When I saw the opportunity to lead a centralized social media effort in higher education, I jumped at the chance. Luckily, it was also at North Carolina State University—in one of America’s fastest-growing cities, Raleigh, NC.
NC State’s Social Media Strategy Hub is defined as the center of social media excellence. It’s occupied by like-minded specialists with deep vertical expertise who are charged with elevating awareness and engagement with NC State through the lens of social media. Like many institutions across our vertical, there are a number of areas across campus that don’t have the resources to fully support social media. Often, the director of communications for a given department wears so many hats they don’t have the time to allocate towards such an important space.
The Social Media Strategy Hub tries to solve that problem by offering two fundamental approaches.
- A full-time position representing a specific college or department.
- A shared position representing multiple colleges or departments. This position is split between colleges or departments who may not have the budget for a full-time position.
In each approach, the specialist reports directly to me, the Director of the Social Media Strategy Hub, and has a dotted line to the department’s Director of Marketing or Communications. Currently, I have seven direct reports and three interns.
The Hub’s Growth
When I started at NC State, one thing I wanted to do was sweeten the value proposition for those who invested in the Social Media Strategy Hub. We accomplished this through software, equipment, and outputs. We considerably increased the investment in software and equipment, joining the Hootsuite Enterprise family so all areas within the Hub have access to Hootsuite’s offerings. But, our most important investment has arguably been with Brandwatch. When I arrived, I identified an initial gap in social listening—the Brandwatch investment allows us to use it to spot trends, conduct market research, evaluate our competitors, and create content in addition to leveraging it in crisis scenarios.
I place a premium on data in an effort to create a more data-informed culture. Each specialist is certified with Google Analytics. On a weekly basis, they develop reports and formulate recommendations for channel improvements and implementation recommendations. We established content buckets and measure the proportion that each content bucket occupies within our content dissemination efforts.
We also place an emphasis on shifting the paradigm on where social media fits within the content creation process. What I noticed during my stops at the University Chicago Booth School of Business, The Ohio State University, and now NC State is that many institutions primarily think about social as a dissemination channel. But the beauty of social is that it’s much more than that. We have elevated the amount of direct-to-audience content that’s created.
The Specialist’s Role
The specialists are integral to the hub. Each specialist receives a cell phone to gather content and manage platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Instagram Stories. Moments lenses capture still photographs, OSMO devices capture video, and Mevo cameras capture live streaming. We leverage Plotagraph Pro to create subtle movement on still imagery in an effort to create slow-scroll experiences when posting across various social media channels.
I’ve stressed to the specialists that we’re not just competing with other institutions on various platform newsfeeds, but we’re competing with celebrities, media publishers, family, and friends. So each touchpoint, whether it’s visual or clever copywriting, has to have a slow scroll approach to it. We have weekly team and individual meetings in which each specialist leverages McKinsey’s 7-s framework to provide me with updates.
It’s been a fast but enjoyable first nine months for me at NC State. I constantly share with my team that we’re getting them ready for the job after their next one. I hypothesize that tomorrow’s CMO is today’s Social Media Strategist and I manage my team for the future.