Thematic week: Communicating broadly – which social media channels?

Jarle V. Traavik (University of Oslo)

This entry is written by Jarle V. Traavik, who works as the head of finance at the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Oslo and is a self proclaimed ‘social media guy’, managing social media at the faculty. Jarle is a UK Chartered Accountant and has over 20 years of experience in business and management with an interest on communication strategies. He has worked closely on a number of issues related to strategic planning at the faculty, in addition to participating to the university wide initiative “Task force on Social Media”. In this post, he reflects on portfolio challenges related to building up presence on social media. 

Social media is already an integral part of education. Not only is it a source of information in its own right, but it is also a reference mechanism, and a tool for facilitating learning. The “twitterverse” knows the news before it reaches mainstream media, many use social networks to seek advice or store links, and lecturers use these tools to query or advise students.

As a playground of choice for many prospective and existing students, social media is an ideal tool for communicating issues of interest in higher education. Journalists are also known to make use of Twitter for example, making it a potentially good channel to forward research findings to the wider community. Additionally, some staff also use social media actively for communicating with colleagues, and hint at social media as an alternative to e-mail or internal newsletters.

So the tools and the interest are there. We also know however, that resources at most education institutions are stretched. In many cases therefore schools or universities will need to maneuver for maximum output from minimum input.

At the Faculty of Educational Sciences we state in our strategic plan for the period to 2020 that we “will be an active contributor and dialogue partner in the design of knowledge-based education policies and in the dissemination of good practice in Norwegian schools and communities”. This paved the way for adoption of social media as a communication channel, but which channels should the faculty administration adopt, and how? Two of us sat down and decided to simply learn by doing. We have experimented with a portfolio of social media over the past two years, and have gained some experience into what works for us, and what does not.

“The SoMe reference for all things educational science – in Norway”

Our goal when we set out in 2010 was simple – we aimed to move into the position of the natural Norwegian reference point for anyone on SoMe connected with aspects of educational science from day one: “Interested in news, research findings, or lectures and programmes on schools, teaching, learning, special needs etc. in Norway? Join us on Twitter and Facebook.”

In terms of resources we were able to muster a few hours from an overworked designer and 25% of a communications advisor for the duration. We think the results are interesting – and keep in mind we’ve thrown about 1,000 hours into this in total over two years.

Facebook 

Facebook is huge. Over 900 million users, two million in Norway alone, and over 50% of users are in the 18-35 age bracket – a great demographic for a higher education institution. Surprisingly, Facebook is working less well for us than we expected at our launch in 2010. We have a little over 400 likes today on our main Norwegian-language profile, but given nearly 3,000 students, over 300 staff, and a broad public – that’s not a whole lot. Rare updates or dry content could have explained the gap, but we actually post 2-3 times a day on average with a mix of events (e.g. open lectures), our own research findings, and mass-media coverage of related issues. So where are the thousands? This still baffles us.

We also have a separate student information page where issues directly relevant to students like exams, lecture schedules, and social events are posted. A little over a year after launch it has only picked up around 300. We haven’t concluded on this issue, but are planning to experiment a little to see if syntax plays a role (to save time we’ve linked our Facebook account to Twitter and post in “Twitter-syntax”/ -length), and are also planning to use traditional direct marketing towards students to advertise our presence.

The faculty also carries a relatively successful “place” page with over 300 likes that covers our main campus building (students in particular do like to “check-in”). We also maintain an English official profile page which has a respectable 150 likes given the relative paucity of updates.

Twitter

Twitter on the other hand has been a lot more successful for us, and we are fast approaching 2,000 followers on our main profile. This makes our faculty larger on Twitter than many Norwegian universities. Why? For one thing, educators are a large and identifiable group on Twitter. As opposed to Facebook, Twitter allows “free” targeting of potential followers by allowing our “page” to follow educators, politicians, and journalists – and many of these follow us back. Secondly, our Twitter followers seem a lot more interactive than our Facebook likers and retweet and comment on our posts at a much greater rate.

As with Facebook the faculty also has an English official profile with a 100 followers – again we could not expect more given our limited activity.

Google+, LinkedIn, and tumblr

The Facebook competitor Google+ is a more recent channel for us, and so far the user-base appears more limited and technology-focused. We’re staying in to have a presence, but are primarily maintaining at this time. Interestingly we have more followers on our English account than our Norwegian one on Google+.

The career-networking site LinkedIn shows slow growth for the faculty but it remains an interesting future channel for keeping in touch with alumni, for marketing student programs, and for highlighting career opportunities within the faculty and without.

In addition to the mainstream social networks, we also decided to try out one of the smaller environments. After a quick search we selected the blogging-site tumblr as a potentially interesting channel to future exchange students. So far the signs are that this has not been a great match for us, and looking forward we are likely to replace it with another new channel.

 YouTube

About six months ago we opened our own YouTube channel with limited expectations since we didn’t believe we’d be active enough to make it much more than a video repository.

A few months later we’ve passed a whopping 2,000 video-views from a mere 18 videos, demonstrating the increasing appeal of video as a communication tool. While some of these views have come directly from YouTube-searches, the majority come from embedding on websites and links through other social media.

Conclusions

So what have we learned from this 2-year foray? Which social media should we focus on? We’ve drawn four key conclusions that are shaping our social media efforts going forward:

  1. Active presence is non-negotiable. Students and other followers give valuable feedback and communicate with us on a daily basis. We will keep a broad presence and stay tuned.
  2. Our portfolio is pretty solid. We will maintain and grow all channels, except for possibly tumblr which we are likely to swop out for another “fresh” channel.
  3. Communication resources remain limited, so we will continue to focus on returns. This means active re-use of content and a to-the-point communication style.
  4. Video-based content is important, and drives views. We will invest in creating more ‘short and sweet’ video in the coming year.

Have any comments or advice? We’d love to hear it!