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Boosting Your Writing Center’s Social Media Presence

facebook-like-iconI’m just going to throw it out there: many organizations that use social media have no real idea what they’re doing with it, or why they’re using it in the first place.

Social media means many things, but few of us consider its opportunity costs.  You’ll spend precious time and money coordinating your social media presence, or paying somebody to do it for you.  Yet do you really have any idea what you’re getting out of it?  Could those resources be better used elsewhere?

In case you’re wondering where I’m going with this, I definitely believe the rush to social media is a good thing, especially if it’s your writing center we’re talking about.  But unless you’re going to use it wisely, you’re likely wasting your effort.

Having said that, developing an active social media presence can boost your writing program’s visibility to your students as well as other universities, strengthen networking lines within the university and with other writing centers, and provide you with a relatively cheap and effective way of marketing your writing center’s events, services, and other offerings.

And here’s how you do it.

1. Handling the basics

First, grab a cup of coffee and fire up your iTunes, or just snatch up your writing center’s newest hire and turn the computer over to him.  This is the part with the busy-work.

It’s still common to find organizations who have created dummy Facebook profiles to initiate their online presence, but that’s amateur-hour stuff.  For example, we used to use a profile named “Depaul Ucwbl,” and it was bothersome how jerry-rigged it looked–for one thing, that’s not even the proper nomenclature.  Now with Facebook Pages, you can create a professional-looking stand-alone Facebook site where you can gather up “likes,” post news updates, images, and other information on a Facebook timeline.  The trick is you need somebody with a Facebook profile to serve as the official administrator.

Very importantly, you need to set up your page’s “vanity URL.”  Facebook will automatically assign your page a long string of numbers to identify it, so by default, the web address for your page will look something like “facebook.com/666377145/”. However, this doesn’t make it easy for your fans to search for you.  Change those numbers into a vanity URL featuring your name.

What about Twitter?  Like your Facebook page, your Twitter account name should be something intuitive, combining the initials or full name of your university plus “WC,” “Writing,” “WritingCenter,” etc., but be careful of making it too long.  Twitter is built upon brevity, and a long account name makes it more difficult for others to tweet at you, since you’re eating up precious characters (you only get 140!).

Once again, searchability is crucial.  When you’re writing your organization’s bio on Twitter, include the full name of your office and university, and the URL of your website.  This will make it easier for your prospective audience to find your Twitter feed on Google and other search engines.

One last recommendation: link your Twitter and Facebook accounts together.  Twitter has created a step-by-step guide for synching your Facebook page up with whatever you tweet, and this is guaranteed to make your life much easier (and increase engagement).  I’m partial to having Facebook repost your Twitter feed, not the other way around, since anything posted on Facebook will be truncated to Twitter’s 140-character limit.

But, you might ask, why stop with Facebook and Twitter?  What about LinkedIn and Google Plus?  The answer is that for your purposes, these other social networks don’t yet have a logical fit (FYI, Tumblr is a great blogging platform).  It’s wise to create a LinkedIn page for your writing center so former tutors can claim it as a workplace, but if your goal is to spread the word about your program’s services, particularly with college-age audiences, and to coordinate with other writing centers and academic departments both at your university and beyond, Facebook and Twitter are the most useful social networking tools you’ll have.

2. If you build it, they will come

… eventually.  You’re not quite there yet, though.

Get started seeking out other writing centers on Twitter (the UCWbL has a running list here) and other departments and programs at your campus.  Maybe you can be the hero that puts together a list of all the offices at your campus who are on Twitter?

And now, finally, the people who put the “writing” in “writing center”: how do you get the attention of the students you serve?  One idea is to post some tutors in the student center, or some other well-trafficked area, equipping them with a computer, and handing out free stuff–baked goods, university apparel, or whatever might work–in exchange for liking your Facebook page and following your Twitter account (this is always a good activity for International Writing Centers Week or National Day on Writing).  If you give any informational presentations about the writing center around campus, make sure you’re mentioning your social media outlets.  List your Twitter handle and Facebook page URL on your website and any other promotional materials.

3. And… go!

If I had to sum up how social media works, it would go something like this: the things you do with it will emerge organically out of the connections you forge.  Its purpose for your organization grows clearer as your social network grows more defined.

This is because cross-promotion is the fuel that drives the social media world.  If another organization has posted something of interest, then you should always spread the word to your own audience.  Others will feel obliged to return the favor.

Here are some ways you can jump in:

  • Share statistics about your writing center’s usage with other writing centers and academic departments
  • Share writing-, tutoring-, and academics-related news stories and articles
  • Pick up and spread the word about events going on in other parts of campus (it proves that you’re alive and in tune with what’s happening among your students)
  • Participate in a Twitterchat like #wcchat

If others pick up on what you say and share it, then single them out for a thank-you.  Retweet them on Twitter, and on Facebook, when you’re logged in and viewing your page, you can use Facebook as your organization and cultivate an active presence.

There are some rules, though.

4. Savvy social networkers are…

Regular users: Assign other tutors to take turns monitoring the channels, and make sure you’re posting something or checking your outlets out at least once a day.

Aggressive: Don’t feel cheap about sharing other events going on at your school, mentioning offices by name or by their Twitter handle, or compulsively retweeting things you read and re-posting them on Facebook. (If your accounts are linked, you’re doing both at the same time!)  It will catch on if you stick with it.  Others in your social networks will do whatever it takes for you to promote them.

Literate in all kinds of media: Just because we’re writing centers doesn’t mean we have to stick with text.  Posting photos from events helps reveal the charming human face behind your office, while memes, as long as they’re a hot trend, can allow you to show off your funnier side.  There are dozens of writing-related materials on YouTube, and to my knowledge at least, no writing center has yet posted a Harlem Shake video…

Always showing interest in what others are doing: In the spirit of cross-promotion, this is key.  Whether it’s an upcoming jazz concert, a reminder to vote in student body elections, news about renovations to the library, or a Twitterchat about digital humanities, there is always something you can talk about in addition to writing.  Show that you’re dynamic by helping spread the word about things your students would be interested in knowing, even if it’s not directly related to what you do.

Does some of this stuff sound like you’re marketing a brand?  That’s because you are.  But what’s so powerful about social media is that it gives you full control over the image of your writing center and the kind of impression an engaged audience will have about your work.  And hey, if that impression is good, then all of us writing centers will benefit, right?

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