How Columbia University Mastered Social Media Management


How Columbia University Mastered Social Media Management

By Special Guest
Caroline Henley, Social Media Specialist within Columbia University´┐Żs School of Professional Studies
  |  July 06, 2017

Columbia University is one of the oldest, most international, and preeminent universities in the U.S. And Columbia’s School of Professional Studies is a graduate school within the university.

SPS offers market-driven education for a wide range of students, from the Summer Programs for High School Students, to the American Language Program, to fourteen master’s degree programs.

Each of the university’s many schools, departments, and programs have their own social media marketing strategies and objectives. That’s a problem that may sound familiar to many business managers.

As is often the case with large and long-standing institutions, programs operate somewhat in silos. And there are different priorities in the school’s social media efforts. For example, our Bioethics (M.S.) Program Director, Dr. Robert Klitzman, has very different priorities in messaging than our Applied Analytics (M.S.) Program Director, Thomas Deely.

With our diverse range of programs, we operate close to 30 different social channels, all with different users, post cadence, tone, and messaging. This inconsistency could be confusing to students, and potentially damaging, without a unified and concerted effort to raise the profile of social media across our school.  Further, Jason Wingard, PhD, the Dean of SPS, uses his social channels as a direct line to students, faculty, staff and alumni, and is eager to onboard faculty to do the same.

Centralizing Social Media Management

After evaluating several social media management platforms, we decided to use to centralize all of the school’s social media accounts. Our first step was onboarding the various and scattered accounts and getting our faculty and staff up to speed on using the platform. Next, we used the solution to unite and re-brand the graduate school. We also use the platform to create a consistent voice for the school and open up the channels of communication to prospective students, current students, alumni, and staff.

Since we started using the platform in February 2016, we have doubled the graduate school’s social following across programs and channels, launched and grown the dean’s Twitter handle to more than 5,000 followers, and our Dean’s Pulse (News - Alert) blog has been added to LinkedIn’s Education channel.

Today, we co-promote everything – from a talk with FC Bayern Munich's management on sports business, to the Chief Digital Officer of the Metropolitan Museum's lecture on how to market nonprofits, to our Bioethics faculty's op-eds in CNN or The New York Times on the latest medical controversies, to the wide-ranging career successes of our alumni. It also helps us break down the walls and allow greater access to Ivy League learning, as we use the platform to live tweet and stream guest lectures, broadcast events, promote info sessions, share faculty press coverage, and run alumni profiles.

Social Listening

Looking outside of our owned social channels, we also use social listening to keep an eye on competing institutions.

Recently I noticed one school was getting four times the reach across the web, because students of this competing program were sharing the news on social media when they were accepted. This inspired us to implement our own sharing campaigns, encouraging students to share their emotional news and reactions upon finding out that they were admitted to Columbia.

This represents one example of how marketers can get very creative with a small nugget of data. We also use social listening to keep an eye on forums to track the pickup of the graduate school’s name, and to see what students are saying, or asking us, about Columbia.

Community Management

Beyond managing our social media content, we are now actively managing our large community on Facebook (News - Alert), Twitter, and LinkedIn.

We encourage each of our programs to use consistent hashtags and promote their respective social channels as clearly as possible for students. That organizes our content and makes it as easy as possible for students to follow along and engage. For prospective students, we’re able to answer questions posed on social, and use our feeds to showcase what they might learn at Columbia in their program of choice.

We also interact with and encourage the engagement of our alumni, as it is one of the most direct ways for them to keep connected to the school.

Universally Applicable

Institutions and organizations at all levels and in all verticals can benefit from a centralized social media strategy that is orchestrated from the top down.

Knowing who your audience is, understanding where and how to reach them, and keeping an eye on the competition are all essential data points that will give any organization a major advantage.

So, what can you learn from Columbia? What do you need to successfully implement a centralized social strategy?

Here are a few of those things.

  • Leadership buy-in: We were lucky to have the full support of the Dean and SPS behind us, which helped us to quickly enact many of these changes to our social strategy. This can be a challenge for older institutions, like Columbia, that are often steeped in tradition and old school ways.
  • Teamwork: Before centralizing all our social accounts, each department and program had different staff running their social. These stakeholders also had very different objectives, and goals that they wanted to achieve. Part of our initial success with centralizing all of our activity and content was understanding each department’s individual needs and helping them understand how they can benefit. 
  • An ear to the outside: Social listening is an extremely important part of social strategy that is often left out. But those who fail to do so risk falling out of sync with, and failing to grow, their core audience. In the absence of this data, they may even be misinformed on who their core audience is. We have acted on listening data for unique and creative marketing campaigns.

Edited by Alicia Young
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