Coffee with the chancellor at 8:30. Budget review at 10. Instagram post during lunch (don’t forget to tag the mascot this time!). An all-afternoon meeting with stakeholders to finalize your strategic plan. And a congratulatory video tweeted to the women’s basketball team for defeating your rivals.
All in a typical day’s work for today’s higher education institution president. Whew!
Ok, there is no typical day when you’re the head of a higher education institution. But among your day-to-day responsibilities as president is connecting with your students, faculty, alumni — everyone in your institution’s orbit. What better (read: simpler and more fun) way to engage with them than by upping your social media game?
We get it. You have a lot on your plate. But being active on your social channels comes with a lot of benefits — not just being in the know about the cultural zeitgeist.
A higher ed. president’s authentic, lively social media presence goes a long way toward standing out to prospective students, faculty and staff. It solidifies your standing in the hearts of your alumni. It also bolsters your reputation as both an institution and a leader with your finger on the pulse. After all, TikTok isn’t just for Gen Z!
So whether you’ve been meaning to beef up your social media presence or you’re a proud Twitter veteran with thousands of followers, we’ve got 13 tips to help you elevate to the pro level.
13 ways to be the best higher education institution president on social media.
Believe it or not, there’s a science behind quality social media output — especially for the head honchos in education. It’s not enough to post on your Facebook page now and then or retweet everything from your institution’s main account. You have to look at your social media activity with a combination of strategy, humanity, and levity. This part of your job should be fun, and if it’s not, you’re doing it wrong.
Here are ED’s top tips for mastering any social platform.
1. Build a strategy.
To be a social media user determined to engage and connect, you need an effective battle plan. Rally your troops in the communications office to establish a strategy that identifies your goals and guides you in achieving them. Establish who your audience is, what content you should focus on, and when and how often you’re going to publish. Make sure to include all relevant stakeholders who will need to sign off on certain messages or provide pertinent information.
2. Brand yourself.
You might not have a cool username like @hiphopprez. But you can try! Dubbing yourself with a creative trademark username that reflects who you are outside of academia is highly encouraged. Not only is it endearing to students, it helps carve out your brand. If your real name is already taken, try adding your school’s letters to identify yourself. But for the record, we’re Team Creativity.
3. Put authenticity first.
High marks go to presidents who aren’t afraid to show their authentic selves on social media — typos, goofy dances and all. Your candidness, flaws, and relatability are qualities that will attract your audience — not deflect it. When your audience realizes it’s a real person (and not a team) behind your phone, you gain a whole new level of respect. So don’t worry about being perfect and polished 100% of the time. None of us are, and no one expects you to be.
4. Embrace firsts and superlatives.
First time tweeting ever? Tweet about THAT! Last day on campus? Upload a TikTok video from your perspective. First snowfall? Ah, we can picture it now. First Board of Governors meeting? Funnest day on the job so far? You get the idea. It’s GOLD content. And it’s fun, approachable, and informative to boot.
5. Own your (inevitable) mistakes.
There’s a good chance at some point that you may become a target for criticism. It comes with the job. So when you do make a mistake — because no one is perfect — be proactive and own up to it before anyone has the chance to call you out. Be prepared for scrutiny and have banked, genuine responses ready to go.
6. Mix up your media.
A recent survey on higher ed. executives concluded pictures, videos, and text-only posts garner different responses from audiences. So try venturing out from your bread-and-butter Instagram story and post a reel instead. What type of content resonates with your Gen-Z audience compared to your alumni? It may take time to notice some patterns, but as you start to better understand where your different segmented audiences hang out, the better you can create content targeted to them — and garner more engagement as a result.
7. Beware policy vs. personal.
While we encourage sharing candid quips, be mindful not to totally shoot from the hip, lest you wind up in hot water with your communications team. Make sure you have the green light from them to announce anything; you don’t want to scoop them! It’s happened before when well-meaning presidents unintentionally have made the job of their communications team harder. (See University of British Columbia President Santa Ono’s mistake as a cautionary tale. And note he is one of our favourites!) And if you’re making a personal statement about any policies or major political issues, be explicit that you’re not speaking on behalf of the school. In today’s climate, it’s best to run anything potentially flammable by your communications team before you hit ‘Post.’
8. Balance school and YOU content.
You may tend to only put out “rah-rah-rah!” content championing your school. That’s all well and good, but it’s not going to take off with your audience unless you inject some authentic, human, YOU content. One study found that campus executives who are too enthusiastic about their school may be viewed as disingenuous. The moral of the story: It’s OK to be a fan of your institution, but don’t overdo it.
9. Embrace multiple platforms.
Post where your audiences are, even if it means breaking into a channel that’s foreign to you or makes you feel awkward at first. University of Florida President Dr. Kent Fuchs could give a masterclass on how to embrace that awkwardness and make it part of the brand — it’s what his students love about him! Learn the top platforms your audiences are using (TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, for instance). Then, learn how to speak their language. Don’t forget that perfection isn’t the goal. Engagement is.
10. Tell stories — with or without words.
Think about what stops you from scrolling. Usually, it’s a story that captures your attention in some way, right? Whether emotional, funny or interesting, stories from your point of view — through videos, pictures, or text — add depth to your content. And if you have writer’s block that’s OK! Social media is perfect for showing instead of telling.
Give your audience a chance to experience your story through actions, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through a summary or description. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to share your experiences so your audience feels like they’re actively along for the ride.
11. Use @tags and #hashtags.
Make the most of social media by tagging other relevant accounts and people, as well as using #hashtags. Tagging other higher ed. presidents in tweets or pics may bring out some fun, witty exchanges for instance. Plus, connecting with others over social media helps you overcome the feeling of being in a “president silo”. And hashtags? Use common ones that can be found in a thread and make your tweets and posts searchable. Better yet, make up your own! #bestprezever
12. Learn from others.
If you’re struggling to find your social media footing, take note of the kinds of content you like and don’t like. With millions of content creators out there, you don’t have to strictly follow other academics. Find content creators who are funny, moving, informative — whatever your personal brand is after. Take inspiration from some, and learn what not to do from others.
13. Take (well deserved) breaks.
Social media’s great and all, but we’ve all gotta take a breather at some point. Make sure when you’re planning a social media hiatus, you tell your audience. Otherwise, they could take your lights out to mean that you’re neglectful of your social media platforms, or you up and quit — and then unfollow you. Enjoy time away from your social channels and let your audience know what you were up to when you come back!
Build a stronger community for your higher ed. institution.
Platforms like Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok can be fun, effective conduits of connection. And right now that’s something everyone is looking for. As social media continues its dominance as the number one source of information, entertainment, and social networking for Gen Z (and beyond), being active on it isn’t really a choice anymore. It’s a must if you’re going to attract the right-fit students, faculty and staff, as well as foster a strong community.
By establishing your unique presidential brand on social media you adopt the role as the heartbeat of your institution, influencing the tone and mood that ripples through your classrooms, onto the campus sidewalks — and out into the world. It all starts with #YOU.