My CU Engineering 2020 Social Media Reflection (and Playbook) for 2021

At CU Engineering, I practice a philosophy which is always risk-conscious, but never risk-averse.

What a year.

Reflecting on 2020 while looking ​ahead to 2021, I ​think back on the (many) lessons learned evolving and fortifying our @CUEngineering social media tone, voice and persona and building it into a two-way channel.

This is a high-level overview with lots of moving parts, and I​’m happy to continue this conversation in 2021 with anyone who finds these insights useful.

While managing @CUEngineering social, I’m sometimes asked to explain our more playful, less formal posting behavior while maintaining our image as an R-1 research institution.

It’s a good question, and one accompanied by a research and data-driven answer.

Below are the major insights I ​gathered in 2020 ​that guided my thinking on this. And because change is historically data-driven, I’m opening our analytics and performance metrics to you. Use these numbers however you’d like.

The bottom line(s):

  • “Marketers must communicate a strong sense of their brands’ purpose — a cause that the brand stands up for, or an area where the brand aims to make a real difference.” — McKinsey & Company
  • Today’s students are digital natives — they’ve grown up online and are on multiple devices every day. For them, social media is a natural way to consume information and connect their worlds.” — Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Marketers should carefully revamp their communications strategies and messaging to effectively convey their brand’s values and value proposition in the context of the present day. Effective brands will both recognize the strong emotions that young consumers are feeling and relate to new consumption occasions.” — Boston Consulting Group

At CU Engineering, our principal philosophy is (mostly) rooted in 75% strategic planning and 25% ad-hoc publication.

For strategic planning, content pieces like:

Research articles, industry collaboration, and awards/grants elevate reputation, prestige and further publicize our expanding education mission.

We publish these because:

According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “one of the key ways to increase citations is to expose the research output to a wider audience because people can only cite articles that they are aware of.”

Which result in:

An increased ability to engage, capture and retain more academia-inclined followers with high interest in research.

In turn, their engagement of our content not only amplifies our message but encourages others in their academia network to share it. The more chatter a research article, industry collaboration, or award/grant has behind it, the more likely it is to generate organic media pickup.

For ad-hoc publication, content pieces like:

engineering”, ironic replies with others in Higher Ed, getting real on Reddit, and appropriately edgy replies humanize and personify our brand, furthering our ability to “speak the language” of our audience — a critical pillar of community building.

We do this because:

According to AdRoll, “Community is essential to the way people live — and that applies to the digital world, too. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the meaning of community shifted as lockdowns and social distancing became the norm. Suddenly, online communities are a center of daily life.”

Which result in:

Camaraderie. Nearly every day, an ever-growing ​number of students play into the “engineering” meme. I optimize each post (targeted at students) to induce their engagement in mutually shared camaraderie. Here’s a recent example in the comments of this Instagram post.

The social media manager has ​a significant ability to influence the community, so long as the social media manager can understand the tone, bravado, and sentiment of their community.

In the “engineering” case, I learned the audience wants to be a part of the community building as it happens. It gives them (and me, honestly) a sense of purpose and community which we now know is as important as ever. Gen-Z especially is prone to engage due to the value they give to ‘official’ engagement as digital natives.

Seriously — this article from 2017 captures today’s 2020 digital environment perfectly. ​

In practice, determining a similar approach will be based on the insight you have about your audience. If your sentiment is scattered across the board, that means you have more wiggle room to experiment in tone/persona.

Do your due diligence. With each new engagement you try, think through the potential pitfalls you may incur from both your internal and external stakeholders. You can use the above logic to understand when to practice tactful “social media silence.”

I wrote in-depth about that here and what we learned this summer during times of civil unrest.

At CU Engineering, I practice a philosophy which is always risk-conscious, but never risk-averse.

I acknowledge that not everyone has the same goals or buy-in from senior leadership to attempt these practices. If not, hopefully this can serve as a starting point ​for a conversation to kickstart these fun, experimental and high-yielding practices like we have. ​

As we continue to grow and evolve in 2021, I’m happy to inform and continue to openly share strategies which would mutually serve to build and fortify the digital reputation for others at the University of Colorado Boulder and elsewhere.

Oh, and one last thing…

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