Higher Ed Social Media Professional Development: Blogs, Newsletters, and Conferences

If part one left you wanting more, I’m back for part two of the best higher ed resources to keep you informed and connected. One of the things I love about this industry is the contributions from the community. We learn together, and it's never too early for you to contribute your expertise. To that end, I’ve also included suggestions for ways to share your work and knowledge with others. 

Blogs

Blogs provide up-to-date, detailed coverage of the latest issues facing our industry. Whether from a company, campus team, or individual, these blogs give you relevant information and valuable insights into current issues in higher education and social media. Consider subscribing via an RSS reader (I use Feedly) or via email to the blogs you like most so you don't miss a post.

  • Brain Waves. Yes, that’s us! Focused on social listening, you'll find regular insights from our team as well as guest contributors.
  • Colorado State University Social Media. The campus social media team generously shares best practices and strategy on their blog.
  • Higher Ed Experts. With over a decade of content, Karine Joly and a host of guest contributors share timely, actionable tips.
  • Josie Ahlquist. Set aside some time to read Josie's posts; they're usually several thousand words. Within those words you'll find sources to back up every claim, and original research and strategy advice. She's also well-known for creating lists of higher education leaders to follow on social media platforms. 
  • Link. The Journal of Higher Ed Web Professionals, published by the High Ed Web Association, includes a mix of feature-length articles and timely updates, particularly around their annual conference in October.
  • Ohio State Market Share. The Ohio State University employs an army of marketers, and this blog shares best practices and trends for them. Lucky for you, it's also publicly available.
  • University of Michigan Social Media. If you admire the work of #UMSocial, they share a lot of behind the scenes information here.
  • Volt. More than a blog, this online magazine for higher education offers marketing and industry insights from professionals on- and off-campus.

In addition to these industry blogs, consider subscribing to the blogs published by each social media platform and the podcasters listed in part one.

Newsletters

The humble email newsletter is back. With all the noise of social media, getting a well-written, personalized letter in your inbox feels special. Here are a few I recommend.

  • Ashley In Your Inbox by Ashley Budd (~weekly). If you use social media for fundraising or alumni engagement, this is for you. In addition to her role as the Director of Marketing Operations in Cornell's alumni engagement and advancement division, she takes time to share her personal tips and favorite reads in this short newsletter.
  • Brain Waves by Campus Sonar (monthly). Insights related to social listening and higher education, as well as a letter from me. Includes more than a year of archived issues.
  • Digital Leadership Download by Josie Ahlquist (monthly). You'll see Josie featured on many of these lists, and that's because her content is top-notch. The Digital Leadership Download includes not only her latest podcast episodes and blog posts, but also subscriber-only content.  

Conferences

It's unclear what the conference landscape will look like this year and beyond, but I'm continuing with my plan to list the most relevant conferences for higher education social media professionals. This is based on a decade of experience attending many of them prior to 2020.

National Conferences (United States)

Timing

Who You'll Meet

What Stands Out

American Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education

November

Website

Mid-level and senior marketers from all types of campuses, most often from the central marketing office. A few social media specialists, but many more marketing generalists or executives.

Attendance: 1,000 to 1,300

Focus on brand marketing. Large and engaging exhibit hall.

CASE Social Media and Community Conference

March/April

Website

Entry- and mid-level social media specialists, including campus staff who have social media responsibilities as a small part of their job.

Attendance: 175 to 300

Social media focus with a good balance of strategy and tactics. In-depth workshops prior to the conference. None or very few exhibitors.

Eduweb Digital Summit

July/August

Website

Historically attendees are entry- and mid-level campus professionals who work in some sort of digital capacity. The conference is actively working to offer more content at the vice president level.

Attendance: 400 to 600

Dedicated social media track. Committed, loyal attendee base.

HighEdWeb Annual Conference

October

Website

Entry- to director-level marketing and web development professionals, with a few senior administrators in attendance. You're just as likely to find a social media manager or a Drupal developer.

Attendance: 600 to 750

Good mix of campus and consultant presenters. Excellent social events. Ongoing community after the conference via Slack, emails, and community discussions.

Higher Education Social Media Conference (online)

December

Website

Entry- to mid-level social media professionals. This has always been an online-only conference, so the focus is on the content but networking is possible via chat and the Twitter backchannel.

Attendance: 40 to 50 campuses

10-minute presentations that always stay on schedule. Incredibly affordable registration fee.

Social Media Strategies Summit

October

Website

Entry- to mid-level social media professionals.

Attendance: 125 to 200

In recent years it's been combined with the larger Social Media Strategies Summit, so you can jump between the higher ed and corporate tracks.

International Conferences

  • #PSEWEB—That's Post Secondary Web for those of us not in the know. This is Canada's conference for digital and web marketers. You'll occasionally see some U.S. attendees from northern states.
  • ContentEd—The UK's content strategy conference for the higher education sector.
  • CASE Social Media and Community Europe—Similar to the U.S. version, it's historically held in the UK.
  • All Day All Night—After its first conference in 2020, it’s coming back for 2021. This is a 24-hour conference that spans all countries and time zones, held entirely online.

Regional and Campus Conferences

Although they haven't been as predictable as the other conferences listed, keep your eyes open for a chance to attend a regional conference hosted by a professional association or higher education vendor. In recent years campuses have hosted conferences they've opened to the public (e.g., Indiana University Social Media Summit, Huddle at Notre Dame, University of Michigan State of Social). You'll likely find out about future events like these if—you guessed it—you stay connected to the communities described in part one.

Contribute to Shared Community Knowledge

Whether you've been a social media professional for one year or ten, you have knowledge to share. Don't wait for someone to ask; start contributing today. The easiest way is to participate in discussions in the communities described here; everyone should strive to contribute at that level. I'd encourage you to go further.

Write About Your Work

Whether it's a campaign you're proud of, a mistake you don't want others to make, or a process you finally documented, others will find value if you write about it. There are many options for publishing your work.

  • Host your own on a personal website (e.g, Jon-Stephen Stansel), LinkedIn articles (e.g., Robert Bochnak), or on Medium (e.g., Jackie Vetrano).
  • Guest post on an established blog. Higher Ed Experts, Brain Waves, Volt, and Inside Higher Ed's Call to Action all accept guest posts. Some may even pay for your writing.
  • Publish a campus blog about social media, like Colorado State and the University of Michigan.

Present About Your Work

Conferences aren't just for learning; you could also teach. If you're new to conference presenting, I suggest looking at the Call for Proposals for Higher Ed Experts' online conferences. In addition to the Higher Ed Social Media Conference, they host a Digital, Content, and Analytics conference. You'll hear back about your proposals within a few days after the deadline (while many conferences take months to make decisions), presentations are just 10 minutes, and you'll have the opportunity to do a full tech check and test run. Many excellent conference presenters got their start in one of these conferences. Karine Joly, Executive Director of Higher Ed Experts, gives excellent advice to higher education pros crafting proposals for any conference.

If you're nervous or not sure what you could talk about, find a presentation mentor. As you peruse conference agendas, you'll notice many names show up again and again. Reach out to one of those people and see if they'd be willing to meet with you, review your proposal, and help you practice. If your supervisor is a regular conference presenter, ask them to help you.

I'll never forget Dayana (Day) Kibilds's experience at the HighEdWeb 2017 Annual Conference. As the Manager of Undergraduate Recruitment at Western University, The Art and Science of Collaboration was Day's first conference presentation. Her peers chose it as the best of over 70 sessions at the conference. While accepting her Best In Conference award on stage in front of hundreds of people, she thanked Ashley Budd for helping her craft a proposal and rehearse her presentation. 

In addition to the value of finding a mentor, Day teaches us something else: we all have a presentation hidden within us. Her session wasn't about a fancy campaign or a secret talent—it was about how to work with colleagues to get things done, using examples from her personal experience. At the 2019 conference she won the red stapler (best presentation in a track) for Get. Stuff. Done., a presentation that included tips for writing better emails, scheduling meetings, and handling multiple versions of documents.

You may think if you don't have big budgets or flashy results, you don't have anything worth sharing. That is absolutely not true. The more you talk about your work with your colleagues, the more you'll realize what resonates and has potential for a conference presentation.

Speak Up When Others Ask Questions

As you spend more time in professional communities and at events described here, you'll run into people asking questions like, “Has anyone ever done X” or “Could someone tell me how you approach Y?” Don't hesitate to answer those questions with your experience and accomplishments. Not only will it help others, but it can lead to features in publications, podcasts, and conferences. Every one of the people whose work I mention in my writing either took the time to answer one of my questions or promoted their own work within the community. Reporters, authors, and trainers want to highlight your work. Give them a chance to do it by speaking up.

I hope you’ve found some value in this mega-list of resources. Have any you love that aren’t on the list? Email me at lgross@campussonar.com or share them with me on Twitter at @lgross144.

And don’t forget to download our new book, Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses, a comprehensive guide to social media strategy. This post is from Chapter 20, and you’ll find invaluable strategy and resources in the rest of the 19 chapters. Already downloaded it? Share it with a colleague who’d get value from it.
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