FITS AND STARTS: Many higher education institutions were slow to adopt to the social media revolution. Penn’s official YouTube channel and Facebook page debuted in 2008, followed by Twitter in 2010. At the time, posting responsibilities generally fell to whomever had some extra time. The pages slowly added friends and followers.
BEING SOCIAL: That changed in 2011 when social media became a top priority and Penn recognized the platforms’ potential for engaging students, faculty, and the public in meaningful conversations. New Media Manager Matt Griffin started in February 2012 and began to outline a cohesive social media strategy.
COORDINATED APPROACH: A critical first step was linking all University accounts to create a unified Penn voice. Griffin sets the tone through the official University pages and accounts, but the 12 individual schools retain autonomy and control of their own accounts. “The purpose was not just to make it one single individual’s responsibility to update and maintain these platforms,” Griffin says. “Part of it was trying to understand what the University’s position and voice should be.”
LET’S TALK: Having a lot of Twitter followers or Facebook “Likes” might make you popular, but it doesn’t necessarily mean people are paying attention to what you’re saying. To foster more audience engagement across Penn’s platforms, Griffin implemented social media best practices that allow for meaningful conversation and ongoing community participation. He posts several times a day to keep people interested and checking in more frequently.
QUALITY, NOT JUST QUANTITY: Perhaps more important than quantity is the quality of the posts, Griffin says. “Tagging” other people in posts and photos, retweeting other people’s tweets, and writing posts and tweets that end with a question are all tried-and-true methods for getting people talking about your content. Posts on the Penn Facebook page don’t just link to press releases on new research studies. A recent Facebook post featured a picture of a campus park bench and asked viewers about their favorite “out of the way” spots on Penn’s campus. It garnered 19 comments and 255 “Likes.” That type of engagement “really demonstrates a passion for Penn as an institution,” Griffin says.
STAYING CURRENT: Staying abreast of emerging platforms is another challenge confronting social media mavens. In the past year, Penn has added Google+ and Tumblr accounts. Griffin noticed that Google+ attracts a younger, more tech-oriented following, so he posts more business-oriented content and medical and research stories there. When Google+ administrators took notice and featured the Penn group, subscribers—or “+1s” in Google parlance—went from 3,500 to 24,000 literally overnight. Other platforms where Penn is active, such as Instagram, have fewer subscribers but very high engagement. “With each of these new platforms, we have to evaluate them as they arrive and determine if Penn should be there,” Griffin says.
BEHIND THE NUMBERS: Facebook followers have doubled in the last year, up to 55,000. More importantly, Griffin says, the percentage of people who regularly engage with the content has gone from 8 percent per week a year ago to between 22-30 percent. The University’s Twitter account is also growing, adding followers at a rate that’s 16 percent higher than a year ago. And the Google+ account has 55,000 followers, rivaling Facebook as the most popular University social platform. “Some of the stuff you figure out as a trial-and-error thing,” Griffin says.
Originally published on May 9, 2013