Trusting Your Digital Champions

Distributed social media communications in higher education

December 16, 2015
Thoughts from Princeton University Social Media Day

In 2015 (and beyond), everyone who is a member of an organization is a communicator for the organization. The increase in social media use by administrators and faculty over the past 5 years has generally rewritten how campuses communicate...both internally and externally. Content is created, curated, crowdsourced, shared, and posted from a variety of sources.

In the history of organizational communications (and culture), things are fairly hierarchical. However, the rules have changed for how higher education institutions connect and engage.

With the emergence of digital champions, individuals who "get" social media regardless if it's in their job description, campuses now have multifaceted communications ambassadors. In other words, the "message" isn't top-down, it's coming from myriad personnel with multiple mobile means of messaging.

So what's an organization to do? Well, the first step is in realizing that letting go of a false sense of control is important. The digital cat is out of the bag and everyone has social media. What's necessary is to be proactive in the cultivation, motivation, and elevation of digital champions.

Trust Campus Communicators

Historically, strategic communications hasn't been part of a student affairs practitioners toolkit. We were in-person interaction specialist who eschewed digital communications tools. When social media became the typical set of channels for engagement, promotion, customer service, and professional development, student affairs professionals quickly established themselves as energetic digital communicators. This new set of digital champions started using social media for communication at all levels in their respective organizations. Today, there are student affairs digital champions who are teaching their entire organization about the value of social media.

Set Expectations

Oftentimes the emergence of digital champions will coincide with intense conversations about organizational culture. Issues arise with position descriptions and time spent on communications. It's important to make sure that organizations take time to reflect and change in parallel with evolving communication structures, guidelines, and channels. People will rise to the expectations that are set for them...it's a lot like the popular development theory from Nevitt Sanford - set the challenge and provide enough organizational support.

Build Community

Once you've established trust and set expectations, that's when your organization truly gets to benefit from having a cadre of digital champions. Building community is a heck of a lot more effective when you have distributed communications amongst a variety of departments, areas, individuals, and channels. Yes, it can appear to be fragmented from a top down perspective, but this is a mirage...a vestige of days gone by. In truth, engagement via social media will always flow where people are wanting it to flow. People connect with people that they trust for information, advice, mentoring, and leadership.

Social media is a reflection of our humanity. Digital champions are beacons of light for organizations. Let's support and grow individual communicators as a means of elevating and enhancing the entire organization.

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