Making Higher Ed Leaders Digitally Savvy at Florida State University

If you’re a higher ed leader and think social media is only for your marketing team, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong.

By avoiding these powerful communication tool, no matter the platform, you’re actually missing out on endless opportunities to create and foster genuine connection with students, future students, prospective students, donors, alumni, etc.

Our guest this week on the Enrollment Growth University was Dr. Josie Ahlquist, Research Associate and instructor at Florida State University. Dr. Ahlquist not only challenges, but teaches higher ed leaders to embrace social media as a means to create genuine connections.

In this episode, she talks us through the different levels of digital savvy that leaders fall into and how institutions and leaders can best engage with social media to create the most meaningful impact.

Here are the highlights from our interview.

The “Digitally Savvy” Scale

Just because the idea of using SnapChat both confuses and scares you, it doesn’t mean you should be avoiding some type of social media altogether.

Level 1: Awareness and Knowledgeability

Dr. Ahlquist explained that if you’re working in education, you need to be aware of what tools your students, or incoming students, are using or what trends they’re engaging with and, right now, social media is at the top of that list.

That doesn’t mean that if you’re the campus president, you should be on SnapChat, which requires a high engagement to be effective, but it does mean you should be looking at which platforms you do have the capacity and savvy to engage with.

As with any behavior your students or incoming students were participating in or exhibiting, you’d want to understand it, even if you’re not directly engaging in it yourself.

Level 2: Experimenters and Explorers

The next level of savviness belongs to the professionals within education who are willing to explore new tools as they come out and already have an established online presence.

They aren’t setting trends, but they also aren’t intimidated to experiment with different platforms to find which tools provide the best outlet for their content or expression.

Level 3: Advancers and Influencers

Lastly, these are the educators who are directly influencing how we use social media in both application and conversation. If you have a campus president who is on this level and savvy enough to be producing content on Instagram, for example, they are setting the tone for the entire campus.

It’s important for those professionals to feel they are supported in being active and curating content because they are leaders and are creating connection and accessibility that students, and even high school and middle schooler, crave.

Finding Your Niche

Part of what Dr. Ahlquist teaches leaders is knowing where to start and how to best find their niche.

One of the easiest things to do is to simply sign up on different platforms and see what works best with your margin for creating content. Most sites are free to sign up for and you don’t even have to use your real name–there’s no accountability to signing up and seeing where it takes you, if anywhere.

While you’re out there, it’s also extremely helpful to search and find what your peers and contemporaries are producing to give you an idea of the quantity and quality expected for someone at your level and then working out how you can fit your personality and time into a particular platform.

Getting Real

Lastly, and most importantly, Dr. Ahlquist wants leaders to understand the importance of authenticity when using whatever platform they land on.

While you may want to create a polished and professional presence or brand, there actually needs to be some heart and soul behind what you’re creating if you want to connect with students or prospective students.

Think about why you’re involved in education in the first place–what’s the deeper intention of why you chose to be an educator? How can you move toward that goal using Facebook or Instagram?

If you are trying to make genuine connection, it can’t be all about your professional goals–people want to engage and connect with a real person. It doesn’t mean airing dirty laundry for the entire internet to see, but maybe it looks like posting about a family barbecue or sharing something cute your dog did (the internet LOVES animals).

True connection and impact is absolutely possible through social media and really doesn’t require that much digital savvy to get started. What it does require is a willingness to invest some time to find the platform that suits your personality and margin for curating content, as well as a willingness to let strangers take a peek at your personal world. The risk to reward is well worth the investment.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Dr. Josie Ahlquist from Florida State University. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.