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Before You Get Started: Do You Really Need a Social Media Account?

Social media platforms are typically easy and free, but a successful social media strategy requires research, clearly outlined goals and objectives, smart tactics and dedicated effort. If you are thinking that participation in social media might be helpful for your department, first carefully consider these questions:

Do you have a larger umbrella account that can help you? Before starting your own account, contact the existing social media account for your department (e.g. Peabody College, Alumni Communications, VanderbiltU), and try a brief trial run with them. After all, they are already established and have a large following. Put together a post or two for them to share on their channels that focus on your department, then see how successful the engagement is with that post.

Do you have a communications strategy? Does your group/department have a communications strategy? Does your larger umbrella organization? There should be a well-thought-out over-arching communication plan in place first; social media should be just one tool used to implement that plan.

What would you like to accomplish? If you want to promote an event or share news about your department, submitting content for consideration on an already existing channel – email, the University Calendar, existing social media presences, news releases – might be a better choice for you. Social media outposts such as Facebook and Twitter require daily maintenance and a desire to engage with others. Sometimes, good old fashioned email is the best way to reach your constituency: You’re reaching people in their inbox, rather than hoping they find you on social media.

Who is your audience? Figuring out the type of people you want to have a conversation with will help determine which platforms are best for you.

Do you have unique, interesting, shareable content? Managing social media well takes time; it’s more than just “post something” – give your followers a reason to follow you. In the case of Instagram, do you have a supply of eye-catching images and graphics to share?

Do you have the time and resources? Managing social media for a department is not a full-time job; but you do need to set aside time for planning, writing, listening, responding and measuring. Setting up an account, writing a few posts, and then leaving it unattended for long periods of time is harmful to your brand and the university’s.

What are your goals? If you don’t have goals, how will you know when you’ve achieved them? Whatever your goals are – information sharing, event publicity, humanzing your department, etc. – write them out. Ideally, you want to have SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time Bound.

What is your message? This is a trick question. Social media is all about connecting, not pushing a message. To be a good participant, you must first be a good listener. Your online community will tell you what they want to hear from you.

Do you have what it takes? To be successful at social media takes not only time and strategy, but it often takes an outgoing personality, an enjoyment in providing helpful information, a knowledge to make connections, and a thick skin. You’ll also need to have some personal or professional experience with social media and professional communications before hosting an account on behalf of Vanderbilt University.

How is this in the best interest of Vanderbilt University? Any activity in social media on behalf of Vanderbilt should directly and measurably align with VU’s strategic mission and priorities.

Test it out. Before opening an account on a social media platform, test it out behind the scenes first. Come up with a content calendar, a plan for how often you will post, and create six weeks worth of content - write up every post, create every graphic, shoot or track down every photo and video.

Adapted in part from the VUMC Social Media Toolkit.