Academic social media ambassadors

I have had a busy few months working with a number of different Universities sorting various social media training courses and delivering new content marketing strategies for them. One of the things that is close to my heart is the creation of brand ambassadors no matter what industry you are in whether that is Education or FMCG. So I have been delering training courses to a number of academics around the country to show them how to get the most from social media marketing and to help them aid their own online profiles.

By now, most people know the main benefits of social media marketing; increased brand awareness, better market insights and improved brand loyalty to name a few. However, is social media training beneficial enough to justify itself in the world of academia? How much can university marketers gain from the training? Well, much like most arguments, there’s pros and cons that must be weighed up.

Brand credibility and transparency is what consumers want. It is the same at Universities; students or people, in general, want to know what’s happening behind the scenes of that institution and engage with it on a human level.

Therefore, it is essential to take advantage of your academic’s influence and presence on social media. Particularly at the local stage, the data sharing or personally endorsing of a University, or even a specific course, demonstrates that the academic in question has trust in what their University offers.

There are a number of challenges to be overcome in order to achieve a high level of promotion from within, but nothing is too difficult to solve. The social media presence of a University doesn’t fall solely under the responsibility of the social media managers, course leaders or even the big budgeted marketing department – all of the University’s academics are responsible for helping to build and create the online reputation of a University.  It certainly isn’t that hard to help and both parties benefit if it is delivered correctly.

Academics – selecting the right tools for your social media efforts

There are a great number of online tools and apps that academics need to be using in order for them to become effective social media ambassadors. This includes not only the traditional big channels (Twitter Facebook etc.) but also the vast amount of analytics, scheduling and follower tracker tools available.

As Andy Miah said in an article for The World University Rankings:

There are so many tools and networks that could be of potential use to scholars that it can be difficult to keep track.”

The above article lists an A-Z of most tools that are available, which is a handy source to cross reference with. Once you’ve decided what tools are most appropriate for your channels, you should do a little research around the particular need and then select the best one based on that. Whatever you need it is more than likely out there in some capacity, it just requires a little reading into the subject (particularly if it is on a paid subscription basis) and choosing the one that most suits your specific social media efforts.

Social Brand Value

Social brand value is the extent to which people, or academics in this case, willingly share brand content or brand information in their own regular social activity. In order to achieve this, you must ensure the content you are sharing is relatable to your audience and not just sales and marketing messages. Continually posting relatable content will not only build up a strong organic following, but will more than likely have your current academics engaging with your page which is exactly what you want.

In a brillaint piece for The Guardian TheLitCritGuy pointed out:

“One of the most successful anonymous academic accounts, @AcademicsSay, posts jokes that academics connect with – about coffee, being overworked and the ever-present catchphrase ‘you should be writing’. These highly shareable posts keep the account focused and identifiable, and have drawn a huge following.”

Creating your Social ambassadors’ team

Putting your brand ambassadors’ team together at a University is important. Some academics will need no encouragement in terms of engaging, posting and sharing their social content. Try and seek out academics that are already behind your brand’s message and try to include those from various backgrounds and with different interests – this will give you a broader reach when they engage and share on their own channels. The beauty of this – is they are already real life experts, maybe not in soical media just yet but in their respective fields they are seen as brilliant and will know far more than you and I on their specialist subject. We just want to help them reach more people that are interested in that subject and raise their profile – what can be wrong with that?

For a university or any higher education establishment, it is also critical to consider how well you’re social ambassadors are performing academically and how much they are involved in university life; are they members of teams/ societies, do they already have a job on campus or are they an alumni that has gone on to have a successful career?

It is only a successful strategy when a company is accessible and you have a “one team” policy operating. A number of Universities don’t feel, or see a need, to share with academics their vision, goals and missions, saying this isn’t applicable to them? This is wrong as integration is essential to the development of a strong social brand no matter what sector you are in. In fact, I would argue that is better that these people are all from different backgrounds with various specialisms.

Engaging with new social media audiences

It goes without saying that understanding your audience and its data is imperative when it comes to social media marketing. Your content must be tailored to meet their needs as generic stuff is simply a waste of time. In this case it will more than likely be current academics and alumni as the bulk of the audience.

Having an effective social media ambassadors though will allow you to engage with new audiences and create more awareness of your institution. Expanding your reach could be hugely beneficial, potentially giving you the ability to get your University’s messages across to aspiring new students that are really into a particular subject.

There is a level of trust that comes with having social media ambassadors that you simply couldn’t get by just using your University’s account. Corporate University accounts simply aren’t treated in the same way and can sometimes be a tad dry. In an article published on; Britton, Jackson and Wade discussed how scientists in the academic sector were perceived by audiences;

“…a recent investigation led by American science communicators analysed the impact of scientists’ selfies on Instagram — the image-sharing site7. The findings suggest that scientists using Instagram to share selfies were perceived as warmer, more trustworthy and no less competent than their non-selfie sharing colleagues. Resources such as 500 Women Scientists’, Request a Woman Scientist and Skype a Scientist are platforms that help to connect women, non-binary gender, and racial and ethnic minority experts with the public, increasing the representation of these groups to a broad range of people.”

The same principle can easily be applied to a higher education social media ambassador team. If the students engage properly with the Ambassidors, they can often build up another level of warmth and trustworthiness that would be very difficult to replicate purely from the institutions’ account. Students are often switched off by the marketing messages being pushed by the in-house marketing teams.


Risk vs Reward of developing social media ambassadors

As well as the vast potential benefits, there are, of course, a number of problems to contend with. One of the biggest challenges facing higher education organisations when it comes to social media is maintaining a strong and consistent tone of voice. With so many teams granted access to the establishment’s channels, messages can have a different tone depending on who is in charge. This can be quite a big problem as the content often seems disparate and not conherent.

In an article for Hootsuite, Jylian Russell suggested a clear three pronged strategy for eliminating this problem;

“Develop a social media policy, identify a campus wide social media community manager and use integrated social media scheduling and monitoring tools.”

As mentioned previously, having a social media ambassador team should not really be a very formal arrangement, which makes it harder to have control over their collective tone of voice. However, this can easily be avoided by being a bit more selective – start small if you need to. You don’t need to recruit every single academic in your University from day one, according to Jorgen Sundberg:

“Scout which employees seem eager to showcase the message, services, and products online by sounding sincere and relevant. If you can identify employees who already use and enjoy social media in a positive manner, you have won half the battle.

Getting academics on board could be the winner in your social media strategy

With all areas of social media marketing, there are going to be problems you encounter and getting academics to play nicely can and will be a challenge. Trust me, I have been there and done it and I know some are willing and some are not and think what we do in marketing is a load of cobblers. But there will always be ways of minimalizing this if the right action is taken. If executed and lead properly, a social media ambassador’s team can be a very effective tool for universities in the United Kingdom to use, potentially having huge benefits as I covered above. It is just about making sure the right measures are put in place to keep messages consistent, on brand and relatable to your audience.

If you ware interested in mobilsiing your social media ambassidors but need an external team to come in and help you can learn more about how we can help you develop an effective and coherent social media ambassador’s team here.

About Chris Norton

Chris Norton is the founder of Prohibition and an award winning communications consultant with more than twenty years’ experience. He was a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and has had a varied PR career having worked both in-house and in a number of large consultancies. He is an Integrated PR and social media blogger and writes on a wide variety of blogs across a huge amount of topics from digital marketing, social media marketing right through to technology and crisis management.