Community Management: Be Prepared for the Conversation

March 11, 2016

Community Management: Be Prepared for the Conversation

tag higher education
Community Management: Be Prepared for the Conversation

What you say on Facebook doesn’t affect a student’s college choice, right? Maybe it does—a study by Uversity found 66% of students said that social media interactions impacted their decision. It pays to be prepared for the conversation.

Just like any social media interaction between brands or organizations and the public, what you say or don’t say matters. Social media gaffes become screenshots & retweets before you can say “going viral,” and 99% of the time, it proves that some publicity IS bad publicity. So how do you prepare for this potentially valuable conversation?

Staff up

You’re a higher education marketer, which is synonymous with “stretched thin.” You probably already have about 3 jobs, so adding nearly-constant social media monitoring may push you over the edge. If you don’t have one already, build a well thought-out case for hiring a community manager or social media manager. If you need help backing up your request, stats like the one I started this post with could be helpful. If you can’t afford a full-time manager, do your best to free up at least one of your staff members to be able to put the time necessary into quality community management. How much time depends on how many channels you’re managing, but once you start adding up networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, it quickly becomes a full-time load.  

One way to help alleviate this load is to utilize highly-trained, trusted students for some networks. More on this under “hand over the reins.” 

Prepare your staff

One way you can prepare your staff is with a written style guide. It can be time-consuming, but it will save you from future headaches. Topics to include in this style guide include tone, voice, hashtag usage, link formatting, etc. While this guide helps you prepare your social media posts ahead of time, it also prepares community managers for conversations so you don’t have to answer every “how many hashtags” question.

Another idea is to create a “First Impressions Guide” for admissions staff and community managers that’s focused on interactions with prospective students. In this guide, you can include talking points to help students see the heart of your school, set a tone and voice for interactions, and prepare them for “pitfall” questions.

During this process, try some role-play of real life situations that might come up to test your staff’s reactions. In real life, the longer you wait to respond, the more potential damage could be caused.

Silence is deafening

As Dave Kerpen likes to say, not responding to a customer on social media is like hanging up on them, with millions of people watching. So the #1 rule of thumb on social media is: unless the comment is hateful, inappropriate, explicit, illegal, etc. you need to respond—promptly. Think through your answer if it’s a tricky one, but be careful not to take too much time. Many potential crises can be avoided by a quick, careful response. And when you’re in a conversation that seems to be going off the rails, ask them to take it to a private channel and stop the public conversation. Use your judgment on when to make this call, but it’s usually pretty obvious when it’s no longer productive.

Stay connected

As much as possible, whoever is managing your school’s accounts should be plugged in nearly 24/7. Of course, it may be impossible and there may not be a storm of posts at 2:00 AM, but these things usually come when you least expect it, so your community managers should be prepared to stay plugged in and ready to respond.

Be a good listener

You might try setting up social listening feeds with tools like HootSuite and Tagboard to monitor chatter about your college. If you know what the buzz is around your school, you’ll be better prepared to address questions and join the conversation. While Twitter may be most common for hashtag monitoring, you should keep your ears on all your networks. 


One great way to drive positive organic social media buzz to start conversations is hashtag campaigns for admitted students, like #UofSCYES and #Fordham4ME. These work great on Twitter & Instagram. In this case, the community almost manages itself, as fellow admitted students and current students share & interact with those posts. Let your tribe do the work for you! 

Hand over the reins

There are some times when handing over the controls to a well-qualified, trusted student is a good idea. For example, try doing campus tours on Periscope, or stream campus events to generate positive buzz.

Snapchat is another opportunity to empower highly-qualified students. Many Gen Z-ers have mastered this often-mystifying network, so with the right student at the helm, you’ll be in good shape.

Now, go forth and start the conversation! You’ll be glad you did.

Tell us what you think

How have you prepared for the conversation on social media? What higher education marketing community management best practices have you established? Share your experiences in the comments.

Can we help you prepare for the social media conversation? Send us a message.