm the importance of personal touch.

Nothing is more important than giving our time and presence. Social media is an extension of this, not a replacement.” I would echo that as well, that social is a tool. It is not the resolution. It is not the end all. It is the spark. It is the connection, the bridge, whatever metaphor that gets you there is what I would like to echo today. He goes on to share, “There is no different than what I do on campus. Students are in the library, so I go there. They eat in the dining hall, so I eat in the dining hall, they go to work out at the rec center, so that’s where I go workout. We need to be where our community is so we know what’s going on with them.” These are all student affairs, student services, vice presidents who are primarily here to serve students.

And I get a lot of pushback by those that might be in academic affairs or other areas where students might not be your primary audience, they should be a primary objective, but they may not be the ones that are in the front lines that you are trying to connect with the most. So, I just encourage you to think about what your why would be along with what that audience is. If you just replace the word students with whatever your people are, if it is alumni, you go to where your alumni are, or what they’re doing, or the platforms that they are already on, and then just remix it that way to make it make sense for the work that you do. So, what I put folks through, and that sounds really intimidating, but I think what we need to get simple and sustainable is a little discernment.

I worked at Loyola Marymount University for a number of years, so I feel quite connected to this concept and this exercise of discernment, of reflection that can lead us to self-awareness. This is also a concept that we need to expand to our children, our teens, young adults about social media, but discernment I think will help lead us to some strategy that can be really meaningful. As I shared earlier, it’s first people, and then platforms. We think about what we immediately want to impact today and then what’s the longterm legacy that you want to leave on these tools. Again, it’s not the end all. It is the spark, it’s the connection, it’s the bridge. How can these tools help you connect those two? That’s what this whole fricking podcast is about, trying to connect tech and leadership.

So, these discernment pillars, they’re reflection and action items that are going to get you thinking about this bigger question of why, but also what’s realistic for you, what’s sustainable and what impact do you actually want to make. The first one is thinking about who your community is and who you’re trying to activate. There is going to be a really simple worksheet in the show notes that gives you all these goodies, but in case you are driving, or you are briskly walking, or running to your next appointment, just sit with these for a moment. Feel free to press pause, or come back to them, or grab that worksheet on my website, josieahlquist.com/podcast.

Community engagement and activating your people, I want you to think about your ideal community, your audiences, the stakeholders, the faces that you need to consider. As I shared at the beginning, start macro and then start to break those down into micro communities as specific as you can. The second part of these discernment process for digital leaders is thinking about platforms. First, people, then platforms. Knowing who the people are you want to connect with, let’s think about the available platforms. With those audiences in mind, are there natural fits? So, for example, we know Facebook is down not as popular with teens and young adults. Instagram, Instagram is going to be widely popular with teens and adults, alumni, young alumni, and cool adults.

Then, when we start to think about these people and platforms, then you start to gain knowledge about what is already common for engagement practices on these platforms, to see if it’s a fit within you. Maybe you already know that you really love taking photos and videos, or maybe more of the written word is your jam. We want to first start you on a platform that calls to your existing skillset. It’ll give us a little bit less of a learning curve to at least get you going on, and/or know the things that you would need help with. Maybe your photo taking skills do suffer. This is a really great opportunity to include someone else in your strategy. Is there someone else in your office that you could task as your photographer?

Do you have a campus photographer that tends to be at most of your events? Get their number, get their email, and get a process set up for them to send you photos quickly, in the event, after the event. Again, get someone from your office at that event, or meeting, or function to be the one to capture it. Because, honestly, we don’t want you taking photos throughout your day, all day, every day. Tim mentioned, “We need to be present in those intimate and meaningful moments day to day.” So, there’s even a further advantage to get someone else involved in that type of strategy. The third part is called realtime contribution. What is the impact you want to make today, this week, this semester in a shorter period of time?

This gets you thinking about what is the types of content, the types of moments, and experiences, and messages that I want to share immediately that will hopefully make that impact? You can think about things that are coming up on your campus, in your own life. That’ll get you thinking about what’s that short term strategy, and then, longterm is intended purpose. What is the long term legacy impact that you want to make? It’s going to answer the debate whether social media is actually worth your time and investment, because we’re going to ask you to declare what would make it worth it. And you can get as specific as you would like, and aspirational, that you’re going to increase enrollment by a certain percentage.

You’re going to increase a certain amount that you’re going to be able to bring in fundraising because of the relationships you build and connections through these platforms, that you’ll know 10 more students each semester. You’ll know their names and you’ll have them come up to you because that you are on these platforms. I challenge you to go get numbers involved, because that’s where we can start to track. There are ways we can track it, both traditionally on these platforms using analytics, but also maybe some more creative means. I think it’s really important that this strategy isn’t just the, what we’re going to be posting every single week, which is that third pillar, we got to have some longer metrics that we’re looking at, that will make us answering the question, is this worth my time?

It’ll make it more worth it. I really believe that. So, the second activity, and that isn’t like, “Okay, you go through those pillars and you’re going to have all the answers to the world.” Right? That is just one exercise and I encourage you to do that with your teams, with your chief of staff assistants, your marketing vice-president, to help start to build conversation around it. But if you want to get really basic, your terms and agreement is for social media as a campus executive. The second part of the worksheet is a recipe, it is a simple and sustainable strategy, and you’re going to answer these questions, I want to connect the most with this audience, fill in the blank. My primary goal is to, fill in the blank. I will contribute on the following platforms this many times per, and fill in the blank, day, week, month.

If needed, fill in the blank, can provide hands on technical support. I will not commit time to the following platforms. Fill in the blank is my support person for my social platforms. Define social support however you would, and a couple more. I will reevaluate this plan on this date to review growth and future changes. Then, finally, what else do I need at this time to accomplish this strategy? It can be as basic as that. Sign that piece of paper, agree it to yourself. Maybe you’ve gone through that discernment exercise and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, for sure I am not touching tick-tock. I’m closing my Instagram accounts, but I am going to double down on LinkedIn and Twitter, because that’s where my audience is. I think that’s where I can make the best impact, and we can make it as simple as that, and now I have solved world peace.”

I would love to hear some of your answers, what those exercises maybe had you consider and think about. Again, you can find those work, that worksheet, in the notes to the show. These are just a couple examples of what I do when I am brought in to a campus or a conference to facilitate digital leadership and engagement conversations at the executive level. But with the clients that I have as their executive coach, this is also just one slice of the experience of working with me. It’s not as simple as teaching you how to use Twitter. We have to build a rationale and tap into some of that heart and soul work that we already really love in higher education to make it sustainable. And having the commitment to say, “How we can make it simple, how we can remove distractions and barriers based upon feelings we might have that we need to be on other platforms.”

But also just really clear directions for short and longterm, I think, is so critical. Take us back to the original question. Is social media sustainable for campus executives? I believe it can be, but you’re going to need a strategy and you may even need support. For some, you’ve figured out a process and timing that you can log on, and create content, and do the engagement work back and forth. But for others, based on your DNA, or your schedule and timing, you’re going to need to activate other folks around you to make this happen. This is why I’ve created the connected exec coaching program. Since 2017 I’ve served as an executive coach to ABPs up too soon to be presidents, from one time consulting sessions, brand audits, and my signature three-month coaching program. You’ll get customized support and a sustainable strategy that’s going to align with your values and your institution.

You can learn more about my program. Go into my website, josieahlquist.com, tap menu, click that coach button, or just email me to get the ball rolling at josie@josieahlquist.com. I also have a Facebook group called the Connected Exec Community, and I jump on to do trainings about once a month. We have lots of conversations with resources, and shout outs, and features so you can learn from your peers as well as me. Find that on Facebook. Just search the Connected Exec Community. I’ll also include the link in the notes to the show. I hope that this shorty has given you a fuel for conversation, for philosophy, and a moment of pause as we get closer to the close of the year of the semester, of the quarter, whatever you are in, that it is okay to take that pause button on social to come back more purposeful.

That will be simple, sustainable, and possibly even soulful, when you know all those metrics are going to align for life, living, and leadership. In close, I want to send an announcement and a thank you out to the airwaves, because the podcast hit quite a big milestone and how fitting that it happened recently here in November, a month of gratitude and thankfulness. The podcasts passed 25,000 downloads, and I sure know that’s not some viral stats that some podcasts may hit, but I’ve purposely made this podcast and all the work that I do clearly focused on higher education within social and leadership, so I am thrilled and I am celebrating, so thank you. If this is the first episode that you’ve checked out or you have downloaded a whole bunch of those, I want to really give my big heart hands appreciation your way.

I could not have done this without a few folks over the years. This last year Shakivla Todd has been my right hand woman behind the scenes with lots of things that I do, especially helping me produce the podcast. My partner Lloyd, who helps me edit it, especially these shorty episodes. Then, of course, Campus Sonar, the entire family there that have made this show a reality with their support and sponsorship. Please subscribe to Josie and The Podcast so you don’t miss any future episodes and click that share button to share it with your colleagues, friends, heck, maybe even your family. I would also be thrilled, if you enjoyed the episode, to leave a review in iTunes, or any of your favorite podcasting platforms.

If you’re interested in learning more about my speaking, coaching, or consulting work on digital leadership in higher ed, or my research or publishing, check me out at josieahlquist.com. Find me on Twitter or Instagram at josieahlquist. You can also connect with me on Facebook and LinkedIn, just search my name. Sending digital hugs, loves, and waves to whatever corner of the world you’re listening in from. This has been Josie and the Podcast.

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