I first “met” Antonio Viva in 2009 when I interviewed him for an article on how independent schools were using social media. [The article appeared as “Recipes for Success” in CASE Currents, January 2010, and is available to CASE members here.] At the time, Viva was associate head at Worcester Academy in Worcester, MA. He and one of his classes began a blog that became the genesis for The WA Mash — a social media mashup that was the first such presence for an independent school. (You can read about WA Mash in this blog post.]
But times change. In 2010, Viva accepted the post of head of school at Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, MA. In his new role, Viva found that he had to approach his social media presence differently than he did as a faculty member. Now he primarily uses Twitter, where he’s @antonioviva.
When you were at Worcester, you were a faculty member and advocated using social media in some interesting — and for the time, radical — ways. How have your views changed and evolved?
When I was at Worcester, what I was doing was experimenting with technology that was new. What’s happened over the last four to five years is that my own trajectory has changed and the use of social media has changed. I’ve found that the implications are different. Partly because the technology has matured, society’s use of the tools has matured, and I’ve had to elevate my view of how I use social media because of the change in my responsibilities.
Now, I’m ultimately in charge of a complex enterprise and my emphasis is: in this complex enterprise, how do these tools factor into what we do day-to-day? I have to look at them in a more complex and sophisticated way.
Now, I work with a set of team members who are positioned to help the school advance and my personal use of social media is very limited. Given my role, and my own strengths, I’m focused on using Twitter to communicate.
When I came to Walnut Hill two years ago, it was a great time to assess the communications landscape. I brought in a new marketing officer, Michele Levy, and she and I looked broadly at all the resources available to us. I decided to build on the Twitter presence that I already had and use that tool to expose all the wonderful and exciting things that were happening on campus and also share some of my thoughts about education in general. I can provide a snapshot of my view of life at Walnut Hill — 140 characters is adequate for me to use to share some of the great stuff that’s happening on our campus.
I began to discover that a lot of young alumni were active on Twitter, so I followed them, then they followed me and we began to engage. And I’ve found that Twitter is really a terrific way to engage young alumni: it’s a real-time, immediate, organic conversation that couldn’t happen any other way. I really enjoy it — though I’m not as devoted to Twitter as I feel I should be a lot of the time.
It’s exciting to think that I can make connections with alumni (and others) so quickly — and can engage with them in real time. They don’t have to wait for an email newsletter or an alumni magazine to find out something really cool about our school. And they can easily share that across their networks as well.
How about Facebook — how do you use it?
It’s a stylistic choice for me not to be on Facebook. The school actively uses Facebook to engage with prospect students, current families and alums, but that comes out of our marketing communications office.
What else have you learned?
One of the things I learned about social media is that the tools are incredibly rich in the info they can provide. So at the outset, we try to look at the demographics of our audience, compare the relevant data and statistics. With Facebook, 80% of our audience is over 18. But we see the demographics of our audience skewing younger in the past 18 months, with more involvement by 14-18 year-olds, which tells us that more prospect and current students are engaging with us in that way.
So, like everything in social media, we’re trying to understand what effect this is having. And I believe that if a school is going to embrace social media as part of its ongoing communications strategy, you’ll need to adapt regularly. You can’t keep doing what you’re doing if it doesn’t get results: you have to look at data and make informed choices about moving forward.
It sounds to me as if you’ve stepped back from being active on social media since you’ve become a head: is that true?
As head, I know I have a role as part of our larger marketing communications strategy. I use this analogy: the head of facilities can’t possibly be solely responsible for our physical plant. Our facilities are managed by an entire team. Same with our marketing communications effort. We need to think openly about all the tools we have access to and use them to their best advantage, and ours. I believed that five years ago, but now I’m even more convinced of how important it is.
For me, I like the fact that I need to have both a high-level perspective on our school and know about the details, too. So I have to have that 50,000-foot vision, but also get into the weeds on select topics and issues. I can be engaged in that very personal level — take a picture at a performance and share it — and also share thoughts about some of the larger strategic thinking we’re doing. It forces me, and the institution, to engage and evolve.
*[Note: this is one of a series of interviews with college and university CEOs about how they use social media in their role as institutional leaders. I conducted this research for an article that will appear in the November-December issue of CASE Currents.]