How to Build a University Community on Twitter: @SyracuseU

As a member of the social media team at Syracuse University, I’ve worked with our social media strategist Anthony Rotolo and community manager Kelly Lux for almost two years. When the social media team was formed, Syracuse was just entering the realm of social media and didn’t have a strategy. Working with several other students, we’ve managed to create a strong social media strategy that’s been recognized for its engagement and success.  SU was recently named by Klout as the number 2 Most Influential College on Twitter, coming in behind Stanford and in front of Harvard (some excellent company).  Other universities, like Marquette, have also begun to be acknowledged for their excellent use of social media. Twitter has been a key tool in the Syracuse University social media strategy, and has resulted in the creation of a strong Orange community. There are several important factors to focus on when building a Twitter community for a university.

Build a team
Personal expertise and university culture: Creating and managing a university Twitter account isn’t only for public relations professionals or the marketing department, although it can be a part of your overall communications plan if you choose. You need to build a team that isn’t solely focused on promoting the University or getting donations. Find people who understand the culture of the university and the purpose of social media in professional organizations. The person or people you employ will become the voice of the university, and should not only be familiar with the tools but also have a strong perspective on engagement and interaction.

Community Manager: The main strength of Syracuse University’s twitter team is our community manager. As community manager, Kelly was hired from within the university because of her expertise in personal branding on social media and her understanding of the “orange culture”. Kelly is excellent at connecting to our audience. She’s also a well-respected member of the Syracuse social media community; in fact, she’s one of the creators and moderators of the weekly twitter chat #CMGRchat that discusses successful methods of community managers.

Student team: Another key factor in the success of the social media team are students. You’re a university; take advantage of the bright, savvy young minds that are available to you. They understand social media, are some of the most active users, are a huge part of your audience, and they understand what it’s like to be a member of the university community. Don’t be afraid to relinquish some control and give them a voice.

Define your goals and determine your audience
Goals: Launching a social media strategy with no measurable, realistic goals is one of the simplest and most serious errors you can make as any professional organization. Before you invest time and money creating your community on Twitter, you need to understand why you’re doing it. Do you want to increase enrollment? Improve campus life? Reach out to alums to increase their activities with the university? Or all of the above? Determine your goals, create a time frame for implementation, measure your success, and update your goals.

Audience: Some may think that all university audiences are created equal on Twitter. This isn’t true, and it’s another critical error to make early in the social media implementation process. While universities do share some major audiences- like current students, staff, faculty, prospective students, and alumni- others are very different. The local community in Syracuse is very involved with the university, which may not be the case for all universities. So, we make sure that we don’t limit our twitter conversations to only students, because that neglects a huge part of our audience. Syracuse also has a very strong base of athletics fans, particularly in lacrosse, basketball and football. So, we take special care to include content and discussions about athletics. In fact, our followers have organically created hashtags surround big games, like #beatnova or #beatgtown. Some followers even create pictures using those hashtags, so we often change our Twitter profile picture to those to show our athletics fans and followers that we enjoy their passion and interaction.

Find your voice
On Twitter, it’s important to let people know who you are. As a university, this can be a challenge. What is your voice? There’s an inclination to stay professional and speak as the university. However, Syracuse has had great success because we let people know who we really are. Since we have several people tweeting for the account, we’ve created a Twitter schedule. Community manager Kelly Lux tweets during weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Students take over in the afternoon from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m and over the weekend. We introduce ourselves, ask questions, invite interaction,  and share pictures, info,  and activities. Each person on the Twitter account has a different voice, and our followers have gotten to know us and our styles.

Engage, Engage, Engage
I’ve seen many universities use Twitter mainly as an RSS feed of school news and events. SU’s first twitter account was similar to that. However, we felt that it would be much more effective to engage in order to meet our goals. We’ve done this in several ways with great success.

Contests: We’ve run several contests using hashtags that reward winners with SU-themed prizes. We’ve primarily focused on trivia and retweet contests. For example, during the holiday season this year we gave out SU Foursquare t-shirts to those who could answer holiday-themed trivia questions the quickest using the hashtag #holidaymayor.

Events: SU also live-tweets events using hashtags, so both those who are present and those who are unavailable follow along and interact. We took this tactic with this year’s homecoming celebration, Orange Central. We used the hashtag #SUOC to tweet about different activities and encourage students and visiting alumni to do so as well. We also displayed plasma screens in Schine Student Center and the quad that showed tweets, text messages and foursquare checkins about Orange Central. We got an enormous amount of positive feedback from this, and many alumni commented that it made them feel like they were back on campus and part of the Syracuse community again.

Athletics: As mentioned previously, SU focuses on athletics events like basketball, football and lacrosse games on Twitter using hashtags and tweeting live with fans. 

Graduation: In the past two years, SU has publicized hashtags for graduation, #SUgrad10 and #SUgrad11, to encourage students to tweet about their commencement experiences and share photos. This has greatly enhanced our ability to communicate with students about commencement, answer any questions they have, and respond personally when they say they’re excited or sad to be leaving campus. You can see tweets about this year’s commencement here.

Measure your success
Use free tools like hootsuite analytics,, Klout to quantitatively measure your results. If you have the budget for more expensive tools like Radian6, it may be wise to invest to get better measurements. For qualitative measurement, look at the quality of your conversations- are you talking with your audience, or are you pushing info? Has your audience grown? Have you create a community?

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3 Responses to How to Build a University Community on Twitter: @SyracuseU

  1. Kelly Lux says:

    Great, great post Alyssa, and excellent information for other colleges and universities who want to be successful on twitter! I appreciate the compliments, and I would also add YOU as one of the big reasons behind our success. You have been there from the beginning, always having our overall interests and goals in mind and have brought our student involvement to another level. Please stay with us for a long, long time! 🙂 *k

  2. Pingback: Student Social Media Strategists: Recruiting your University’s team « Social Lux

  3. #2 on Klout- that is fantastic, guys!

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