Some of the country’s most-followed CIOs on social media outline how others can get started

social-media-cioJust attend any national higher education conference and you’ll see that being a Chief Information Officer (CIO) at an institution today also means being active on social networking sites.

CIOs at universities across the county are being asked to help their institution’s brand outreach and community growth by embracing Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms, like LinkedIn.

But whether it’s using Twitter to update students about network maintenance, or using Google Apps to manage projects, social media is growing and many CIOs need a cohesive strategy to make sure they’re not just posting the equivalent of YouTube cat videos in random tweets.

Finding new and innovative uses for improving productivity while also building a professional network, can be accomplished, say the most active—but also successful—CIOs on social networks.

We talked to four CIOs from universities across the country to put together a short list of essential social media tips to make communicating with students, administrators and faculty not only easy, but effective:

1. Start

Perhaps the best tip CIOs who use social media can give to other university administrators is to simply start using social media. “If you are not using social platforms to engage your stakeholders, even a few small steps can help you engage and learn more about what is important to your team, faculty members, students and community,” said Scott Studham, the CIO for the University of Minnesota.

Although there may be a stigma that social media is a waste of time, or has no place in a professional environment outside of promotion or advertising, the best way CIOs can help dispel these negative ideas is to begin using social media in ways that help manage projects or help connect with students in addition to building their professional network. “If you are skeptical that’s fine, but if you haven’t used it and are skeptical then think again,” Stephen Lamb, CIO at British Columbia Institute of Technology, said. “Social media tools like Twitter can appear irrelevant, frivolous or even overwhelming at first glance, but as with most tools, how you use it is where you will find the value.  So my best advice is dive in.”

(Next page: Knowing your market; controlling content)
2. Connect Although nothing can replace networking in person, staying in touch with someone you have met at a school-sponsored event or conference via Facebook, Twitter or even Instagram can help create opportunities that may have been impossible otherwise.

“Social media let’s me establish relationships with people in other parts of the world that provide me with fresh perspectives and inspiration, and at times even validate some of my own ideas,” said Lamb. “My engagement through social media has created professional opportunities for me that otherwise would have been impossible or hard to come by.”

Using social media will allow you to connect with people who work on different schedules, and younger employees who may prefer using Twitter to email. “Workers, particularly younger workers, tend to ‘blur the lines’ between work time and personal time,” said Studham. “Our goal is to enable their professional contribution to the University whenever and wherever they want to make it.”

3. Learn your market

“I keep up-to-date via Twitter more so than any other mechanism and time and time again, I will find out about something important to our campus via Twitter well before I find out from other sources,” said Susan Kellogg, CIO at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Universities attract people of all ages and backgrounds, so it’s important to learn what their needs are in order to better serve the campus. Perhaps younger students who live on campus are complaining that the Wi-Fi in their library is not fast enough, but commuter students who may be returning to school are finding that they are having trouble connecting to the university’s servers remotely. By monitoring and communicating with both groups via Twitter and Facebook you can get an idea of what challenges your team needs to solve. “We use Facebook for outages, pending upgrades, etc. We regularly check the “Class of” Facebook pages to see what problems the students are reporting so that we can try to resolve the issue quickly,” explained Brian Rellinger, Chief Information Officer at Ohio Wesleyan University.

4. Control your content For someone who is new to social media, the sheer amount of information posted on platforms like Facebook or Twitter can seem overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that social media is a tool to take advantage of.

“Using social media in the workplace isn’t so much about learning how to use a new technology; it’s about understanding and leveraging new paradigms around how to engage, communicate, collaborate and, ultimately, get things done,” noted Studham.

“You need to tweet what you think is important so that people know you are like-minded.  They follow you and you in-turn will look to see who they are. You’ll see their tweets and say, ‘hey, they are pretty smart–I’ll follow them,’” said Kellogg. “Before you know it, you have a group of truly fascinating people who bring you news and information you would never have been able to find in one magazine, website, or other location.”

5. Know your tools

Not all social media platforms are created equal. It’s critical to remember that certain tools are best for certain goals. For example, Twitter may be great for posting quick updates, promoting new projects or finding out what people on your campus are discussing.

However, it may not be the best place to post about upcoming network maintenance, since information cycles quickly on Twitter, and your followers may not see the update. “We do use social tools (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to provide our community with technology product/service promotions, manage service updates, deliver status messages on outages and communicate and collaborate on a team level” said Studham. But the platform matters, he explained.

Peter Sclafani is an editorial freelancer with eCampus News.


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