Recently I wrote about the common illusion that a campus social media presence doesn't cost anything. If you’re in higher ed social media, you know how untrue that is. My first post covered staffing a campus social media team—the required positions and skills your team needs. This week I’m covering everything physical you need for your team, from equipment to campus props. It hasn’t slipped past me that I’m preaching to the choir, but some of what I’m covering may be new to you. I also try to add real world examples from campuses I’ve worked on and anecdotal examples I’ve heard from colleagues. I think you’ll find some new nuggets in here and definitely some justification you can use to request resources you may not have. This post, along with the staffing post and a final post in May, are excerpts from the upcoming revision to How to Manage Social Media in Higher Ed. Download the current edition and be added to our list to receive an advance copy of the updated version. (When I say updated, I mean at least 4x the length and 20 chapters, including some fantastic guest contributors.)
All You Need Is a Computer and Internet, Right?
Social media is based on the internet, so you can’t need much, right? Wrong. This list I’m sharing tells you exactly how inaccurate that statement is. Let’s explore the physical components you need to get a new department up and running or build a more effective social media strategy team. And keep in mind, you can be a team of 1 or 20, your needs will be the same.
Camera and Video Camera: Any social team tasked with creating content is going to need a good camera and video camera (which could be the same device), tripod, and potentially some specialized equipment like a GoPro or a drone, depending on your content strategy. In his 2019 CASE Social Media and Community talk, AJ Lopez III, Manager of Digital Marketing and Social Media at Midwestern State University, suggested buying one major piece of equipment each year to build up your equipment stock. Over the course of four years (2015–2018), he purchased an SDLR camera, drone, handheld steadicam, and a camera with image stabilization that could shoot photos or videos. AJ suggests dedicating 25 percent of a social media budget (excluding full-time staff expenses) to equipment.
The equipment AJ Lopez III purchased over a four-year period.
Cell Phone or Tablet: I also believe that a staff member who is expected to regularly respond to social media mentions for campus accounts—especially after normal business hours—should have a campus cell phone or tablet. This provides a physical separation from personal and institutional accounts, lessening the risk that something is unintentionally shared from a campus account. It also provides the social media manager the gift of boundaries; putting away the campus equipment means they won’t see any notifications for campus accounts they manage. Whether this allows them to hand the equipment over to backup staff in order to take a vacation or simply to sleep soundly, it’s an important professional boundary to set.
Cell Phone Extras: A suite of free and paid apps turns a mobile device into a highly productive content creation device for social media. Also, with the mobile devices constant use, it’s wise to invest in high-quality portable batteries for charging on the go.
There’s a lot of “social media software” on the market and it can be hard to know what you need and what’s nice to have. I’ll go through the options by function. For all software types, you truly get what you pay for; many of the lower cost options deliver either sub-optimal results or still require your team to do some sort of manual work to get the outcome they want. Software isn’t an area to skimp on; deployed strategically, it can drastically increase the efficiency and impact of your social media efforts.
Social Media Management
Social media management software streamlines content publishing and engagement for the accounts a person or team manages. Rather than having three to four apps and platforms open at all times and trying to maintain responsiveness, it directs all inbound engagements to one platform you can share with multiple people and alerts team members when a mention needs a response. It also likely includes an editorial calendar and content scheduling features, easy engagement functions from multiple accounts, and a desktop and mobile app for easy access.
Other features you could include are workflows for multiple team members, pre-populated responses to common questions, custom measurement and analytics functions, reporting, and basic social listening. Some of the most commonly used products are Sprout Social, Hootsuite or Hootsuite Enterprise, Buffer, or Falcon Social. You can find free, stripped-down functionality in Hootsuite Free or Tweetdeck.
Many social media management software providers now offer social listening, but if you want to go beyond basic keywords and exclusions, you’ll need mid-range or high-end social listening software (or a specialized partner like Campus Sonar). We’ve written about social listening extensively in The Higher Ed Social Listening Handbook. Get a copy if you don’t already have one!
The social listening software landscape is evolving rapidly and it’s crucially important to understand what you want to achieve through social listening before engaging with potential vendors. Detailed advice is provided in 8 Steps to Choose Social Media Monitoring Software. If you’re just dipping your toes into social listening, start with one of these free tools.
Social media is increasingly visual; think about what draws your attention on Instagram, Twitter, and even YouTube. If you don’t have a professional graphic designer supporting your social media efforts, you’ll need to augment your team with software. Even non-designers can get immediate value from software like Adobe Spark, Canva, or Animoto. Adobe Creative Suite is most useful to someone with at least a foundational background in design.
Not all software needs to be used on a desktop—social media managers are on the go, so mobile devices should be equipped for productivity. AJ Lopez III suggests mobile apps for Grammarly, Adobe Mobile Lightroom, Adobe Clip, Adobe Spark, Canva, and Iconosqure to make your mobile phone more efficient.
Social media is increasingly visual. When social media efforts align with institutional branding efforts, props can help set the scene, just like they would at any photo or video shoot. This could be anything from brand-colored candy for sugar-centric holidays, oversized letters to encourage campus tour selfies, or a chalkboard or letterboard. Branded campus items (mugs, pennants, foam fingers, etc.) fall into this category as well. For most institutions, this is a nominal expense. In 2019, Ithaca College took it further by creating an immersive pop-up experience designed exclusively for social media: a branded ball pit.
You’ve staffed and equipped your team for whatever budget best fits your campus and needs. My final post covers sustaining your team and program. And, get all of this and more in our book, Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses.