Rebecca Stapley joins us to talk about social media, and specifically, what do when you suspect it’s time to sunset a social media account that’s outlived its usefulness.

During her time as Assistant Director of Social Media at Nazareth College, Rebecca gained first-hand experience with this potentially touchy topic as she engaged with colleagues in other departments who wanted to run–or maybe already were running–their own accounts on behalf of the school.

You’ll hear from Rebecca about:

  • The key questions internal teams should asking BEFORE they start a new social account
  • How to approach colleagues when you suspect their social media accounts could use some help and how to do so in a way that minimizes defensiveness
  • And the specific process she used to wind down a set of alumni social media accounts at Nazareth College and integrate them into the school’s main account.

Transcript

Jarrett Smith: You’re listening to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith. Welcome to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m Jarrett Smith. Each episode it’s my job to engage with some of the brightest minds in higher ed in the broader world of marketing to gain actionable insights you can use to level up your school’s marketing and enrollment efforts. In this episode, we’ll be talking about social media, and specifically what to do when you suspect it’s time to sunset a social media account that’s outlived its usefulness.

Joining us in the conversation is Rebecca Stapley. As former assistant director of social media at Nazareth College, Rebecca has firsthand experience managing social media at her school and engaging with colleagues in other departments who want to or maybe already are running their own social media accounts on behalf of the school.

You’ll hear from Rebecca about the key questions internal teams should be asking before they start a new social media account, how to approach colleagues when you suspect their social media accounts could use some help, and how to do so in a way that minimizes defensiveness, and finally the specific process that she used to wind down a set of alumni social media accounts at Nazareth College and integrate them into the school’s main account.

Before we jump into that episode though, I want to give a shout out to Gail at Georgian Court University. Gail stopped by the Echo Delta booth at AMA Higher Ed this past November. So, Gail, thanks for listening, and I hope to see you at AMA next year.

Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Rebecca Stapley. Rebecca, welcome to the show.

Rebecca Stapley: Thank you. Happy to be here.

Jarrett Smith: So happy to have you here and so happy to talk about winding down social media accounts, which I think is such an interesting topic and share some useful information from folks who maybe want to do the same thing. Before we get into that, could you please tell us a little bit about Nazareth College and your role there?

Rebecca Stapley: Yeah, absolutely. Nazareth College, we are located in upstate New York, specifically in Rochester, New York, in a suburb called Pittsford, New York. We are a comprehensive liberal arts school. We have about 2,000 undergrad students, about 800 grad students. I have been working here for the past nine years this September, but my role here and my background is in enrollment where I started. Now I’m full-time with the marketing team, and I do our social media strategy for all of the official accounts as well as our social media strategy for any integrated campaign.

Rebecca Stapley: Our biggest clients that I work with are admissions enrollment, probably about 80% of the work that I do, also development, things like our giving day, which we just launched two years ago, and then also, as I’ll talk to you more, our alumni. That was one of the first big accounts that we actually streamlined into the official accounts. So, I have a really good and close relationship with that team now in my daily work as well.

Jarrett Smith: Very cool. Today we’re going to be talking about sunsetting some of those accounts and maybe the dos and don’ts and kind of the right way to do that. Lots of folks listening, if they engage with social media at their school, can probably think of accounts that maybe aren’t as effective as they should be or accounts that maybe they wish didn’t exist or aren’t entirely why they exist. I imagine it’s just got to be so common because it seems so easy to get started. What are some of the sort of core questions people should be asking before they launch a new social account?

Rebecca Stapley: There’s kind of that before I launch, so it doesn’t exist, and then there’s also that if it doesn’t launch, do I continue or how do I change my strategy. I think you’re asking more for the ones that don’t yet exist. Correct?

Jarrett Smith: Yeah, that’s a great place to start.

Rebecca Stapley: Yeah. What I usually do … And I get a lot of that. So, I always set up a face-to-face meeting. I think it’s so important to meet with people to really understand, because it’s a really more complex subject of social media, especially if done thoughtfully, than most people, especially if they’re not using social media for a business or an objective, really think about. In the meetings, I start by asking, just starting the conversation off, and getting a sense of what they’re trying to accomplish, and then educating every step of the way, because, like you said, it’s so easy to start an account but most people don’t have a sense of what do I do if a crisis emerges on my channel. They don’t even understand this component of behind the scenes monitoring and listening to get deeper understandings about their audience and their content.

But to kick it off, I usually ground by asking them, “How’s it going? What’s your department or organization? What are you struggling with? And how do you think social media can help? What are your goals for even having this conversation?” Usually they do have a lot to say. From that point is where we kind of pivot once I get a sense. Through that education and thinking about what are they trying to achieve, I’m not afraid to ask some of the hard questions. Given what we know about social media, is this the best place to reach that goal? I’ll explain how the algorithms are changing, how it’s harder and harder. You do all this work with starting an account to even then get your content seen or to gain followers or any type of traction and what’s involved in that.

What I find is a lot of time there’s just not that awareness. Like, “Whoa, I really didn’t realize that it was that difficult to get my content seen. I thought that just by having an account … If you build it, they will come.” So, I really try to ask those types of deeper questions but with the piece of educating them. And empathy. I’ll even tell them, “Even from the official accounts which have thousands of followers, it’s really hard in this social media landscape to get our content, content that we work really hard on and have a whole team behind, to get it seen.” Then I’ll even tell them about, as we call it, the pay to play landscape, so that, even within the strength of our accounts, we’re boosting and putting money behind some of our content because it is a challenge to have it seen.

That’s kind of where I start off. I know that’s a lot, and it always is so individual when students meet versus when a faculty member might come in or a department. So, I really do try to get a sense of who the client, if you will, is and really to help them best understand what it is that they are trying to do.

Jarrett Smith: Yeah. Well, and I think that makes so much sense, and I think asking some of those basic questions … I love the question, starting off with, what are you trying to accomplish? What problem do you think this is going to help solve? And is this even the most effective way to go about doing that? Because I think it’s so easy to see the latest shiny new platform or something like that where you attend a conference, like we both attended eduWeb … You attend a conference. You hear about the latest thing, and you’re like, “Oh man. We’ve got to get on that. There’s a real opportunity there.” But you really have to stop and ask those kind of hard, practical questions and then, to your point, really helping them understand sort of the practical implications day-to-day about, well, here’s what you can really accomplish, and here’s what’s really involved in that. It is so eye-opening for folks.

Rebecca Stapley: Yeah, absolutely.

Jarrett Smith: It’s wonderful when you can have those conversations on the front-end, right?

Rebecca Stapley: Yes.

Jarrett Smith: That is the perfect scenario where you can arrive at a conclusion together. Hey, this is a great idea, or, no, this is actually great intentions but not really the best idea. But unfortunately that doesn’t always happen. I’m sure that you and other folks listening to this have certainly had firsthand experience working with accounts that weren’t necessarily on solid footing. So, I was wondering if you could share your experiences with that. Tell us about some of the work you’ve done encountering those accounts that weren’t performing really as effectively as they should be.

Rebecca Stapley: Yeah, absolutely. I’m happy to go into that. I think there’s also two things to think about when an account that already exists, because a lot of colleges, including Nazareth, and we’re a smaller school, have a ton of what we call rogue accounts. I kind of keep an ongoing Google doc just so that I know when these kind of rogue accounts, even if they’re just created by a random student, that might have to do with the school. A student started one that was Squirrels of Nazareth where it’s-

Jarrett Smith: That’s great.

Rebecca Stapley: It’s very humorous. They actually maintained it very well. So, I keep an ongoing list of rogue accounts just to check in on, but I do think that it’s important to prioritize some of the other accounts that are more highly visible, connected to the institutional goals and objectives, or if a specific department or even one of my directors says, “Hey, we want to pay attention to this.” So, it’s important to prioritize, because there are so many existing social media accounts that are out there.

When I do kind of have an account come on my radar, and I’ll use … I have two kind of more recent examples: our alumni account and then also a health and counseling account. The place that I always start is, again, kind of “How is it going for you?” I ask this question, but I also don’t go in blind. Before even asked to officially do an audit or go in there, I’m already in there. I’m already getting familiarized with their content, with the engagement, what kind of trends I’m seeing and activity on that account. Was their last active post like two years ago? Which, believe it or not, sometimes you see.

But then I start to ask them, again, “How do you think it’s going?” And then that empathy piece of “What do you need help with?” Because a lot of our teams, we have a finite amount of resources, and our alumni team is two people and they’re trying to do everything that the alumni team needs to do in terms of event planning and communications. So, for me, it was really … “I know that you’re a lean and mean team. How can I help? What are you struggling with?”

I think also arming yourself, not only with research, but thinking about the beginning of a plan is good. It doesn’t even need to be formal. You don’t need to share it in the first meeting. But just coming with some suggestions. Because, for someone that’s not really well-acquainted with social media strategy, it can be really overwhelming.

So, sometimes you ask them, “What are you trying to achieve? How’s it going? What are your goals?”, and they might not know. So, I like to kind of say, “Oh, well, here’s a few options. Would it be increasing event attendance? Would it be trying to get more visibility?” Some things will resonate, and they’ll say, “Yes. Yes, that, 100%,” and sometimes they won’t, and they’ll be like, “Actually, I’m not too worried about this one thing.” So, being prepared but also really listening to what are your pain points, what do you need help with, how could this do what you want it to do.

Jarrett Smith: Anytime somebody, especially an official account like your alumni team, they own that. They, naturally, you would expect would be somewhat protective of that. If you’re going to swoop in and say, “No, you can’t have that, and this isn’t an effective approach. This isn’t working. Let me tell you that,” you’re automatically going to put them on the defensive. But I think your approach of “Hey, let me first go in, ask some smart questions, offer help and advice,” even if, in the back of your mind, “Hey, I really don’t think this should exist, and I’ve kind of got a plan for winding this down.” You can’t start there. I just think that that’s so smart.

Rebecca Stapley: Thank you. Yeah. It definitely is very important how we approach it. At the conference, I used the example of Marie Kondo. She doesn’t just barge into people’s homes and say, “You need to get rid of all your stuff and fold it this way, because I said so, and it’s good.” It’s really that partnership and educating every step of the way and keeping that empathy with it, because we know that social media is not easy. It’s not an entry level job, in my opinion. So, it definitely, definitely is something to be really just empathetic about.

Jarrett Smith: Yeah. Okay. Let’s fast forward a little bit, and let’s say we have engaged with one of our internal partners that’s running a social media account. We’ve all kind of come to the conclusion, hey, this isn’t working as effectively as it could. Maybe it actually is time to kind of gracefully sunset this account. Tell me about the process. What kind of planning are you doing? What kind of thinking is happening on the front end? Then I would love to see how does that ultimately sort of get implemented when it’s actually time to start making some public facing moves.

Rebecca Stapley: Once we’ve had that collective agreement of this could be more effectively shared perhaps from the official accounts or even different modes of communication, but for our purposes from the official account, that’s when I kind of start the official audit. I start looking like a deep dive into the accounts that exist. This is where I get really curious. Again, it’s not coming from a place of judgment but really just getting curious about what types of content and why were they being posted.

With alumni, I found some things like social media posts that were flyers or had really lower contrast text or were really text heavy on Instagram, a platform where we really don’t want a lot of text. It’s for visually compelling images, photos. I also noticed that there was a lot of content that was just being shared from the official accounts. We already had alumni content going out, and they just find an announcement or a piece and just share it, but it was pulling into the feed in that kind of ugly way sometimes when you simply click share.

But I also got curious about some of the other content. Our alumni department has these amazing archive photos from all the years past, and some of them are really, really great. I was noticing that they’re getting such low engagement, maybe two, three likes, no comments. From there, I get really curious, and then I go back to the goals that we’ve established collectively in the beginning, which for alumni had a lot to do with events. I noticed that there weren’t clear calls to action. So, right away, it’s like, okay, we can much more easily call out a clear call to action of what do you want the audience to do. Do you want them to register? Do you want them to save the date? Do you simply want them to connect and comment? From that curiosity, findings, things like that.

Then, if that content, the majority of it, is being shared from the official account, then questioning can we just shift over to having all our alumni content come from that place, knowing that we’ll see hopefully this lift in engagement and really have more support in being able to have new content ideas. Something that we launched … I think it’s also important to brainstorm and let the client know that you really care and you’re going to put your creative energy and team efforts behind creating great content.

For alumni, we did this through launching an idea that I had for an alumni spotlight, coming from a digital form where alumni answered curated questions and provided photos that were kind of beyond the basic headshot that I usually associate with alumni, which can be very boring in some contexts on social media. So, coming up with ideas, letting them know that their content matters and that we’re here to partner to really make the shiniest content and to get the most bang out of the efforts that we’re doing.

Jarrett Smith: You know what popped into my mind as I was listening to you say that was the idea … I’ve heard people say things like, instead of saying no, say, “Yes and.” You seem to be taking sort of an inherently “Yes and” approach where you’re saying, “This is great what you’re doing. I appreciate what you’re trying to do here. Let’s roll with that, and let me show you what else you could do with this,” really conveying to the other team that, yes, you’re giving something up, but look how much more you’re gaining. Look what we can implement for you, and look how much more effectively we can address this. We’re willing to invest some interesting ideas and execute some interesting things on your behalf to do that. I just think it makes that so much more palatable when ultimately you kind of have to rain on someone’s parade a little bit.

Rebecca Stapley: Yeah. Absolutely. Sometimes I think it can be hard, again, if the people behind these accounts aren’t really as savvy with social media outside of maybe their personal accounts, to kind of conceptualize what that would look like. So, I think adding tangible examples of, well, here’s a content idea. Here’s a way we can increase visibility for homecoming and reunion is by creating a Facebook event from the official account, even if it’s not to just increase registrations but the number of people who will see it when they indicate that they’re going or are interested just exponentially, like you said, can add to it, can elevate on what we’ve already got.

Jarrett Smith: Very cool. You are having a conversation with them about, hey, in concrete terms, this is what it could look like. Here’s some improvements we could make. Here’s what it would look like if it was integrated into our sort of main college account.” I’m curious, in this specific example, you’re integrating alumni information prior to integrating the alumni account into your sort of official main college account. To what extent were you already talking about alumni things? How did that change, and how did you think about integrating that content into your workflow for that main account?

Rebecca Stapley: That’s a really, really good question. We were already sharing kind of those really important more newsy alumni stories, like if there was an alumni featured in our alumni magazine or in the news. But when I came in, I brought this enthusiasm for alumni as a whole. What I wanted to bring to this process was the perspective of kind of seeing all content as potential alumni content, so seeing how too, and for us our primary audiences, so perspective students and alumni, how there was so much overlap into what both of those audiences care about, and then how we could bring both lenses whenever we approach our content.

As an example, for our prospective students, it’s something that I don’t think they are necessarily aware of. I certainly wasn’t back in the day when I was doing my search. But they’re stories, these alumni stories, that we can harness that they actually really care about, because, at a certain point, they do think, “What will my life be after graduation? What types of things are these people who have this shared experience that I’m going to have … What are they doing with it?” They’re one of the only alumni or one of the only tangible examples and tangible storytellers of that value, of what the Nazareth education can create, what that experience is like.

So, really harnessing their voices to kind of tell that story can be really powerful in a way that benefits alumni themself in wanting to stay connected and have belonging and a community and in a way where prospective students can see, even feel, a part of that community at the part of their journey where they’re just starting.

Jarrett Smith: That makes a ton of sense. Speaking of the audience and kind of preparing them for an account that is eventually at some point going to go offline, at a tactical level, what kinds of communication did you put out on the alumni social account, and what kind of timing did you give people?

Rebecca Stapley: We kind of had fun with it. Once we’d kind of done our soft launch and started testing some of the content ideas, which did really, really well, and our audiences really loved this content … So, then with the timeline, we made some fun posts. We let kind of all the accounts know. We even did some visuals of moving boxes with Naz branding and a little truck with … And we just let the audiences know, hey, you’re going to be able to get the same great alumni content, but it’s now we’ve joined forces so you can get it all in one place, even easier, right here, same great stuff. Make sure to give us a like on that page if you haven’t already.

We found that a lot, like the majority of our audience in the alumni accounts, they were actually already following the official pages, but then we did have a subgroup that was not. For us, because of the naming, we weren’t just able to merge the accounts, which actually sometimes you can do and then you pull that audience right into it, although I would still highly recommend letting them know that this change is happening and they’ll still be seeing that content, just in a new place. But what we did, because we didn’t have that option to merge, and this was mostly to sooth the anxiety of our alumni team worried about losing those followers, we did a little bit of a paid campaign to those specific people who were following the alumni account but not following the official accounts.

I also made the point that can be hard to hear is that, if that audience, if the audience members aren’t engaged enough to even click like to follow the official page, do you really want them in your audience? Or, what can we do better to make them want to do that and get them engaged and allow them to care?

Jarrett Smith: That makes a ton of sense. Rebecca, this was I’m sure an interesting journey for you. If somebody listening is contemplating taking a similar journey and trying this at their school, what advice would you give them?

Rebecca Stapley: First advice would always kind of come at this from a relationship approach, because relationships really matter, especially when you’re thinking about potentially auditing and maybe closing an account. It can feel really personal. Our digital lives that we put out there, whether it’s for our personal accounts or even at our roles in the school, it feels personal. So, I come at it from the relational approach, and then really grounding with those questions, coming and asking them. Do you know what your goals are? And if not, still having a really rich and human conversation, but then having a followup.

I just did this with our health and counseling team, and it was amazing. They were like, “I’m really sorry, but I’m not really sure what our goals of being on social media are.” I said, “That’s okay. I totally get it. Let’s still talk today. Walk me through what’s going on in your world. But then let’s have a meeting in two weeks from now to get clear about those goals.”

For health and counseling, they actually took it one step further, which was awesome. They emailed all of the counselors and said, “What do you think our goals are?” In this case, all of the answers were the same. They said, “in the beginning of the semester, we just want students to know what kind of resources we have and we want them to know maybe once or twice a semester, when we have our really big event or a speaker talking about suicide prevention, we want them to know.”

Then it kind of re-frames that conversation so that you can work and partner together to get into those harder questions of, hey, is social media helping. Could it be better reached elsewhere? Because sometimes, if it’s event-focused, we have an app for … There’s different ways to reach students that aren’t just social media. Or can this just be integrated by sharing your master calendar, letting me know when things are happening? Hey, is it current students? Then, we’ll put it up maybe on an Instagram story, which would be a little bit more appropriate than having an entire channel that might not have really on-message content or regular content.

So, kind of again that relational approach, really grounding by establishing those goals, and then doing the work in a partnership of answering those harder to answer questions that require a little bit more problem solving.

Jarrett Smith: Very cool. Excellent advice. Rebecca, I assume you have not wound down your own personal social media accounts. If somebody wanted to reach out and say hi and maybe pick your brain about something they’re thinking about, what is the best place to connect with you?

Rebecca Stapley: Yeah, absolutely. Well, you can always shoot me an email. My email address is right on the directory on the naz.edu website. It’s rstaple0@naz.edu. But otherwise, I am public on Twitter. My handle is @rstapley, my last name. I will warn you that I mostly post about my dogs, since I spend so much time in the digital world and on the Nazareth accounts that I kind of take a little step back in my own personal life just to have a little balance there. But I always, if you tag me, if you send me a DM, connect with me, I’ll definitely check in. That’s another place to connect with me.

Jarrett Smith: Very cool. Rebecca, thank you so much for your time today and sharing your expertise. Thank you so much.

Rebecca Stapley: Thank you so much for having me on. It was a pleasure.

Jarrett Smith: The Higher Ed Marketing Lab is produced by Echo Delta, a full service marketing firm dedicated to helping higher education institutions drive enrollment, increase yield, and capture donors’ attention. For more information, visit echodelta.co. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes. And, as always, if you have questions, suggestions, episode ideas, or just want to reach out and say hi, drop us a line at podcast@echodelta.co. See you next time.