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Emma Gilmartin is Head of Social Media at the University of Glasgow (UofG). Part of the university's award-winning communications office, Emma had the first dedicated social media role at the institution.

Today, the university is one of the leading higher education institutions on social media in terms of engagement, creativity, and strategy. Recently, I had the chance to ask Emma some questions about social media at the UofG:

What’s it like working at one of the UK’s oldest universities?

It’s an amazing place to work – not only is it rich in history (and legitimately looks like Hogwarts with a sprinkle of Narnia) but there are so many brilliant things happening at Glasgow – from student activities to world-changing research. And when you take away the technology, social media is really just about telling great stories and we are certainly not short of stories at UofG!

But what I would also say is that despite being around since 1451 and a Russell-Group university – my team and the wider Communications Directorate have been given a lot of creative freedom and empowered to be bold and dynamic with the content we produce. I think this is one of the keys to our success and stands us apart from other institutions.

What's social media like at The University of Glasgow.

In the last 2 years I would say the University has really taken Social Media seriously and seen the impact and value it has for strengthening brand and profile, showcasing UofG’s world-class research, supporting student and staff recruitment, building engagement & community with multiple stakeholders and as effective internal (student and staff) communications.

How many people are on the social media team?

4 (3 full-time and one part-time role covering Chinese Social Media – Sina-Weibo and WeChat)

In your role you are often a bridge between you team and your institutions leadership. What are the top 5 things that senior management at universities need to know about social media

I am very lucky in my role at UofG to have open dialogue with the Senior Management team, including our Principal & Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli. It’s important to be able to showcase to them what we’re doing with Social Media – its impact and value and ultimately how our activity is successfully helping achieve many of the institutions overarching strategic ambitions. I was recently invited to a senior management meeting and was able to present our work, innovation and impact. This is particularly important for senior colleagues who might not be on social media themselves.

5 things Senior Management need to know:

  1. Social Media is not free! You need to invest in staff resource (and the right skillsets), investing in kit and technologies (Content management systems, listening platforms, camera/filming kit etc), professional development opportunities (to keep up to date with emerging trends and stay ahead of the curve) and social advertising to get eyeballs on your content.
  2. That social media isn’t just ‘fluff’– yes, we share content that simply entertains but we also create stories about complex research or handle sensitive crisis communications. All of which has significant impact whether it be for ref or protecting our brand.
  3. How they can personally benefit from Social Media – whether that be for building professional networks, being a brand ambassador for the University or getting involved in conversations about UofG or their areas of expertise or interests.
  4. That it’s not simply writing posts and creating content. That central social media teams support (and train) the social media community across the university, that we proactively use social listening tools and data to inform our content strategy, we build in time for unplanned/reactive content and how Social Media can often be the first point of contact for a prospective student so reaching out and creating those personal micro-engagements are extremely important and potentially influential in them choosing UofG over another institution. And this isn’t everything we do!
  5. It’s important to provide Senior Management with reports – tailored specifically for them. We produce these quarterly and they are essentially top line statistics with how our content is performing and its reach as well as benchmarking ourselves in the sector. These help the SMT understand the sheer reach of our content and how many people are viewing/engaging with our content and where.

Glasgow's Vice-Chancellor is quite active on social media. Did you encourage his digital engagement activity?

Yes and no. No in the sense that he (Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli) was already a big fan of Twitter and was active on a pseudonym account. But then I did speak to Anton and encourage him to have an open account so we helped set up @UofGVC and discussed what types of content he would post and who he wanted to engage with on there. I have access to Anton’s account and where appropriate can tweet on his behalf but 99% of the time content is direct from him. I think this is important – in my opinion there is very little point in running an account on behalf of a person. If they don’t have time or a passion to run it, they shouldn’t use it! But if your VC is comfortable on social media and makes the time to do it properly then I think it’s a great platform for them as the figurehead of the university. So Anton not only posts about things related to UofG, he can also talk about his role as Chair of the Russell Group, Economics and Brexit and the occasional photo of a new Italian dish he’s rustled up! His account is professional and authentic but with shades of his personality, which I think works really well.

Any thoughts on team dynamics, skillsets, inspiration, etc?

I’m lucky to have a very talented and creative team. It’s important to have multiple skillsets within the team and these should complement each other. I have two fabulous digital content creators/film-makers in my team, which enables us to create almost 100% of our video content in-house and turn it around quickly. Video is more important than ever as a means of telling your story and engaging with your audience so to have these skillsets is vital to allow us to do what we do – creating content when its relevant and to be part of the online conversations in real-time. Having run things solo in the past, I know how important it is to have people to bounce ideas off and we take time every few months to go work off-campus to plan for upcoming projects and campaigns.  We also have a team of student social media officers which is crucial to sense check our ideas and who create authentic peer-to-peer content.

Any tips for other higher education marketing/communications professionals who are trying to engage via social media.

There’s so much I could say here but a short answer would be: Be bold, find an authentic voice that reflects your university brand (it’s a two-way conversation with your community, not you simply broadcasting to them), make the most of user-generated content and experiment and try things (it really doesn’t matter if things don’t work!)

You recently tweeted about a Messenger Marketing session from this year’s European Universities Public Relations and Information Officers (EUPRIO) conference. The session was about using WhatsApp instead of email to communicate with new students. Why is important to continually iterate and experiment with communications channels/strategies?

It’s hugely important to continue to innovate and experiment with channels to ensure you keep your communications fresh as well as speak to your audiences in forums where they’re most active. We haven’t really harnessed WhatsApp messenger yet as a tool to communicate with students (our Student Representative Council use it for elections and unofficial messenger chats have spun off our Facebook group) but I do think it would be a useful tool for example in clearing, onboarding and Freshers’ week. We also know how effectively Instagram stories works to communicate important messages to our students. We have used it successfully when we had campus closures during the #BeastFromTheEast snow storms and updates about graduation fees. For example – almost 40% of traffic to our web story on the graduation fees came from Instagram stories so this platform has become key to our content strategy for current students, as opposed to the standard emails etc.

What events/conferences do you recommend for social media and higher education?

A few I’d recommend would be CASE Social Media (takes place in Brighton in March each year) and purely focuses on Social Media, ContentEd to inspire and improve your content strategy and I recently attended my first EUPRIO but this is more general Communications so Social Media features as a strand rather than the key focus. And I also get a lot of my inspiration from blogs, twitter chats and from peers in the sector who are doing amazing campaigns with small teams and modest budgets.

What’s been your favourite social media campaign at UofG? Why? Any other good ones at UofG?

There have been so many but these are three that stand out for me:

Welcome to #TeamUofG. Our onboarding #TeamUofG campaign was all the things good social campaigns should be  - it was bold (a tattoo using elements of our crest), memorable (we created a whole bank of digital assets to support the campaign – all heavily TeamUofG branded) and it connected with people (it was authentic to Glasgow’s welcoming community and so was embraced by our whole community). I was most proud that it was adopted by our academic community who had never got behind a social campaign like this before. It had a total reach of 2.2 million across all our social media channels and allowed us to create personal micro engagements with our new students to allow them to feel part of #TeamUofG even before they arrived on campus.

Ask the UofG expert Facebook Live  -  We’ve recently launched our research focused Facebook live series to allow multiple audiences access to our academics and ask them about their latest cutting-edge research. The strategy behind it is to make our research accessible, showcase our academics and their latest research and build our profile.

Future World Changers -  where we worked with our Recruitment Marketing colleagues to help 5 students fulfill their world-changing ambitions. One of which was a student from India who wanted to take learnings from sustainable/renewable energy from Scotland to help power remote villages in India. We filmed him traveling to the remote Scottish Island of Eigg and meeting the local community there to find out about green energy.  It was a brilliant (long-form) video – successful in many ways – showcasing our future world-changers (and our World Changing Glasgow brand), a recruitment tool for students thinking about studying in these areas at UofG whilst showcasing Scotland and being a leader in sustainable/green energy.

    Where do you see things going with the future of social media?

    A few things I think will become more important moving forward will be creating those micro engagements and personalization with key stakeholders, messenger platforms to communicate to smaller groups of students, Instagram stories  and Instagram Live will continue to grow and be integral to communications strategies and social listening will also be crucial to inform our content planning and creating reactive content/joining relevant conversations.

    Thanks to Emma Gilmartin for taking the time to participate in this interview. For more information about social media at The University of Glasgow, please visit their Social Media Blog.


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