Maybe We Shouldn’t Call it Social Media

This post is about how we, social media advocates, can better effectively convince those who are not sold on the values of social media. It’s not a post that offers definitive answers, but more of just personal observation on this matter. As a reader, maybe you can offer some suggestions on how to approach this topic.

In my casual conversations where I share the values of  social media, or in formal meetings where we discuss how social media fits into our organization, I sometimes find myself faced with puzzled looks or skepticism about the value of these tools as they relate to our business needs. Unfortunately, just like golf, social media is one of those things in life where it’s hard to explain what it is, what the experience is about, until one actually swings the clubs or in the case of social media, actually use them. What I have observed though is that as much as I would like to speak about what it means to me, how I have greatly benefited from it as a big part of my professional development,  or how I have used it  in my various professional roles (as an org advisor, as a manager who must provide professional development for my staff, as a tech leader who looks at trends, etc), I’m still talking about me and in probably in the language/terminologies those I speak with probably do not fully understand.  This is like a developer  talking in techie jargon to a business user.  Ultimately, to be effective, I’ve found that I need to look at it from the other person’s perspective in the language they understand and what matters to them.

Instead of describing what social media is and what we can do with them (e.g. send short messages on twitter, post statuses in facebook, etc),  maybe talk about it in the context of our business and from the interests of who we are speaking with. I work in student affairs and what matters to the decision makers include the following topics: outreach, enrollment, retention, wellness, academics, quality of student life, student engagement. If we frame the discussion of social media in the context of the topics I mentioned, then I think we can be more effective in convincing those that do not see the potential benefits of social media.

How do you think we can be more effective in communicating the value of social media?


8 thoughts on “Maybe We Shouldn’t Call it Social Media

  1. Paul Schantz

    A few weeks ago at CSUN, Student Affairs (both myself and our Student Marketing and Communications team) partnered with our Advancement colleagues to give a Twitter seminar. The meeting was well attended by staff and faculty (about 100 attendees), and we covered a lot of ground. I kicked off the meeting, and the first question I asked was – by show of hands – how many people use Facebook? Nearly unanimous. How many use Twitter? About a third. The barrier at CSUN is not in whether people know what social media is, but in how they can effectively use it in their day-to-day work. If you start talking about the social graph or other techie-sounding stuff without proper context, you’re gonna see eyes glaze over.

    My specific presentation was to ground the conversation and describe the context in which I use Twitter personally, and how we use it in my department. From there, our outreach and advancement folks explained how they’re using Twitter and Facebook to engage with students and alums. Again, most of my colleagues already understand that there’s value in using social media as an engagement tool. What’s missing is “how-to” guidance and best practices, i.e. how often should we tweet, what constitutes “engaging” content, what tools do you use, what strategies actually work, and so on. There is also some trepidation by a few senior staff over the perceived loss of control over messaging and branding.

    If you’re interested, I’d be happy to share my slide deck. It has copious notes, which you can shamefully rip off for your own use 🙂

      1. Cheryl

        I am a student affairs grad student, and while my program doesn’t involve a thesis, we are doing smaller scale research/lit reviews this semester. The area I am planning to explore is social media in the context of student affairs. I am in the preliminary stages since the semester is just starting, but I’d be curious to hear/read studies and thoughts on this topic from others such as Paul and yourself if you’re willing to share! @cherylkw

        1. Joe Sabado

          of course! I have several posts on my blog in which I write about social media and student affairs. I think the next phase of social media use is for internal collaboration and communication, in addition to external communications and marketing. This has been referred to as “social business” –
          Please let me know if you’d like to schedule some time to talk and I’d love to share ideas. I’m interested in your research as well:)

  2. Becca Obergefell

    I think you’re right about this Joe. Like a lot of other thing we try to describe we use jargon and hope that our personal testimony will persuade others to do XY or Z. The same conversation happens during Sorority Recruitment– we say “From the outside you can never understand it, from the inside you can never explain it.” I totally disagree with this. We have to “sell” the product to people as something that will meet their needs. When I presented at the Women’s Leadership Institute I sold twitter as a networking too that can sustain connections and continue conversations beyond a conference or campus.

    Bottom line? If they don’t see it meeting a need of theirs–why would they want to add it to their already brimming plates? Consider your audience and market appropriately.

  3. Tim St. John

    I think you are onto something here, Joe. As a profession, we can better justify and sell the use of Social Media to our colleagues, presidents, students, etc. Perhaps it is time we look to craft some sort of explanation or description of Social Media as a profession. There could be some value in a group of professionals getting together, having a dialogue, and sharing the descriptions/explanations they come up with. This would be a great resource for all professionals to use in their own work. As the person who is often asked to consult other departments or present about Social Media on my campus, I often hear that time and lack of knowledge are the largest road blocks to adoption of Social Media. I have found by addressing these proactively in my presentations or meetings, I take some of the road blocks away from the get go and there is less of an impediment to our conversation. The other thing to be considered is that every person is different and every campus is different, so there needs to be a flexible approach to explaining, justifying and teaching Social Media

    1. Joe Sabado

      Thanks Tim! There’s probably a reason you’re the one they keep on asking to consult – folks know you get it and you listen to them, dialogue as you wrote. I also agree that level of comfort and competence is something that I am very keen on. Talking jargon is useless if folks don’t understand what we’re talking about.


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