Shortly after joining social media, the first question people have seems to be “how do I increase my reach” or I can I leverage my social media activities to reach more of my target audience more of the time. Adrian Ebsary, a biochemist turned e-marketer & comms analyst working for the University of Ottawa wrestles with that question on a daily basis as he tries to leverage the power of social to engage a broad audience looking for a vast array of information.
Adrian was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us on their use of social media and what he’s learned. His answers are below.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself & your role in your organizationI work under the Director of Web Communications in the Communications Directorate, part of the University of Ottawa’s External Relations department, and manage our primary social media accounts across a number of different networks. Also, I’m involved in working with digital communications colleagues across campus to define best practices and provide training.
In my spare time, I enjoy skiing, squash, endlessly organizing PDFs in Mendeley and running around obstacle courses with my dog, Widget.
2. How important is social media to your organization?
Post-secondary organizations have a wide range of audiences with very different online behaviours and content interests. Finding ways to cater to as many of them as possible without diluting your community into too many segments is a very important question for higher ed digital communicators. uOttawa has a strong social representation, especially on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a number of other networks you can find at our social media hub page. We’ve used social media for live engagement during events, respond to concerns and questions and regularly share community-generated content across our channels.
Considering the number of people who are part of the extended uOttawa community, social media is already an integral part of our communications workflow. Also, there is a significant amount of interest from support staff communicators, which is evident in the rapid growth of official accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and other networks. LinkedIn’s recent addition of special educational institution pages has provided us with a massive community on that network and not too long ago, Facebook created Groups for Education, a site that organizes groups created by and for members of the uOttawa community.
3. Do you make use of social media for internal communications, external communications or both?At the moment, we use social media mostly for communicating with external audiences. We use project management software, email and a range of web applications for internal communication.
4. Social media is an evolving field, how do you make sure to stay up to date, without having “shiny new object syndrome”I’m a fan of using readers, aggregators and filters to focus the attention I spend browsing content. At the moment, I use Feedly on my Android phone and keep tabs on a number of tech blogs, like Gizmodo, TechCrunch, GigaOM, The Next Web, ReadWriteWeb, VentureBeat and The Verge (to name a few). Even more importantly though, I make sure to keep tabs on company blogs for most major social networking sites, especially the engineering or developers’ blogs. These will often hint at upcoming features that can be useful to keep marketing strategies current or learn about problems they are experiencing with current features.
When approaching new social networking sites, I keep a healthy dose of scepticism at hand before investing time or resources beyond seizing a username. While there is something to be said for capitalizing on the early abundance of attention in new online communities, if that attention doesn’t result in engagement or the site falls apart, it’s easy to waste time on the risky social marketplace.
5. You work in a University setting, does this make your job easier or more difficult. One could assume that adoption of the tools is higher, making reaching your audience easier, but their attention also seems to at more of a premium – how to you make sure your message gets across.
Just like any other social environment, understanding your audience and how they react to your content is a perpetual process. Since our diverse audience tends to be quite digitally savvy and has an already very saturated attention stream, ensuring that our content is engaging is important. Whenever possible, we use targeting mechanisms to try to increase the relevancy of our messaging to target audiences and use social media management software to help us collaborate in selecting the most appropriate of our growing number of official accounts.
One area where I think social media has a big role to play is in customer service, which has traditionally been service or department-based in the past. Social media management software makes integrating response across multiple teams much easier, especially with a centralized monitoring process.
Since we do have such a large community, ensuring that we do our best to curate and represent community news and messages is very important. One thing we’ve done that I have yet to see from many other Canadian higher ed institutions is to create accounts that separately target our campus-based community (@uOttawaDirect) and external audiences (@uOttawa). Providing different content outlets with unique purposes provides our community with different ways to customize their experience on Twitter, allowing us to be better stewards of the attention we are loaned.
6. How do you see the future of social media unfolding – in general, and for your organization in particular.
There are two trends that interest me at the moment:
Local – We’ve become very good at building networks that connect people across geographies, but we have yet to master methods to connect them meaningfully within them. I think we’re going to see a lot of growth in apps and networks that support neighbour-to-neighbour interaction, whether that be for social welfare projects or business connections.Real-life interactions are still the most important factor in determining online interactions and I think we’re going to see some significant innovation in that area in the next five years.
Microconsulting – I think we are going to see more growth in attention economies where users can sell their attention or professional skills in small packets. I wouldn’t be surprised if LinkedIn was the network that catalyzed that process, but it could just as easily be a new player. I would see functioning in a manner like Amazon’s mechanical turk, but with much more social integration and more emphasis on personal profiles of the community.
In terms of my immediate field of work, I think there are some interesting challenges that the post-secondary institute is going to have to address as it continues its digital transition. The drive towards MOOCs (massive open online courses) seems inevitable, but there are many unresolved issues around implementation and how it will complement or compete with the current post-secondary educational ecosystem. Where I think we’ll see the most growth for corporate social media at universities will be in creating spaces that facilitate collaboration and connections.
7. In closing, what’s your favourite anecdote as it pertains to the use of social media (could be an aha moment, a great testimonial you received, being able to solve an issue in a way that would not have been possible without social, etc)
Watching the development of community-generated memes and the spread of content is one of the most interesting parts of working in online community management. Having taken biochemistry myself, I particularly appreciated Wilson Lam’s TCA Cycle Rap.
Here is the full description of Adrian’s presentation:
Beyond Getting Started: Increasing Social Media Reach
Many groups create social media accounts, but then have trouble growing them to a critical size for routine use. Adrian Ebsary will review the range of tactics available, and outline several site-specific social networking strategies for Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and others.
By covering the range of tactics and some important etiquette points, Adrian will provide a practical set of tools with which to increase the range and effectiveness of your social media efforts.
This is the fourth & final interview I conducted with some of the speakers appearing at The Conference Board of Canada‘s upcoming conference: Public Sector Social Media 2013: Making Connections, Getting Results. The conference will focus on how social media has helped public servants across Canada do a better job and, in many cases, how it’s enriched their professional lives and those of their colleagues. It takes place at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa on November 5th & 6th. You can register here: Public Sector Social Media 2013: Making Connections, Getting Results – Registration