Posted January 12, 2011 by Edmund Cabellon 

A College Union Social Media Plan

With many of you beginning, adjusting, or building upon your social media plans for the next semester or year, I wanted to share how I approach social media in my college union work.  The hope is that you and your staff members take some of this information and start the prep work now so your implementation goes smoothly. 

1. Strategy and support
Before logging onto the computer, your first challenge is deciding as a staff why you want to add this work to your already busy plate. Are you doing this to build an online community? Are you doing to this to promote your department's events? Are you doing this because everyone else is? Whatever the reason, make sure you are all on the same page and that it ties into your office's mission. Decide who your target audience is and why you've decided to focus on them (commuters, residents, first generation students, nontraditional students, graduate students, all?). Then, get support from your supervisor to proceed with these initiatives. Tell her/him that you would like to "beta" test this for a semester or two and see how it goes. This way, you and your supervisor have an out in case either of you feel it isn't working. Most supervisors will feel less hesitation or concern if the perception is that this is a "temporary experiment." 

2. Decide how/who will manage, develop, and maintain your efforts (and gave a backup plan)
This will take "trial and error" and a great deal of patience. At the core of this conversation are "content generation" and "community building" management.  In other words, who will post things to your social media sites and then respond once the conversations are flowing. In our office, we have three staff members, graduate students, and student managers who have a hand in our social media plan. In yours, it may be more or less. The focus has to be a solid plan and backup plan for when things get busy. You also have to decide what the focus of your content will be since what is "interesting" may be different for different campuses. Will your content revolve around campus issues/events, world issues/events, or maybe both?
For example, here's how our BSC Campus Center Blog posts their articles:

  • Blog article is written by a student and edited (for grammar, broken links, and graphics) by a staff member
  • Blog article is scheduled to post live at 9 a.m. (most likely on a Tuesday or Wednesday; based on our statistics, most people read our blog on those days)
  • Blog promotion begins on Twitter and Facebook using the equation: New blog post from BLOGGER NAME: "BLOG TITLE" [shortened link] (Example)
    •  On Twitter, we also add our campus and blog Hashtags (#bsulife and #rccblog)
    • On Facebook, we attach the link to the post and make sure the blogger's name is highlighted as an @ mention
    • We use Hootsuite to schedule Tweets at Noon, 4 p.m., and 10 p.m. to make sure our blog post is seen by as many people as possible (again, based on our site's traffic patterns and numbers)
    • Whether it is a blog or your Facebook/Twitter page content, you must be intentional in your posts. Consider yourself the ultimate online facilitator of conversation.  

3. Build your social media acumen and shift your paradigms
It's time that union professionals think beyond e-mail, posters, newsletters, and even traditional websites and shift the approach to also include Facebook, Twitter, blogs, photo, and video content. The best way for you to conceptualize this is by using these tools for yourself personally/professionally first. Since many already use Facebook and have union Facebook fan pages, create and use a Twitter page to connect to online communities that resonate with you. No matter what your interests, you will find them on Twitter. Once you get the hang of using Twitter, gain a "Higher Tweduacation" by teaching your colleagues about Twitter. The best way to learn is by teaching! Plus, you never know how using Twitter may find you a job! 

4. Define what will characterize "success"
For some of you, "success" in social media will mean how many fans and followers you are able to garner. For others, it may be how much increased traffic your website and blog receive. For most of you though, I hope that you measure success as Kenn Elmore, dean of students from Boston University, said, "How engaging were you with your audience online? Did it draw new people into your offices and/or your events? Were you able to build an online community?"  Success in social media will mean many different things to different departments, so decide early on in the process what success will mean for you so you have goals to achieve. 

5. Do the Little Things Well  

  • Search Engine Optimization (titles, tags, keywords, etc.): Eric Stoller and Matt Cheuvront had great search engine optimization conversations with me last year, which got me thinking about all the time I've spent in "creating" the blog framework and content, but how little time I had spent in the search engine optimization stuff. For those of you who decide to start and/or maintain a blog, maximizing your search engine optimization framework is not hard work, but makes a huge difference is generating traffic to your site.  I recommend talking to these two as experts!
  • Build Your Departmental Brand: Once you add social media to your department's arsenal, make sure it complements your current branding.  If you look at our Bridgewater State Campus Center website, Facebook Fan Page, and Twitter Page, they are all connected. Plus, our Facebook and Twitter pages both use the same "BSUcampuscenter" handle so one may remember it easier. Does your office have a "brand" and if so, how do you use it to connect with students?
  • Listen then Engage: I did a lot of listening, and last August, it led to a conversation over Twitter with a new student that made me realize that I had been missing out on connecting with students over Twitter. As you begin to use social media, use the search engines in both Twitter and Facebook to find people using your school in their updates. You'll begin to find others who are already talking about your school, its programs and services, and have a place to begin reading/listening to the ongoing conversation. When you're ready, join the conversation and offer your perspectives and feedback, just as you would in person.

Final thoughts/future plans
This is a lot to take in and process, especially if this is your first crack at developing a social media plan. It took me a year to get to this point, and I still have a lot to learn.  Most of what I have learned, I took from reading online articles, books, and connecting with people over Twitter, especially those who worked in public relations, advertising, marketing, business, and most of all, higher education web folks. You'd be surprised how much of their work translates perfectly into the work union folks do. 

How are you using social media to connect with your community?

Edmund Cabellon

Edmund Cabellon is the Assistant to the Vice President, Student Affairs at Bridgewater State University.


Thanks. Your post is really helpful. Last year staff members were encouraged to "get" Facebook to communicate with students. About all I have communicated to students is in regards to Senior Portraits. Your ideas made me realize that there are other items/news that would spread much quicker if I used social media. BTW-love FB. We had some very serious issues over the summer and it was a great way to get a sense of students' feelings about it.
Sarah-Ann Harnick
Comment posted 01/13/2011 9:48 AM
Mr. Cabellon, I truly understand where you are coming from with learning all that the social media has to offer. Just last year, I learned how to use social media through posting blogs and finding articles with tags. This has all been new to my generation and really did not see the purpose in communicating in this way. However, now I enjoy posting my opinions and expertise to these vast perspectives and characterizing upon others success in the many different venures that society has to offer. It has been pleasant and not too overwhelming of a task, which I can say is a blessing. Thank you for the post! Kaknotta
Comment posted 07/23/2011 2:22 PM
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