4 Things I’ve Learned Teaching Social Media Measurement To Higher Education Professionals

I’ve been teaching the Higher Ed Experts’ social media measurement class for two years. Dozens of students from three countries, working in functional areas including admissions, alumni affairs, career services, development, marketing and communications, and academic program management, have devoted four weeks to improve the measurement of their social media program.

I’ve enjoyed spending my nights and weekends with these great higher education professionals, particularly because this gig follows me wherever I go — I’ve graded assignments overlooking beautiful Mount Hood, in a London pub, at 30,000 feet, and from my living room couch.

laptop overlooking mountains

It turns out that I love teaching. From designing the course content, to jumping into weekly discussions, and yes — even grading — I feel honored to have the chance to provide my students, all marketing and communication professionals working in higher education, the opportunity to increase their knowledge and capacity in ways that prove immediately valuable for their work.

Looking back on the last two years, I wanted to share with you a few of the things my students have taught me.

#1 There Is No Correlation Between Age and Social Media Skills

I’ve taught students in their early twenties to their fifties (maybe older — age is not something I ask my students about). Many of my star students are definitely in the second half of their professional career.

Too often, I see campus leaders assume that young people will provide the keys to social media success because “they just get it.” In reality, as social media becomes part of the strategic work of marketers and communicators, it requires more than just the ability to rock Instagram filters and use all the best hashtags.

Critical thinking, innovation orientation, organizational strategy and acumen, and mission and vision alignment are also important for social media success. These skills can be found in professionals both young and old, but age alone should not qualify or disqualify someone from contributing to your social media program.

#2 Higher Ed Marketers Still Struggle With Goals — Especially For Social Media

The first week of my course focuses on defining and aligning goals, strategies, and tactics. The first discussion prompt includes the question, “What are the goals of your social media program?”

At least half of my students indicate that they don’t have any strategic goals, or leadership had never articulated them. Some are even unclear of the broader goals of their department. After some reflection, however, everyone is able to craft goals that they would be proud to share with their university president.

It just takes some time to be thoughtful and intentional… something we’d all ideally do when starting a social media program, but it’s never too late to go back to the basics — nothing like a graded assignment to give you the extra push you need 🙂

#3 We All Benefit From Feedback and Constructive Criticism

I’m an instructor, but since my lessons are so relevant to the day-to-day work of my students, I take the approach of a coach when providing feedback on weekly assignments.

I ask a lot of clarifying and reflective questions, point out strengths and weaknesses, remind students about the foundational principle on which the course is built, and challenge them to push themselves further each week. Getting this feedback privately, outside their work environment, gives them a chance to try new things and take some risks on the assignments, which can easily become work product.

I’ve seen incredible growth in the four weeks it takes to progress through the course. All professionals should have a chance to get this sort of constructive feedback.

#4 Communities of Practice Are Vital For Higher Education Professionals

More often than not, my students share that they are a “team of one,” solely responsible for the planning, execution, and assessment of social media for their campus or department.

The chance to discuss challenges and successes with colleagues in similar situations at other campuses is almost as valuable to them as the course content! I’m glad to see other opportunities for this emerge through the #hesm and #casesmc hashtags on Twitter, and Team HESM on Slack (talk to Jonathan Gabriel if you want to join).

What Will The Next Two Years Bring?

It’s getting harder and harder for leaders to question whether or not campuses should have a social media presence — but it needs to be strategic.

As social media becomes entrenched in the tactic toolbox for higher education marketers (and a budget line with the rise of paid placement), measurement will be more important…and the combo fans/followers + reach is not going to cut it. I look forward to helping higher ed pros around the world learn to measure what matters in their social media program… even <gasp!> Snapchat.

This post was originally written for the Higher Ed Experts Faculty Voices series. As a member of the faculty, I teach Social Media Measurement for Higher Ed, a 4-week online certificate course to help higher education professionals improve their ability to quantify their social media efforts. In addition to discussing higher ed social media metrics, students develop measurement plans and reports they can use immediately at work.

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