Business Prof’s Top Five Social Media Tips

andrew stephenSocial media is a tricky beast. Tools like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are so friendly-looking that most people let slide the challenge of using them effectively.

Andrew Stephen, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business, thinks plenty of organizations don’t put enough thought into social media—including business schools, which you’d think would be setting an example.

The biggest mistake he’s seen? The “gotta be on Facebook!” mentality. In other words, schools focus too much on racking up social media accounts and too little on finding creative ways to use them.

HAS BEEN TEACHING SOCIAL MARKETING FOR FIVE YEARS

Stephen has been teaching social marketing at the MBA and executive level for five years, and he has worked with such brand-name companies as Google, American Express, and Colgate-Palmolive. While teaching at INSEAD, he created what he believes to be the first MBA-level elective entirely devoted to social media.

He’s noticed that while business schools are full of people with similar expertise, administrators don’t often seek them out. Plus, the people who are in charge of social media in universities often have social media-related tasks sort of land in their laps; though they’re generally open to learning and trying new things, they’re not necessarily specialists. To help out, he’s made a point of making himself available for advice.

From his varied experience, Stephen has crystallized five important tips for using social media to its full potential:

FIVE KEY THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN USING SOCIAL MEDIA

Tip #1: Pinpoint specific goals. “Have a clear objective for what you want to achieve with social media,” Stephen suggests, whether your objective has to do with pushing out information or engaging specific groups of people (e.g. potential applicants, alumni, etc).

Tip #2: Set targets. If you can’t measure the effects of what you’re doing, how will you know whether you’re doing the right things?

Tip #3: Find creative ways to encourage interactivity. A school, for example, can’t just expect people to interact with the content it casually posts on Facebook, “even if a school has a good objective for using social media and they’re targeting the right people and so on,” Stephen says. That’s why it’s important to ask yourself what would make a busy, overstimulated person want to reply to one of your posts. “About 99% of the time, that’s just not going to happen organically,” Stephen adds.

Tip #4: Be responsive. This tip goes hand-in-hand with encouraging interactivity. For example, if applicants are asking questions and mentioning your school, you need to be able to engage them in conversation. Today, people expect near-instantaneous responses, whether they’re texting their friends or tweeting at brands. “If you’re not being responsive, I think there’s a missed opportunity,” Stephen says.

Tip #5: Be willing to experiment and adjust on the fly. “Social media is very much a moving target in some sense,” Stephen says. “It’s always changing, and how people are using it is always changing.” So you can’t expect everything to work perfectly. Failure is okay—as long as you learn from it.

When asked to recall a great interaction with a company on social media, Stephen referenced Delta Air Lines. “They’re actually one of the first companies to pioneer using twitter for customer service,” he says. While traveling, he often tweets @DeltaAssist to get help with issues like missed connections. While the Twitter founders might not have expected the microblogging service to become a pseudo-call center, Stephen has found that Twitter is an efficient place for businesses to simultaneously delight customers and solve their problems. “I think it speaks to the potential benefits of social, beyond just kind of creating a brand and pushing your content out there,” Stephen says.

Another notable facet of Delta Air Lines’ online presence is that it’s not particularly funny. Social media might bring to mind silly memes and clever hashtags, but a lot of the time, the bells and whistles aren’t necessary. Just seeming human is enough.

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