Arguably, social media managers have one of the most demanding yet least understood jobs in higher ed marketing. The hours are long, the visibility is high, and the resources to do the job well are often lacking.

Enter Liz Gross, CEO of social listening agency Campus Sonar. A higher ed veteran with first-hand experience managing institutional social media accounts, Liz recently published a new book called Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses to serve as a comprehensive guide for higher ed social media managers and the leaders they report to.

Liz is a passionate advocate for getting social media right, and the advice she delivers in this episode spans the lofty and strategic to the practical and tactical. She explains the importance of starting with the right goals and why “go viral” and “engage our audience” should never be goals. Then, Liz talks about the crucial role of executive leadership in supporting campus social media efforts and argues that leaders should plan to allocate a minimum of $100,000 annually to properly manage social media.

Later in the conversation, Liz outlines a practical framework for making content development sustainable and then describes the core components of a robust social media policy to guide official social media activities.

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Transcript

Jarrett Smith:
You are listening to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith.

Hello, and welcome to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith. Each episode, it’s my job to engage with some of the brightest minds in higher education and the broader world of marketing to bring you actionable insights that you can use to level up your school’s marketing and enrollment performance. In this episode, I talk with Liz Gross, CEO of social listening agency, Campus Sonar, about her new book, Fundamentals Of Social Media Strategy: A Guide For College Campuses. In it, Liz provides a comprehensive resource for all things higher ed social media.

Liz and I cover a wide range of topics, from the strategic to the tactical, including how to set the right goals and get the right kind of executive support, to, how to make content creation sustainable and develop a strong social media policy. So whether you manage your school’s day-to-day social media, or lead those that do, Liz provides a ton of practical insight on how to do it right. So without further ado, here’s my conversation with Liz Gross.

Liz, welcome to the show.

Liz Gross:
Thanks Jarrett. I’m excited to be here.

Jarrett Smith:
Well, I’m so happy to talk with you today about all things social media management. And I think we got a lot of territory to cover here before we dive into that. So I wonder if you could just give our audience a quick snapshot of your background and all the good work you’re doing at Campus Sonar these days.

Liz Gross:
Sure. I think that’s how most people know me now, is the founder and CEO of Campus Sonar. And in that role, in this phase of my life, we’re consulting with campuses to help them use social data and intelligence from social media to improve their marketing, recruitment and retention, or their advancement strategies. But when I think background, I’m like, “Oh, let’s go on a journey way back in time.” I’ve been in higher ed social media since around 2008. I think that’s when I started using Twitter and Facebook to connect with students. And at that point, I was actually working in university housing at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, one of the larger, not largest, but large four-year public institution, figuring it out as I go doing the most simplistic taped-together-with-Scotch-tape social listening stuff using RSS feeds.

Jarrett Smith:
Oh man, you are a social media OG.

Liz Gross:
I like to say that I am, yes. For folks that know that there’s a student affairs Twitter chat, essay chat, I was at the first one. So I do have an OG badge for that. I’ve always been in higher ed though. And once I caught that social media bug, it was going to become a part of my journey ever since. I ended up being a marketing and communications director at a community college in Wisconsin for a couple of years, and truth be told, I… I mean, granted, I wanted a promotion, but I applied for the job because it was the first director marketing job I saw that had a bullet point for social media. And this would have been 2010. No. Yeah, 2010. So I was like, “Yeah, I’ll just make that my job.” It was like 5% of my job, but it was a good time.

And then I eventually left campus and I worked for a student loan servicer that didn’t have a social media program and wanted someone to build it from scratch. So, that was an amazing experience. And it actually eventually led to the creation of Campus Sonar. But if you want to learn a lot, go do something where it’s never done before, in a highly regulated environment, where you’ve got three levels of supervision above you and you get audited. All of that happened to me in that role. Educationally, I always thought I was going to be in student affairs, so I studied educational policy in my master’s program at Marquette and got a doctorate in higher ed leadership thinking I was going to be a vice president someday.

Liz Gross:
And I found that I just really enjoyed scaling things up outside of campus so that more campuses can benefit from my work. So I combined all that together to try and write a book that would help folks, and that’s something I’m really jazzed about right now, but higher ed is the common thread through all of it, and I caught the social bug quickly.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. So there’s a lot to dive into with the book, and we’ll spend a lot of time talking about a few of the topics that are in there. Just to zoom in on Campus Sonar real quick. I know you all specialize in social listening and it’s such a unique, interesting type of work. Just shout out to another higher ed podcast on Enrollment Growth University. You did an interview all about all things social listening, but could you just tell folks, in a nutshell, what is social listening and what do you do with that?

Liz Gross:
Right. We are all creating like little digital trails around the internet with our tweets and our comments and our posts on Reddit and comments on blogs and news articles. Social listening is finding all those digital trails about a topic or an audience and using it to better understand them, their thoughts, their behaviors, their feelings. For an institution, it could be better understanding their reputation in the realm of the audience. I like to say that social listening isn’t always on focus group, it’s unobtrusive. No one knows that you’re asking the questions, but you’re able to get an authentic look into what people are saying about a topic or just how a certain group of people are talking about things in general.

At Campus Sonar, social listening is incredibly expansive. We are using enterprise-level social listening software so that we are not only doing really comprehensive searches so that we get the context of what people are saying. And we’ll never catch every sub tweet, we won’t just need people to be tagged, we’ll find what people are about topics that matter, and then pulling it together as a giant dataset to do analysis. So it is light years beyond social media monitoring where you’re just looking for when people are mentioning you and talking to you, it’s really finding out what is the conversation about you or about the topic you’re interested in and how is that manifesting itself in the public when you’re not looking?

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. It’s a super interesting topic and such a valuable line of research that didn’t exist when I got into marketing back in the day and now it’s a thing, and a lot of fruitful territory to mine there, but I want to talk about the book specifically. So you released this in two volumes. The first part I think came out back in October last year, and then you released a second part in January of this year, so congratulations on that.

Liz Gross:
Thank you.

Jarrett Smith:
Such a huge effort. Very impressive. One of the things I love about the book is that it spans both the strategic and the tactical. And a lot of times, I think in marketing books, you get one or the other, it’s like either Facebook posting sizes, or it’s like high level strategy, with not a lot of indication on how to actually bring it down to earth and do something with it. And I think you cover that full territory, which is a great service to everybody. But could you just tell us, what’s in the book? The depth and breadth of material that you cover there?

Liz Gross:
Sure. The book is called Fundamentals Of Social Media Strategy, A Guide For College Campuses. And when I set out to write this, I wanted it to be like the guide book for higher ed social. I wanted someone, whether they felt like they’d never been trained or they’d done the quintessential jump from journalism to higher ed and they got to do that job now, I wanted them to have a textbook, but it didn’t exist. There are four sections in the book, and the first one is all strategy. It’s called Building And Articulating Your Core Strategy. And there, we talk about goals and purpose, knowing your audience. There’s an entire chapter of, what the heck does strategy mean?

Jarrett Smith:
I wanted to high-five you when I read that because I was like, “I feel like there’s no… ” And probably strategy ranks right up there also with brand in marketing circles, is like the most loosey goosey term that is a Rorschach test for whatevers someone thinks it means.

Liz Gross:
Right. And I’ve got to give a shout out here. One of my Campus Sonar employees, Amber Sandal, wrote a lot of the content for that chapter. And we’ve gotten so much feedback so far that people are like, “I read that chapter and then I sat down and I wrote a strategy for the first time. I knew what it was.” So a short version, I always say, I’ve read somewhere and I don’t know where the quote came from, it’s unidentified on the internet, but strategy connects the dots between what you do and why you do it. And to me, that makes a ton of sense. But then people are like, “Well, but how do I write it?” So Amber did a really, really great job breaking that down.

And then one of my favorite chapters is in this section. Chapter four is called Investing In Social Media, and it’s a bit of a manifesto about what is required to do social media well from a staffing and software and advertising perspective. And I took a bit of a risk in that chapter at the end, there is actually a template of a budget for a social media program at the low, medium and the high end. And we’re actually going to be releasing that template as as a fill-it-in, in do-yourself later this year. But I came to the conclusion that I don’t think there is any way any campus can do social media for less than an investment of $100,000 a year.

Liz Gross:
The original name of this chapter was Social Media Has Never Been Free, for a variety of reasons, I changed it.

Jarrett Smith:
I want to circle back to that and dive into that.

Liz Gross:
I’ll move on from that chapter. And then the strategy section ends with an exec’s guide to social media, which I think we might talk about later too. Section two is really that bridge of strategy and tactics, and it’s all about content. This chapter and the one before it is actually an extension of a workshop that I’ve been giving for years, often through case events of helping people over the course of either four hours or four days, it’s a very different experience if it’s four days, really work through their strategy. So I turned slides into chapters, which was a great experience.

I talk about voice and content curation and content creation, steal some really great stuff, accredited appropriately from Stephen App, another one of my colleagues, and then accessibility. And that was volume one. That’s what we put out in October. If you download the book today, anyone listening to it, you’re going to get all of it at once. You don’t have to go out and find two volumes. The second half, this core concepts of social, this is tactical, tactical, tactical. And it was the hardest for me to write because I am not a tactician anymore. So there is example upon example of example from folks on other campuses that are doing things right.

There’s a chapter about engagement. And spoiler alert for folks, the way I view engagement, I think is a lot different than how engagement is being talked about on campus. Your engagement rate is not necessarily what I think engagement is. So there’s a lot of research in that chapter from other sources of why we should be engaging and what that looks like. There’s of course, a social listening chapter where we literally give away all of our secrets to people who want to understand how social listening works. Alison Churchill wrote the paid social chapter. Because, again, I’m not a tactician, I didn’t do that, but she’s got a great guide to how to do paid social.

There’s a chapter on measurement, there’s a chapter on crisis, there’s a chapter on guidelines and policies, which I love to nerd out over. And now we get to section four, which my working title stayed for this one and it’s called, What Keeps Social Media Managers Up At Night. And hopefully, it’s not terrifying, but as I was finishing up the outline of this book… I’ve been lucky enough to give, darn, near 100 conference presentations at this point. And I was thinking, “What are the most common questions I get afterwards? The ones people are afraid to ask, to raise their hand then they come up and ask me.”

And that’s what I wrote these chapters about. So there’s a chapter about unifying social across campus. The, what do we do when we have 100 accounts and they’re not saying the same thing? There’s another one about just integrating social into an overall digital strategy. That one is much more conceptual and strategic. There’s a chapter on supporting your executive that wants to be on social media, wellness and support for social media administrators, which, I was writing this during 2020 and when I wrote this outline in January, 2020, this seemed like, people don’t talk about this enough, I need to put this in the book.

And now that 2020 happened and thankful we’ve talked about it a lot more, but still a great chapter, another guest chapter from Krista Boniface and Erin Supinka. And then at the end, chapter 20, is quite a long chapter on resources for continued professional development. Because literally, the most common question I would get from people is, “It seems like you just know where to look for stuff. Where do you look? What do you find?” So I wrote it all down so that folks can continue their own professional development without having to look for someone else. So, yeah, it’s 20 chapters, 300 and some pages. Don’t just accidentally hit print unless what you’re getting yourself into.

Jarrett Smith:
Definitely. But it’s such great information. And if you’re serious about managing social media for your institution or you’re in a leadership role where are responsible for it, ultimately, I think it’s a great guide. It’s packed with so much useful information. I want to zoom back to the beginning and talk a little bit about goals. It’s funny, it’s been my observation that otherwise sensible marketers, maybe they’re watching like CPL out of paid search like a hawk. When they get to social media, it can get loosey goosey. And you write specifically that, go viral, build awareness and engage our community, those aren’t really proper social media goals.

So I guess my question to you is, okay, what are proper social media goals? How should we think about setting the right goals for our social media activities?

Liz Gross:
Yeah. I don’t think we should ever talk about social media goals again, we should just talk about goals and how social media can help us achieve them. And that’s where people get caught up. And to the defensive many people, there are still some folks in senior leadership positions on campus that think the goal of their social media is to have more followers than their peer group or to be ranked highly in whoever decides to rank like the top 10 engaging accounts. But that does nothing for your enrollment or your brand or your fundraising activities.

It may somehow contribute to it, but you’re not measuring the right thing, you want to actually impact those things. I always try to get folks to think about, what are the actual goals that your department or your institution is working towards? They should be in a strategic plan or a work guide or mentioned in the state of the institution from your president or something like that. Social media should be able to support those goals. And they can often be enrollment or brand awareness, but they have to be part of something that is not measured solely by social media, I think.

Campuses are not social media businesses. There are businesses in this economy that are social media businesses, and social media is how… Like influencers, their social media is what matters. That’s not the fact for colleges. We have to think about business or organizational goals and how social media ties into it. And that plays along with the measurement chapter. I think people who are doing a really good job of quantifying the impact of social media on their institution’s goals have really figured out how to connect all the dots. And a goal is achieved when someone does the thing that you wanted them to do, or for a brand, say like people feel differently and you can quantify that they feel differently about it, and you’re not going to be able to pull that data from social alone.

Jarrett Smith:
The thing that just popped into my mind as you were saying that was that if you were evaluating your social media purely based on the metrics that are available in that platform, then you’re not thinking big enough and you’re not looking at the right things. Those can be helpful, they may be necessary, but they are not sufficient to tell the story, and they may not even really be necessary.

Liz Gross:
Yeah. We have a client that we work with and we’re one of many parts of their digital strategy, and when they started working with us, they’re like, “Look… ” They sit in a marketing office, a well-resourced marketing office, and they’re like, “We’re in marketing. We know this. What we care about is quantifying our impact on enrollment. So when we were even talking about partnering with them, they’re saying, “Unless you can help us figure out how we will tie what you do to students enrolling at our institution, this won’t be a conversation.” And that should be the case, not just when you’re evaluating vendors, but for every bit of work you do.

So, great, you got up to 10,000 Instagram followers, now you can swipe up on a story. You better be using that to show that your stories are driving visit sign-ups, or something like that.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. A lot of what you’re saying is that this has a ladder up to something bigger beyond social media. Which just takes me into the realm of leadership and having an effective partnership between the folks doing the day-to-day work managing institutional social media accounts and the leadership that is trying to steer and drive the organization towards these bigger picture goals. And you have a whole chapter on that where executive leaders fit in. So if somebody’s listening to this is not responsible for the day-to-day management, but is responsible for social media in some capacity, how should they, as a leader be thinking about social media and what they need to contribute and how they can empower that team to do the best work for their school?

Liz Gross:
I’m glad you used the word contribute because that’s the whole point of the chapter, is that you can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen. As a senior leader, there are things you have to provide your team in order for them to do this well. And this chapter really, it came down to two things. One, I would go through these workshops with social media managers and we would get to this part about goals and purpose. And I’d be like, “So what is your department trying to achieve? Or what is your institution you’re trying to achieve? What are your priorities right now?” And they would look at me and be like, “I’ve never been told that.” And they would literally say, “I’m here to make sure we’re posting or do social.” My heart would just sink. Really?

That’s just one of the five things in the chapter that I think executives need to provide to the folks who are doing social. And depending on your campus hierarchy, this might be a director, or this might be a VP. It could even be a president at some institutions if they’re digital-first presidents. But the first thing is that they have to be able to articulate the purpose, “Why are we not only just investing in social media, but what are we trying to do?” Again, back to that goals’ conversation, what is the senior leadership’s goals that they want? And then after that, they’ve got to have a good success indicator. You tell someone you want something to happen, you should also be able to tell them, “And here’s how I’ll know you did it.”

There are actual leaders who have told their social media managers that they need to go viral, and that is not a success indicator. This just goes back like, so what are your priorities? And then, what goals need to be achieved? Do you need more apps? Do you need higher yield? Do you need better rankings? I don’t like the rankings, but maybe that’s what you need. What are your indicators? A few more things. You need to tell them what audiences you care about. And this is a hard one for a lot of folks. I think I got up on about three dozen soap boxes in this book, but the soap box here is that the general public is not a target audience. And you can’t tell either one social media person or entire team, “I need you to reach everyone.”

You need to provide one to three priority audiences so that they can tailor a strategy that fits. And then the last two, an executive needs to let someone know what data they need to make decisions. If you’ve ever been a part in any of the higher ed social conferences or even the Facebook group, every single week, there’s a question of, “What do you guys report? What should be in my report to my leadership?” And I’m a broken record in this conversation, I say, “You need to report the data that will allow them to make decisions. And fans, followers and engagement rates is not allowing them to make decisions. It’s almost like you’re justifying that you’re doing a job in that report, but you’re not showing why your job matters.”

That is hard. And honestly, it took me years to figure out how to connect social to things that mattered at my campus. But there’s books like this now, there’s classes to help you get that faster. If you’re not providing data that can help someone make a choice about funding or strategy or something, what you’re reporting doesn’t actually matter. And then the last one is resources. I have found that a lot of people in the social media management chair are terrified to have a frank conversation with leadership about resources. Sometimes it’s because they’re not getting paid enough, sometimes it’s because they’re being asked to do things that require software or advertising or equipment that they don’t have.

But, I wrote in the book, results are a reflection of resources. And if as a leader you want results, you also have to be very clear about what resources are available and what needs to be done. If the people doing the work feel they need more resources, what’s the appropriate time and place and way to advocate for that? I mean, well beyond social media, we don’t talk transparently about resources enough in higher ed, but those five things: purpose, success indicators, key audiences, data to support decisions, and resources, are what I think execs need to communicate to get a good social strategy and return.

And then later in the chapter I talk about, if you give these five things, here’s what you can expect back and what you should demand back. But if you don’t provide the starting place, you’re likely just going to have folks spinning their wheels for a while.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, absolutely. And just to continue on that resources thread, one of the problems with social media for executives is that there’s such a low perceived barrier to entry, it’s free. It’s absolutely not free. This is one of the least understood, most difficult jobs in all of marketing, is managing a university’s social media account. It’s incredibly challenging and incredibly high stakes in a lot of ways. And I think it’s so under appreciated because it’s so easy to make an account and it seems fun. Oh, you guys are posting the fun dance on the TokTik. It’s ripe for being misunderstood. And so I was so glad that you were just very specific and took the risk of laying out there, “Hey, if you’re really serious about investing in this, here’s literally what your investment should be in 2020/2021.

Liz Gross:
And if any leaders are picking up this book or listening to this podcast, that’s chapter five, it’s like six pages, you can read it, but also read the one page Forward. I was really pleased that Dr. Walter Kimbrough from Dillard University wrote this Forward, and he makes a call to presidents about how they need to not just care about, but invest in social media. I didn’t tell him what to write, that’s what came out of his mouth. And I hope from his lips to the ears of presidents around the country, that is something that folks start to understand.

Jarrett Smith:
Absolutely. Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about content creation because that’s one of the things that make social media so hard, a content piece that has to be fed endlessly. A lot of different kinds of content, the social media space is so fractured and each platform has its own unique requirements and expectations and types of content. So the real question here for me is about sustainability. You can come up with the snappy little segment and throw on your new TikTok account if you want to, but sustaining that over the long term and keeping it on point strategically is quite a task. How do you conceptualize of content development and making it sustainable?

Liz Gross:
I think a lot of this is figuring out how the content development process fits into the overall strategy that you’re creating. And in the book, I lay out some of the guidelines that I started to follow when I had to start from scratch and I didn’t have anyone helping me make content that really put boundaries around what content you were expecting to make and help you really see, like, is this something that is doable? So I suggest that folks make a content matrix that thinks about the types of content, a lot of people like to call them content buckets, that ladder up to the goals that you’ve already decided.

And then think, how much of this content as a percentage of all of my content, should this be? And that could be because that’s what you need to focus on because it’s the most important, or it could be that that type of content is the hardest, most resource intensive content to make. So you know video’s only going to be 5% of our content because it takes a ton of work, but videos are going to focus on one of the three following topics that ladder up to our strategic priorities. So you’re not just thinking, “Oh gosh, how do I make more videos?” Because you’ve also decided that the other things will matter.

I’ve actually put engaging content, simply getting people to talk to you, that’s what I think engagement means. I don’t care about likes and retweets and stuff, getting people to talk to you, creating content along that, that actually can be easier to do. The matrix for how you want to develop content and also guidelines for how you want to curate content, that was one of my favorite things to do when I was in the social media manager seat, I figured out like, what are the topics that we’re talking about and who else is talking about them authoritatively and in an interesting way, because social is a sharing place, like how can I go share their stuff?

And I don’t know that in higher ed, think enough about what else could I be sharing, whether it’s parts of the institution or from a professional association or something else that students are into that is aligned with our goals, because if you’re curating, that’s again, a different part of your brain that’s being used to put that out there. And then if you’ve got, here’s how I’m going to approach content, here’s how I’m going to approach curation, then the big key to making it sustainable, I think, is content repurposing.

And that’s the content that I just snagged from a really great keynote that Stephen App gave at the CASE Social Media Conference. But I don’t know if there are other industries that are as rich in content as higher ed. We’ve got research papers from faculty, we’ve got entire course syllabi in content, we’ve got presentations and events, all of that is content and none of it should just be used once. Steve compares content repurposing to a Thanksgiving dinner because he’s always talking about food.

So if you read through that, there’s a really, really great guide of maybe the social team isn’t where it starts, maybe there’s a really great feature story going on in the magazine. And you realize that that actually could be 20 different pieces of content for different platforms, for different audiences., that’s a lot easier than what I really wanted people to be able to avoid, and what I’m afraid still happens to some folks, is sitting down on Monday morning and be like, “Oh, what do I post this week?” They never have to have that feeling.

And there’s some really great, very tactical examples of how different professionals with different levels of resources are approaching content planning. And do they schedule? Do they not schedule? What do they use? That’s all in the book too. And those structures can help you get a little bit more through it. But if you’ve got content creation guidelines, curation guidelines, and editorial calendar, and you repurpose stuff, content can be sustainable. I’m going to talk about this book for two years, it is sustainable content.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. It’s a big turkey, for sure. Well, and I think it just reinforces the whole point that you need to start by being crystal clear on your goals and understanding where you’re going and who are you really trying to address? Maybe you’re not trying to drive enrollment specifically. So your content that you’re publishing out there is going to be different. And then bringing that down, that strategy and those lofty goals that we’re shooting for down to the ground and saying, “Okay, how many hours? Where does this come from? What percentages of each type?”

Because to your point, if you’re showing up on Monday saying, “All right, what’s the game plan this week?” You’re way behind the ball, you’ve already lost, it’s too late at that point.

Liz Gross:
And if you’ve done all of this, you will be able to very quickly screen your-in-the-moment opportunities to decide if they make sense. So I am usually very anti-meme on college accounts. I think social media managers get caught up in the trap of like, “Oh, there’s this meme, I’ve got to do it. How can I make it work? Rather than does it trigger something in your head that has to do with your strategic goals? So we’re recording this the week of the inauguration and the meme of the moment is Bernie Sanders with his mittens in his chair. He’s being put all over the place.

And I know, I’ve seen the conversations, it looks like, “Should I, or should I not Bernie? what do I do?” And I’ve been scrolling past most of them like, “Eh, good try, whatever.” This morning, this is his second shout out for the podcast, oh, President Walter Kimbrough posted a meme, and I loved it. He put Bernie in front of the dealer to campus entrance and he said, “We have a special guest screening temperatures to enter campus today. Remember to wear your mask and follow your guideline.”

That’s one of his priorities is helping people know how they’re keeping campus safe, and that worked. So Bravo, hip hop pres.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. That’s awesome.

Liz Gross:
But you’ll be able to know that, if you’ve got all these goals, you’ll quickly know if this is something you should meet more or if you should just move on.

Jarrett Smith:
You’re so right. When you’re clear about what you want, then you can filter opportunities so quickly and not get sidetracked on shiny objects. And there are no more shiny objects in social media, so for sure. That’s the fun stuff, let’s talk about what I would characterize as the raw broccoli as social media, which is eating your vegetables and having an actual social media policy in place. And just to be clear, we’re not talking about policy for individual usage of accounts, but actually the official institutional accounts.

There’s a lot that goes into it, you outline five core components. Can you walk us through what those are for any good social media policy?

Liz Gross:
Sure. This is why I’m thankful for having a really hard job once upon a time, I would have not created most of these policies if I hadn’t been forced to do social media in a regulated audited environment, but at the end of all of that, I couldn’t imagine not having them. So the five policies, the strategic overview, which it’s more of a guideline document, should be a couple of pages, and it’s really covering all the things we’ve already talked about. What are your goals? Who are your audiences that you’re trying to reach? How are you going to achieve them?

And for the social media manager, the strategic overview not helps you remember to continually go back to your priorities, but if you’ve got a new boss or a new president and they say, “What the heck are you doing on social media?” It’s a one to three page document that you say, “This is what we’re doing on social media. This is how it impacts the campus. We’re doing a great job. Thank you very much. Do you have questions?” So it provides a centering and bit of clarity, but also justifies what you’re doing to anyone who might ask.

The next that I recommend is administrative tasks. I’m sure there’s a cooler name for it, but these are the things that are very important to know how to do, but you do them so infrequently that you’re like, “Oh, how do I do that again?” So one of them that I suggest to have in there is if you ever have to archive or report anything that you have, like, are there people expecting data from you at certain times? Are there laws or requirements that require you to archive certain things, whether it’s Title IX related, press of self-harm.

I once had to save anything that was mentioned of an accessibility barrier to our services. If you have to save any of that, how do you save it? How do you find it when someone finally asks you for it three years later? I also suggest that folks put down procedures for reporting imposters or trademark infringement. I’ve been through that, the day it happens and you’re like, “Oh, someone’s impersonating us.” Our customers, in my case students, are maybe falling victim to something or it’s causing reputational harm. Here’s you have to have information from lawyers about your trademark things.

Liz Gross:
You have to actually know how to report it to the networks, which they hide in the depths of their terms. So having that available is helpful. And then I really, really harp on password management and security. We don’t take this seriously enough, many businesses don’t take this seriously enough, but what are your password policies? How often do you change them? Store them in a password manager so that you’re keeping track of your stuff. And then making sure that you’re looking at terms of service for platforms.

The admin tasks are the ones that honestly can save your bacon at some point in time, even like how do you respond to the threats of self-harm, things like that, that could all be in there. The next document I recommend, we’ve talked about a little already, is content planning and publishing. It’s got that matrix, it’s got your rules for curation, it talks about, does anyone have to review your content? How do you publish? Do you schedule? That would all be in there. I also recommend guidelines for engagement and listening because these two words don’t mean the same thing to everybody, particularly when you’re talking about social media.

So my specific suggestions in here are, to define where why and how you’re searching for messages. Are you just monitoring? Are you using some listening? Are you trying to proactively find complaints? What might that be? What sorts of messages do you respond to? And I’m sure the flip side, what don’t you respond to? How do you respond to them? And do you moderate content? Do you delete, hide, ban any of those things? It’s really helpful to think through this process even if you’re the only person doing it, but necessary if you’ve got multiple people managing an account and you want to have a cohesive presence.

And then the last one is crisis communication gets its own. And after 2020, I sure hope everyone has a crisis communication plan, but there’s an entire chapter on this, but really who’s determining that? How do you respond? Do you stop posting content? Does it need special approval? All of those things. I had the chance to share an early version of this chapter with HighEdWeb in 2020 on the online format. And I think what really helped people think about guidelines and policies more than just, “Oh my gosh, these are the documents I have to write. I’m a creative, don’t want online policies,” the value that these things provide are worth it.

We already talked about it’s consistent presence and service, even if it’s managed by multiple people, it makes sure that you’re following the policies or maybe other accounts on campus are following the policies related to brand and tone. It pro, but even most importantly, I think, it makes it easier when there’s staffing transitions. None of us are going to be in our jobs forever, and particularly if you’re the director, a VP of a department that has a strong social media program, you want it to stay that way, even when the staff turnover. So this is a consistency of practice that can be passed on from staff generation to generation.

Jarrett Smith:
It’s such an essential, but easy to overlook because it’s boring or easy to procrastinate on, but it’s such an essential piece of maintaining continuity for your organization, as you said, with staffing changes, and you can guarantee over the course of the year, every one of those items is going to be pressure tested and you don’t want to be making it up in the moment or running into your bosses office saying, “Hey, what do you think we ought to do now?” So you need to have a game plan. Even it would be better to have an imperfect game plan that is least documented, and that everybody agrees to, and you can always go back and revise and improve.

Liz Gross:
Yeah. Keep them on Google Doc with ongoing comments. They have the procedures in my company are in process all the time because it can always be improved.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, absolutely. Since this is one of those things you get asked all the time, let’s talk about professional development, and there’s a lot of goodness in that whole chapter about what keeps social media managers up at night. And I really liked your talk on wellness, but you have a whole section on professional development and you were kind enough to call out our podcasts, thank you so much, it was very generous of you. What are your favorite sources to recommend? Where do you send people when they ask, again, this is one of those things that it’s a deceptive about social media.

If you’re a social media manager, you’re probably a fan of social media, probably use it on the side for your own personal use, but keeping up with it is a challenge and really being well-informed about everything that’s out there, you’re at the very tip of the sphere in terms of technology, innovation, social dynamics, you’re just at the very forefront. So how do you recommend people stay up to date?

Liz Gross:
I recommend, gosh, probably three dozen different resources in this chapter, but they’re divided into different sections. And I think it makes it pretty clear that I personally believe good professional development is a mixture of people and expertise or training or whatever that might be. And in higher ed, I think it should be a mix of industry versus non-industry because there’s a risk of getting a little bit insular in what is another campus doing, and your goal should not be to be like another campus, that ruins your marketing differentiation.

The first thing I talk about are some communities that have evolved, I believe all of these communities are grassroots communities of where I’ve been connecting with people because back in 2008, 2009, when I was in the OG Twitter, you had to find people on your own, there were no hashtags, there were no Slack groups. And those were the people that still remained my friends and my colleagues, I’ve hired some of them, that’s where I’ve learned and workshopped a lot of stuff. So I gave some recommendations on some communities to take a look at, the HigherEdSocial community on Facebook and on Slack, even some more targeted communities.

There’s a new community that was founded last year, Blacks in Higher Ed Communications. So for folks in the black community that want to talk with people like them doing what they’re doing, they should be in their hashtags, other communities, a community that Campus Sonar runs, are all recommended there. Talk to other people and not just to ask them what they’re doing and try to copy it, but workshop your ideas, share with them. That is incredibly important. And then after that, I move into podcasts, blogs, newsletter, books. These are all in that category of ingest information.

And don’t look at any of the things I recommend as the be-all-end-all of they are the experts do what they say, but listening and reading to other people’s perspectives on the type of work you do is going make you think differently about yours, which is good. So a lot of stuff I recommend, they might contradict each other in terms of how they say to do something, but they’ve all got something good there. For the podcasts, there’s a bunch of different, higher ed podcasts, as well as general marketing podcast and the way they differ just an example, I did recommend the Social Media Marketing Podcast by Social Media Examiner, which truth be told I haven’t listened to for a while, but I went back to make sure it still exists.

That is like tactics, tactics, tactics, tactics, tactics. If you want to know what is the new cool feature on Facebook, if you can get past the jungle guy, you can learn a lot. But then I also recommended the Social Pros Podcast by Convince & Convert, where you’re going to get a lot more high-level strategy. There were some higher ed episodes of that podcast that I called out in the book, but you’re going to be hearing from the people who run social for like Marriott or Hilton. And that’s just so inspiring. And think about it as inspiring, not demoralizing. You’re not going to have the same resources as them, but think about it.

I know a lot of us aren’t commuting as much anymore, I’m still trying to listen to podcasts when I get ready in the morning if I decide that I’m not going to wear pajamas for the day, or when I do my dishes, I think it’s important to stay in touch, so many blogs and newsletters are listed, I recommend checking them all out. And my books that I recommended are all old, I look at them, it’s like 2013, 2016, 2011.

Jarrett Smith:
Oh my gosh. That’s such ancient.

Liz Gross:
And there’s still, I’ve got it right on my bookshelf is the 2011 book that I recommend. These are what were really foundational for me in being able to articulate the purpose of social media and build out something that scales strategically, whether I had no budget or an increasingly large budget. And for me, this was my own personal class reading list, but no one was teaching the class. So the 2011 book is Social Media ROI by Olivier Blanchard, and it still holds true today. And then I also did a guide to conferences. I know conferences are evolving and changing, and I’m not going to go through each of these in our conversation, but what I really try to do is say, “Okay, when is this conference held? Like what time of year, how many people go?

I’m an introvert, I used to be, I wouldn’t have wanted to go to the conference with 3,000 people, but I’m okay with that now, but these conferences range from like 100 people to thousands. What type of people you’re going to meet there? And this is based on me going to every single one of these conferences for many years. And then for me, what stands out? What’s what makes this one different. So I should probably share this more widely than the book someday, but I critiqued every one of the major conferences in our industry to help folks figure out what might be the best fit for them, and does it cost a lot of money? All of those things.

And then the biggest part of professional development for me, honestly, was figuring out a way to contribute to the professional development of others. I think we learn more when we teach others. For me, that started with writing a blog probably 10 years ago. Now, I started my personal blog, and I would write about what I did at work. I wrote about like in 2011, I was writing about how I was having a hard time targeting Facebook ads. And a community formed around that, they taught me something, I taught them something. I learned a lot writing this book.

I issue a call to the entire community that they have something to contribute, whether it’s a blog or jumping on a podcast or presenting at a conference, if they can learn, they can teach.

Jarrett Smith:
Absolutely. I think that’s such great advice. I’ll tell you, your comment about wanting to go to conferences really resonated with me, Liz. I never thought that there’d be a time when I would desire business travel again.

Liz Gross:
I’m getting there.

Jarrett Smith:
This time last year, I was so over it, and now I’m like, “Okay, I can see myself doing this again.” I think you’ve got such a great chapter on professional development, and second everything you just said. Liz, for folks who want to go check out the book, download it, it’s free, where do they go? How do they do that?

Liz Gross:
Yes, it is free. If you go to campussonar.com and click on Resources, then Publications, you’ll see it there. The direct address, if anyone’s listening and typing right now is info.campussonar.com/social-strategy-book, but it’s all over our website. Or if you go to my Twitter account, social media, I’m LizGross144 on Twitter, it’s my pinned to tweet, so you can find it there too.

Jarrett Smith:
Good deal. And so where else, if folks want to connect with you personally, where’s the best place to do that? Is it the Twitters?

Liz Gross:
The Twitters or LinkedIn? I use them both equally often, and I’m LizGross144 on Twitter and Instagram. Instagram you’re only going to see my cats and cooking and gardening, so if you could care less about my professional life, I just go and do that there, that’s fine. I’m /Liz Gross on LinkedIn. I also write for the Campus Sonar blog on occasion, so you’ll see me there too.

Jarrett Smith:
Good deal. Well, Liz, it has been a ton of fun talking to you. Thank you so much for your time today.

Liz Gross:
Thank you. This was a great conversation.

Jarrett Smith:
The Higher Ed Marketing Lab is produced by Echo Delta, a full service enrollment marketing agency for colleges and universities of all sizes. To see some of the work we’ve done and how we’ve helped schools just like yours, visit echodelta.co. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. And as always, if you have a comment, question, suggestion or episode idea, feel free to drop us a line at podcast@echodelta.co.