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A Strategy for Success: Mission Focused Planning for Social Media

Strategic plans. Every organization has one, and I would be willing to bet most employees couldn’t tell you even one of the goals in their company’s plan.

I am a nerd – I will mention that several times in this article. I have always found strategic plans fascinating. When I begin working for a new company, I love reading through any documents I can find: strategic plans, process documents, anything! My therapist would tell you that this is caused by an anxiety-triggered control issue, and I fully admit that I am an anxious control-freak, but my need to cope by knowing more has come in handy a time or two over the years.

So, why do I like strategic plans so much? As one of my favorite proverbs says, “Where there is no vision; the people will perish.” Vision is important! I love knowing where we are going as an organization and how I individually with my specific job duty fits into that vision for the future.

Since joining the staff at Auburn two years ago, I have made a point to spend intentional time each December thinking about social trends, goals and ideas for the next year. Once I have spent time thinking, I begin making a plan – a social strategy – for the year. Each year the plan gets a little better, more actionable and more useful for my team and myself than the year before.

This year, I knew I wanted to do something a little different but wasn’t sure what. As I spent time thinking about what the next year might look like (an almost laughable thing to do after a year of COVID wrecking all of our plans ), I began researching. Two things shaped my view of what my social planning should look like:

  1. Won’t Lose This Dream: How an Upstart Urban University Rewrote the Rules of a Broken System – by Andrew Gumbel
  2. Campus Sonar’s Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses

Most social media strategies and guides for forming such are built around hitting metrics – vanity or otherwise – that we as social media managers can point to as success. Let me be super clear here: I do find a lot of value in metrics (I am a numbers nerd to the end). I was just convinced there was a better way yet unsure how to articulate where I thought we should be heading as a social marketing team in 2021.

Here is where my head was:

We are a land grant university that places high priority on serving our students with quality teaching, our community with service and outreach and our world with life changing research. Are we expressing that through our social media strategy?

Our university and college just went through a strategic planning process. How does that factor into our social media strategy?

Coming out of 2020, what changes? What will be the same? How do you plan? What may or may not be allowed? Will my student workers even be able to come to the office?

If the cornerstone of building a social media strategy isn’t achieving certain metrics, what is it?

As I read Campus Sonar’s guide to building a social media strategy, the emphasis on building a social plan that was fully integrated with the university’s goals made so much sense. I thought, “This is it! This is what I have been trying to explain.”The cover of Won't Lose This Dream

Won’t Lose This Dream is an INCREDIBLE book about Georgia State University and their relentless pursuit as an organization to the goals laid out in their strategic plan. (Side bar: If you work in higher education, I highly recommend you take the time to read this.) One thing that struck me about the book was the freedom that the GSU administration found in planning, changing and executing because they were relentlessly following the plan built by the shared governance groups in the strategic planning process.

Through learning about this process, I came to appreciate the freedom I found in relentlessly pursuing the goals of our strategic plan. It challenged me to think more critically about my platforms (who is on them, how do they engage with our goals, etc.) and tactics to convey content in support of our strategic goals. Let’s be real, a goal of “operational excellence” doesn’t exactly lend itself to the cute puppy pictures that perform so well, so it forced me to creatively think about how to convey the results of those goals to the proper audience in a meaningful way.

I will be honest, as I sat and pondered the goal, I was surprised by the ideas for stories, tactics and creative components that I was able to come up with. A favorite tactic in higher education social media right now is student / alumni Instagram takeovers. Most SMM’s will tell you that these are some of the easiest pieces of content to create and result in really great engagement numbers. I have run takeovers that I could guarantee increased our following by nearly 100 people. Through reading about his process, however, I began to twist my thinking on the subject.

An example of a statement from an old social media plan might have been “increase Instagram following,” and the tactic to use might be an Instagram takeover. I will still use Instagram takeovers this year but with a new perspective:

Goal: Build a robust, diverse student body.

Strategy: Use Instagram to reach and recruit prospective undergraduate students from a variety of backgrounds.

Tactic: Recruit a diverse group of current students to host Instagram takeovers showing fun “day in the life” content at Auburn with a focus on how they engage with the many support services that the college offers to help them be successful.

Thinking of our goals in this way allows me be much more intentional with the content we are creating. It provides a “why” to our “what,” and when I can give my team a meaningful “why” it helps rally us around the constituent we are trying to reach.

So, will this year’s plan be successful? I can’t say for sure. But having a clear, strategic, and mission-focused plan will give my team the best platform possible for success.

About the Author:  Brandon Etheredge is the Director of Multimedia Services for the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University. He manages social media, enrollment marketing, and video production for the college. Brandon has a Bachelors in Media Studies and is pursuing a Masters in Higher Education Administration. Prior to joining Auburn University, Brandon was an award winning tv news anchor and investigative reporter. When he is not at work, checking DM’s or trying to figure out Facebook’s latest change to the algorithm, Brandon enjoys spending time with his wife Charlsie (also a Higher Ed Social Media Manager) and their golden doodle, Ponce. Find him on Linkedin. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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