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Critical Scholarly Communication

Making Social Media More Social

My experience as a Social Media Fellow has been one of growth and discovery. I had the opportunity to learn from Jennifer Prince, my predecessor, about the multifaceted world of social media. To my surprise, I became aware of the many steps taken to provide the public with an informative and visually-pleasing experience. Once I met the team of Social Media Fellows I felt immediately welcomed. Needless to say, they all have a level of expertise and a willingness to help that I greatly appreciate. On our very first meeting, as we discussed our goals for the year, one of us mentioned the importance of making our role be understood and portrayed as “human”. Unaware of precisely what was meant, we asked for an explanation, which resonated with me once it was provided. Indeed, it seems that for those of us who manage an institution’s social media outlets there tends to be, ironically, little connection between ourselves and our audience. Meaning that while we successfully reach a general public, our audience does not get to see that every action taken on social media is made by a particular individual. Individuals who, like my predecessor, developed sites, attracted a following, and continuously developed content that would allow for growth and enthusiasm in site followers. It was at this moment when I realized that my presence, my efforts, and actions as a social media fellow, could be unacknowledged without direct contact with our audience. I, most importantly, could lose sense of my audience, unaware of their inevitably changing interests and expectations. Thus, I decided to speak directly to my audience. In our case, our public is composed of students and faculty members who belong to our corresponding academic departments. I engaged in a series of conversations with some of them to learn if there was something missing, something that had been unaccounted for, something that would make the audience’s experience more enjoyable and informative. A common suggestion arose: more communication for the purpose of sharing common interests. For example, there were many accomplishments made by the students and faculty that went unacknowledged on the academic department’s social media sites. At the same time, it became clear that the content provided by the department’s sites also slipped through the cracks of the ever-expanding feeds of our users. It was important to communicate directly with the students and faculty without, nevertheless, coming across as obnoxious and repetitive. With this in mind, I began to use pre-established sources of communication, such as group conversations in which most members of the department were already connected to. There, I was able to communicate more informally and directly, reaching my target audience immediately and amiably. A sense of community began to develop that allowed for content of interest and relevance to be exchanged in a social and friendly manner. Thus, while my presence became more apparent, our sites became more social. Our sites became more representative and thus more interesting. A true interest grew, not only within the academic department but the social media community as a whole. We began to gain followers and receive responses from unexpected yet significant sources. Our social media sites improved by becoming indeed more “human”, more social, more connected. We brought the “social” back into social media by engaging directly, in-person, with each other. In my experience, human contact showed to be the ultimate asset to develop social media sites. Behind our screens, whether those of our laptops or of our cell phones, we attempt to develop a social network. Yet, without developing a dialogue with our public, we can easily lose sight of who composes it and what they are expecting to see when visiting our sites. In return, my efforts were vocally appreciated. I felt less robotic and more connected to a community eager to share their interests, passions, and accomplishments.

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