Anne M. Kress is president of Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. The fifth president of the college, she earned a doctoral degree in higher education administration, master’s and bachelor’s degrees in English, and a bachelor’s degree with honors in finance, all from the University of Florida. She has more than two decades of experience as an educator and administrator in higher education (or, as @MCCPresident might put it, #highered).
Monroe Community College enrolls more than 37,000 students a year in its various programs and employs more than 1500 full and part-time faculty and staff. One of Kress’s major initiatives is the Division of Economic Development and Innovative Workforce Services, which is responsible for developing innovative, entrepreneurial and strategic initiatives designed to be proactive in responding to economic development and training needs.
What prompted you to begin using Twitter?
It seemed like a great way to communicate directly with a wide community about MCC and give insights into both the work we do as a college and the work I do as MCC president. I wanted to use it to shine a spotlight on MCC and highlight great work in higher education.
Do you use other social media, either personally or in your position as president?
I write a weekly blog for the internal college community and do a weekly email newsletter for our Trustees. I also use social media personally, but it is very important to me to keep my professional and personal online selves separate. If you want to learn what I’m reading about higher education affordability, follow me on Twitter. If you want to learn what ice cream I’m making this weekend, friend me on Facebook. At least from my perspective, these two don’t really cross over.
Do you write your own tweets?
I write all my own tweets. I’m clearly naive, as I was shocked the first time I learned that some folks do not. I tweet as @MCCPresident, so my thought is that it really should be me posting. Also as a writing instructor, I really like the challenge of the space limitations and can’t imagine turning it over to someone else. Monroe Community College has its own Twitter feed written by staff (@MonroeCC), but I’m a bit more obsessive about posting than they are.
How do you avoid using social media to create “a cult of personality” vs. promoting the university’s brand?
When I sat down at my kitchen table (literally) to create my Twitter account one night, I thought long and hard about how to present myself–as “Anne Kress” or as “MCC President.” I chose the latter because my goal was to promote the college, not myself. I wanted MCC’s name in the Twitterverse and wanted it to be the first thing anyone saw when reading one of my tweets.
Have you had insights or developed relationships because of your use of social media that you might not have developed otherwise?
My whole world of understanding and connections has expanded–positively–because of Twitter. Its immediacy keeps me informed on the go and in real time about local, national and global issues in higher education and in broader terms. I’ve discovered reports and articles, connected with people and organizations, arranged presentations at conferences, answered student and community questions, spurred news coverage of MCC, and more. I would not go back to a pre-Twitter life.
Why might a president decline to use social media (Twitter, Facebook, a blog, etc.)?
This would be hard for me to answer, but authenticity would be one reason, I think. The most successful leaders are authentic, true to themselves. If a president is not an online person, fluent and comfortable with social media, she might choose not to be out there. As a faculty member, I was one of the first to teach online; I’ve kept blogs for years and been on Facebook for quite a while; so this is second nature to me. One guideline for all social media is frequent engagement. As my Twitter followers can attest, that’s not an issue for me (smile!), but if a president would consider it an unwelcome chore, she shouldn’t do it. Instead, simply have college staff keep a college Twitter account.
What advice do you have for your peers who may be considering whether to begin using social media?
Be yourself but also be aware of your audience and your role. I’m beginning to feel a bit old fashioned on this given some of the tweets I see from professionals inside and outside of #highered, but I still believe there should be a distinction in tone and topic between public and private. With this proviso, I’d say: dive in and enjoy. So much truly valuable information flies by each day, Twitter helps me jump in this pool and swim rather than sink.
Do you foresee that presidents will be expected to have a Facebook profile or a fairly robust presence on another social channel? When?
As presidents, we now face the expectation to be incredibly available to all constituents almost continuously, whether it’s the 6 a.m. Saturday breakfast, the midnight phone call, the 4-hour drive for a 15-minute meeting, the 4 a.m. email asking for an immediate response, or simply our crazy daily schedules. We know this when we raise our hands to take on these amazing, rewarding, positions with the opportunity to impact many lives and serve the people and ideals within higher education. My guess is that in a few years, the requirement to have an engaging and engaged presence in the social media tool of the moment will be a given, largely driven by the expectations of our students. Digital natives are changing the landscape of #highered, and we’re still all just catching up.
*[Note: this is part 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.]