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Social media tools drive Tufts’ communication strategies

Published: Monday, January 23, 2012

Updated: Monday, January 23, 2012 07:01

Social Media Feature

Kyra Sturgill / Tufts Daily

University President Anthony Monaco belives Tufts is “ahead of the pack” in social media.

Repeatedly ranked highly among educational institutions for its varied and engaging approach to social media, Tufts maintains a hub of networking services to stay digitally connected to the university community.

While still reporting reliable Tufts-related news, social media channels transcend the limitations of traditional media by turning communication into an interactive dialogue.

"[Through social media] we make real connections … and find out what people are thinking and saying," Manager of Web Content and Strategy Kaitlin Provencher said. "It helps us understand our community in new ways that more traditional media doesn't offer."

A strong social media presence is particularly important to a university like Tufts that "aims to provide information about what is happening on and around campus and to create a forum for connection with audiences," ranging from prospective students on the other side of the globe to "donors at major foundations and corporations that support higher education," Director of Communications Anne Fishman said.

"We all benefit from the chance to talk to each other, share our thoughts, and connect to each other through our common Tufts connection," Fishman said.

According to Provencher, these connections have a positive impact on the way the university communicates outside of social media as well.

"We often get story ideas and ideas on things to highlight through traditional media from our social media community," Provencher said.

The Office of Web Communications — of which Provencher is a member — is directly responsible for the university's main social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter. Web Communications also chairs the university-wide Social Media Working Group, comprising dozens of practitioners from across the university, and meets monthly to discuss ideas, get peer advice and create guidelines that everyone at the university can access, according to Provencher. Web Communications also maintains an e-list of more than 80 subscribers.

"The social media landscape changes frequently," Provencher said. "This e-list provides a place where people can ask questions, seek feedback and discuss the latest trends as they happen."

With social media constantly evolving, Web Communications tries to provide a balance of content that will interest all of the varying audiences.

"As with any communications channel, our strategy is to look at each platform and tool and use them to engage with our audience in the ways that best suit each tool," Provencher said.

She explained that Twitter is "more conversational, free flowing and in the moment," so her office uses TweetDeck, a social media dashboard application, to monitor mentions of Tufts and tries to start conversations and field questions as best as they can.

"For instance, if we see that someone has mentioned they just took a campus tour, we will usually reach out to them and invite them to let us know if they have any questions," Provencher said.

For Facebook, Web Communications tries to avoid constant updates, because they have to compete with people's friends and other interests, Provencher said.

Fishman also emphasized the importance of balance and using each social media tool in the most appropriate way.

"We don't want to focus on repeating information that is being pushed out in other places," Fishman said. "We don't want to be the voice of the administration."

These strategies have been working, as Web Communications has seen a significant increase in its audiences on both Twitter and Facebook. Provencher reported a 66 percent increase in Twitter followers and a 30 percent increase in Facebook likes over time.

With several social media platforms to master and thousands of followers and subscribers to account for, Web Communications needs a strategy to control and coordinate all of these channels.

"We definitely try to stick with themes and messages that tie into the Tufts brand," Provencher said.

To make the conversations flow between the different social media channels, Web Communications will occasionally cross-promote.

"For example, during matriculation or commencement, we would point out on Facebook that you can follow the day's happenings through this hashtag or that on Twitter," Provencher said.

Web Communications also created several tools to help university groups get started with social media. These include a social media strategy template, which poses a series of questions to get people thinking about why they want a social media presence and what their goals are.

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