During the April Minnewebcon in Minneapolis (planned by the lovely Amanda Costello), I presented a talk called “The Joneses: Communication Networks to Do Your Dirty Work.”
In it, I shared how communication networks can be encouraged to develop organically. At least, I think that was part of what I said. ;) The talk was taken, in part, from my thesis work on Twitter use to convert people to choose vaccinations in the wake of the H1N1 crisis.
During the presentation, we had a spirited discussion of what to do when parts of your trusty communication network want to segment their stakeholder groups off from the main trunk of the social media tree. I’ve encountered this issue before with various groups at the UALR Bowen School of Law. Little did I know that I’d hit the same issue again when I arrived back from my all-too-short trip.
One of the session participants asked what to do when a smaller segment of your stakeholder population wants to establish its own social media presence. In other words, what to say when they ask for a Facebook page or a Twitter account of their own. I first said, “It’s nice that they asked.”
The Minnewebcon discussion came down to one question – will that population be able to maintain and sustain a healthy presence. Or, will they engage with their audience and post relevant content consistently?
I have had experiences on both sides of this coin. When I first joined Bowen, I tried to control all the social media channels, shutting down those that were established and asking current watchers – I say watchers because there was no real two-way communication on the channels – to engage with the one chosen account.
There was a little bristling, and I’m sure I hurt feelings, but I felt like this was the way to go – especially since the owners weren’t maintaining their presence in an active fashion.
Months passed and I had a demand from our alumni group – they did not like the amount of student information that was shared on our main Facebook page and so wanted their own outlet. I agreed to set up their page, but I established several active and knowledgeable alumni as administrators along with the alumni assistant.
You can guess what has happened. I have ended up posting most of the content on their page and cross-pollinated it with content from the main school page. By the same token, when I post alumni events and information, I share them with the main page. I’m treating it like two separate sections of the same newspaper, but it only works well enough because the organization is active and some of the alumni do choose to engage.
The majority of alumni, however, have become more and more engaged on the main Bowen FB page. So much so that I think I could make a case for once again wrapping the alumni page back into the fold.
Since then, another college group determined to have its own social media presence – this time without consulting with me. I’ll leave them nameless because IMO they’ve been largely unsuccessful. It’s not because they don’t have content to share; it’s because they are lax in sharing it. Their Twitter account has languished, and their Facebook page has events but not much more than that.
It comes down to what we ended up discussing in that classroom at the University of Minnesota. Segmenting your populations works when – and only when – your populations are given enough incentive to be involved with a separate channel.
It’s like cable TV. You have 500 channels, but you’re only truly invested in one or two when it comes down to it. We just don’t have the time and attention to watch all 500 to their fullest potential. As one of my communication professors would say, “Is that making sense to you?”
Now, back to the request that came to me – from one of our well-established programs at Bowen – when I got back from Minnewebcon. The group wanted to establish its own Facebook page, strictly because the individuals involved with the group were tired of engaging with their stakeholders from their personal accounts. They didn’t contemplate that, by establishing another presence online, they’d have one more channel to manage.
I discussed with them the same plan I recommended to the conference attendee. They should recommend that these stakeholders join our school’s main Facebook page and follow our main Twitter account. Then, the program managers should begin posting relevant information on the main FB page and Twitter account. If we saw a significant enough engagement – metrics such as Likes, Shares, Retweets, and responses – we could then establish a separate set of channels that were appropriate and maintained by the program managers themselves.
I think it was a good way to resolve a possible conflict, one that I didn’t have the chance to try before with the two non-successes I discuss earlier. I really hope this program and its managers are successful enough to engage their stakeholders and establish their own presence, but only time will tell. They are patient and willing to work, though.
The compromise may end up being the new beginning for our school and a segmented social media presence. I hope the pie proves big enough to cut a piece for this group and others who can sustain engagement.
Pumpkin pie image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/yummies4tummies/6380305953/