To most students, your higher ed. president is nothing but a title and a hazy figure looming in an ivory tower. Always present, but never really there. Peeking out from their window between press conferences and ribbon cuttings. And that was before everything went virtual.
Could most of your students even name your institution’s president? Actually, don’t answer that.
Now more than ever, engagement with your current and prospective students (not to mention donors, and prospective faculty and staff) is key. After all, your competition is finding ways to break through the digital noise and reach them. Now it’s your turn.
One way to do it? Break into what is still a new frontier in higher ed: Your president on social media.
Think about it! Just like students, your president has their own day-to-day campus life. They walk the same sidewalks, take the same shortcuts through the quad, and even get lunch at the same student union.
Presidents — They’re just like us!
But it’s not just highlighting your president’s and school’s best features. It’s putting a human touch on it. One that inspires humanity and belonging.
Pushing your president to blaze a social media trail may get you the attention you need.
Gen Z. Always on their phone. Texting, tweeting, Tik-Toking. The digital world is the primary place they go to gather news, be entertained, learn something new, and socialize with friends. If you want to reach them, well, welcome to the jungle.
In 2017, one study revealed higher ed. leaders are 10% more likely to use social media than their corporate counterparts. This is something to take advantage of, to be sure. But it’s also a no-brainer, right? Why wouldn’t you want to put your prez on social media to connect with your audience?
However, it’s not enough for your president to reserve their Twitter handle and send out a bland tweet. To be effective, they have to do it well.
What does “well” mean, exactly?
Everybody knows that presidents are busy and there’s likely a team behind them doing 90% of the (squeaky-clean and triplicate-vetted) content creation.
But it’s that 10% that a president creates by themselves that’s GOLD. Spelling errors, misplaced commas, double spaces, awkwardly shot selfie TikTok videos and all.
Yes, your president has permission to be a little sloppy. Raw authenticity wins points, especially with Gen Z who doesn’t get turned off by imperfection. Quite the opposite. They’re drawn to it.
Doing it well doesn’t mean doing it perfectly. It means showing up and being real.
The top 5 higher ed. presidents who are killing it on social media.
We’ve put together the top five higher ed. presidents who are doing just that — and making a name for their higher ed. institutions while they’re at it.
1. University of Florida’s Dr. W. Kent Fuchs. This guy has authenticity, enthusiasm, fun and engagement numbers in spades. Not to mention an unabridged geek factor. Dr. Fuchs loves his job at his campus of 52,000+ students and doesn’t mind having fun. Students love him on TikTok, where he channels most of his social media energy. He was the first president to jump on the TikTok bandwagon, and so far no other president has embraced it quite like him. We think his timely, lighthearted approach is perfect for students stuck in the day-to-day virtual grind.
2. Royal Roads University’s Philip Steenkamp. A self-proclaimed enthusiast of history and gardens, Steenkamp is quite active on Twitter. He fully embraces and champions diversity, authenticity and inclusivity. He is a president who lives, walks and talks the talk as an ally for the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities. Steenkamp’s regular tweets are informative, bold and polished, yet warm and human. Today’s marginalized students need someone who sees them and roots for them — and this guy does.
3. Lethbridge College’s Dr. Paula Burns. This prez wins major points for her accessibility and advocacy for mental wellness. She uplifts other women and isn’t afraid to set an example. We like her because she is down to earth. And full disclosure — Lethbridge College is an ED client, so when President Burns got her COVID-19 vaccination with the college’s Be Ready brand emblazoned across her, she tweeted it. As a leader with great potential to inspire, we love her moxie and messaging.
4. University of British Columbia’s Santa J. Ono. As a new president, Ono has the advantage of seeing his campus — and the surrounding beauty of Vancouver — with fresh eyes. His tweets are popular for his appreciation of Vancouver’s unique natural and urban landscape. He’s an active tweeter, and like Steenkamp, broadcasts his welcoming message of inclusivity and diversity.
5. Virginia State University’s Makola M. Abdullah. He may be a university president, but more than that, he’s a proud family man. Students love getting a behind-the-scenes look at his life, and he’s not afraid to share it. He doesn’t try too hard to impress anyone, and he’s undeniably authentic. He’s active on Instagram and Twitter. This is a president students would definitely buy a beer for at the local university bar.
To win over Gen Z, show them your higher ed. president is paying attention.
If you want your current and prospective students to engage with you, you have to prove you’re paying attention to them. Your higher ed. president’s social media channel is just one intriguing avenue to do that. Plus, it’s an avenue that is not yet crowded (so jump on it!).
You want to prove that your higher ed. institution is listening to and learning from your students. So consider: What are their favourite apps? What digital language devices are they using (emojis, slang, hashtags)? What’s trending on social media and why?
Then, incorporate what you observe into your content, and boom — they see that you care enough to try. They know your finger is on the pulse (or at least trying to find it.) They know the hazy figure in that ivory tower isn’t really inaccessible after all.
When your president has the guts to be vulnerable and be themselves, buckle up. Because they may just end up with lots of likes and a place on our next list.