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Higher Education Policy and Practice

Blogosphere, Facebook, and Twitter Nuts and Bolts for College Presidents

Presidents, Admission Officers, Marketing Directors, and Chief Academic Officers are trying to come to grips with new news sources and social networks that can have a dramatic impact on the strategies and plans of their institutions.  The impacts may include improved marketing for the college, better ways to communicate administrative news, instructional commentary, and emergency warnings with current students.  However, the effect of these new technologies is not always positive.  Take for instance the case where Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter are used to oppose changes on campus, to pass misinformed rumors, or to create chaotic mass demonstrations on a moment’s notice.  Rather than going into the positives and negatives, this blog presents the basics of Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.

Blogs are the electronic version of columnists writing for newspapers.  The difference is that they are less costly and their commentary is not subject to the usual rules of journalism.  A blog can be used by a college president in myriad ways. Whether presenting a new institutional vision, addressing a major issue facing higher education, or simply musing about the festivities associated with a weekend’s sporting events, a college president can use blogging to make herself more accessible to her community without ever leaving the office. Here are several blogs and forums  to choose from http://higheredwatch.newamerica.net/blogmain, http://chronicle.com/forums/, http://chronicle.com/blogs/innovations/, http://blog.stamats.com/

Facebook and LinkedIn are major elements in social networking.   Facebook is an online community composed of millions of personalized profiles belonging to individuals. Profiles contain information that an individual chooses to make available to their friends, family or others, such as hobbies, educational background, and current work status.  Some parts of the personal page can be kept confidential and will only be seen by those that you verify as “friends”.  Facebook is an excellent way to stay abreast of the changes occurring in the lives of people you know, since you can always check their profile to see if they have moved to a different state, begun a new job, etc.

LinkedIn is similar to Facebook in that it is composed of personalized pages, but this site focuses only on one’s professional life.  Your profile can contain your complete work history, much like a resume, as well as references. Business contacts are collected as “connections”, and just as in everyday life, the more connections you have, the larger your professional network and business markets grow.

Many institutions of higher education maintain Facebook and LinkedIn pages, where they can communicate with students, faculty, staff, and their markets.  Both media devices offer a venue where members of the college community can discuss vision, strategy, plans, policies, and procedures. The catch is that these pages can be open-ended with little control possible over the content that is placed on the page.  Control over inappropriate or threatening comments can be established, but it is usually after the fact.

Twitter is the newest star in the universe of social media.  Twitter is a platform for quick mobile transmission of information (limited to 140 characters) among groups and between individuals.  Most people associate twitter with young people posting quick updates about what they are doing and thinking, but it is increasingly being used by broader audiences. For a college president, Twitter could be a great place to congratulate the debate team on a recent tournament win, or to suggest an interesting article or book to students. Twitter’s success flows directly from the newest phones which incorporate fast and easy transmission.

Phone Technology is advancing so fast that there are few things that they cannot do.  Keeping up with the latest products requires constant attention to popular media and national media like the Wall Street Journal, where the newest forms of phone technology are frequently discussed.  These new phones have advanced far beyond the sending of basic messages and pictures. They can now transmit and receive complex information such as, articles, commentary, blogs, Facebook or LinkedIn pages. In addition they make available direct access to catalogs, retail outlets, and in some cases college admission sites, class registration systems, and classroom instruction.

It is in the interest of college presidents to keep up on the newest social media and technology to see what may reshape how their college does business and delivers instruction.  Waiting to find out after competitors have taken the leap may leave a college in the dust of first mover competitors.  Since the time and energy of most presidents is consumed by strategy, planning, and fund raising, the best way for presidents to keep track and take advantage of new media may be to appoint someone as a manager of social media.  (Although it is not unheard of for a college president to maintain his or her own blog or twitter account. If you have the time and inclination, go for it!) Either way, a social media manager could direct these initiatives on a broader scale- keeping the college abreast of how social media is affecting the college and proposing ways in which new social media and technology can be used to support strategy, marketing, administration, instruction, and tracking student, alumni, and the local community’s feelings about the institution.

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