Dr. James Nolan of Southwestern College in New Mexico wrote this article nearly a year ago, explaining how his graduate college has shifted lean resources (both staff and budget) to social media — and blossomed.
Whether you are part of a unit within a large public university or you head up a graduate program like Dr. Nolan, please just give this excerpt a glance and see if any of this a) holds true for you or b) is something you aspire to in 2013…
As it is, I am the president of a graduate school, I am in my fifties, and Social Media has become my Swiss Army Knife for doing business in higher education. …as is the case with many small schools (we have approximately eight hundred alumni), tuition has always been our primary (75% to 92%) source of college income. Our former development function performed valued activities, but lost money for eight straight years. The last two years I had a grant writer (2009-10), we threw buckets of cash after once-philanthropic organizations which were now hunkered down under the bed waiting for the world economy storm to blow over. We wrote thirty-five grants and got none of them. I am a very positive guy, but the likelihood of raising a sustainable income for the College from eight hundred alumni in the counseling and art therapy field is simply not good. Not happening. And when grant writing starts to feel like playing bunco, I have to revisit my responsibility to my institution and its mission, and make hard decisions. … with social media as an enormously powerful ally, we broke all enrollment records this past year, for each quarter, and overall, and our credit hour production was great as well. (That record will be broken next year. I can see that already…) Prospective students now show up routinely, saying “I feel like I know you guys already from your videos and blogs and Facebook page … I’ve been following you for months…” It is gratifying, and it is good business, and it is authentic.
If you seem to be nodding your head with a sense of fellowship, you’re halfway there. But we all know battles are won and lost in the back half…
With each new relationship we undertake in the realm of higher education, the Verge Pipe Media team goes in with patience packed to the gills. Sure, the personalities, organizational hierarchy and out-dated technology can be trying at times, but these are par for the course. Our biggest challenge is YOUR biggest challenge: how do we shift a large, moving object’s direction?
“Why bother? Not going to happen in my tenure. We don’t have the people.” No matter what field you are in, these are unacceptable phrases to someone in a position of power and responsibility.
We do social media consulting, campaign management and creative. We love it! We build websites and landing pages and work with your internal team on content, but the BIG value-add is at your foundation – helping administrators answer questions and statements like those listed above, maybe even taking some of the heat.
Whether you are looking for a team like Verge Pipe Media or seeking sharp internal hires, you need people that have the enthusiasm, technical know-how and patience to help educate others. We spend a large portion of our time face-to-face with our partners in higher education, getting to know associate deans, department heads, faculty members and students. Change a mind here, another one there and – slowly – momentum will shift. And then, as mass starts to collect, you’ll feel energized movement. New life.
As a leader, when you commit to a much more visible and modern digital communication strategy, you will face resistance. Prepare for it: the boo-birds, the holdouts, incessant questions, outright fear and wrist slapping from peers. It’s the nature of change. We’re talking about a major shift in culture and, very likely, heat from “the powers that be”.
Dr. Nolan wrote this in June of 2012, but it holds true today – perhaps increasingly true as social media proves to be a rather mercurial beast:
Operating out of a fear base is almost never a good idea. Social media, with its unprecedented immediacy and transparency, is not a place we can go successfully, as an individual or as an institution of higher education, if we travel in fear.
Author: Meredith Singer is Head of Ops & Co-Creative at Verge Pipe Media. Verge Pipe Media assists public institutions, enterprises and the non-profit sector with Imaginative Inbound Marketing strategies + campaigns. We also have a development team chock full of Marvelous Mobile Migrators, poised to help transition our clients into a mobile + social world with custom software, iOS and Android mobile apps.