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University officials embrace Twitter

Published: Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 08:09


Kristin Collins / Tufts Daily

Tufts officials have opened an array of Twitter accounts to reach out to everyone from current students to alumni.



Tufts has a new voice — and it speaks in 140-character chunks.

For the past two years, Tufts has been quietly developing a significant presence on Twitter, the micro-blogging website now frequented by a reported 190 million users monthly.

The official Tufts Twitter account (@TuftsUniversity) has amassed more than 5,000 followers, and practically every facet of the school's administration has launched its own account, from the Office of Alumni Relations to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

The value of Twitter to students is obvious; the Beelzebubs, for instance, use the forum to advertise audition times and show dates to its "followers."

Now, the university is tapping into Twitter's large user base as well, facilitating an unprecedented level of direct and informal electronic dialogue between Tufts students and staff. The site also provides a new medium through which to share university news with parents and alumni.

Georgiana Cohen, the Tufts employee who oversees the main Tufts account, said that the criterion for a post is simple and unscientific: It needs to be interesting.

"It could be something timely like an event. It could be photos from Matriculation or a video shot by a student at an a cappella concert," Cohen, the managing editor of web communications, said. 

The language of the posts is often colloquial and punctuated by emoticons, in keeping with what Cohen calls the "conversational and accessible nature of the medium."

Twitter is, Cohen emphasizes, a forum for dialogue rather than a broadcast channel or a marketing tool. The account frequently features "retweets" of Tufts-related posts from other students as well as responses and comments.

"Often [it will be] something funny a student says, like a joke about hiking up the hill," Cohen said. "We want to highlight all of the aspects of the Tufts experience that thrive on Twitter. We want to build a community."

The ambitions of a Tufts Twitter account targeted at alumni are slightly different, according to Dave Nuscher, the director of editorial and creative services for Advancement Communications, and Enza Vescera, associate director of electronic and print marketing for Advancement Communications.

While the main university Twitter account publishes information of general interest and relevance to the Tufts community at large, the alumni Twitter feed targets a more specific audience: young alumni who fall within Twitter's primary user demographic.

Tailoring content for that group has proven challenging, Vescera said.

"We started off [in August 2009] posting press releases … and people didn't seem to be interested in that," she said.

In response, Vescera, Nuscher and their colleagues decided to try a lighter approach.

"We thought, ‘Let's have more fun with this,' so we broadened our focus to look at pop culture references to Tufts out there in the world [and] questions we could ask to engage people in a conversation," Vescera said.

Still, as an official platform of communication that reflects the university, the alumni account is run more formally than many Twitter accounts.

Content is premeditated rather than spontaneous, and tweaks are made before a tweet is posted.

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