For lots of reasons, it has been an interesting start to the new academic year. One particularly interesting development has been the number of high-level administrators at VCU who have joined Twitter in the last week or two. Academic deans, vice provosts, the provost, and the president of the university. Yes, the president of the university. Dr. Rao is certainly not the first university president to be active on Twitter, but over the first few days of his involvement, I have been impressed with his strategy. In particular, the tweet below from this past Thursday isn’t just an ordinary tweet; it demonstrates an understanding of Internet memes and the participatory culture of the Web.
— Michael Rao, Ph.D. (@VCUpresident) August 22, 2014
In an email to the whole VCU community, Dr. Rao stated that he would be changing his overall communications strategy. He is going to send fewer emails and communicate more through his blog, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. That’s quite a statement from a president of a major, urban research university.
Dr. Rao’s new communications strategy has me wondering in lots of directions, including what my less new media-savvy colleagues think about this. More importantly, though, it has me thinking about OUR Twitter strategy.
My colleagues and I are launching the Academic Learning Transformation Laboratory (ALT Lab) at VCU. We’re in a sort of soft launch now, but announcements will be made to the whole university community in the coming days and weeks. I believe we’ll be fully “launched” when the provost sends an email blast to the whole university community this coming week. This is a very exciting time for us, and I will be writing MUCH MORE about this after we’re fully launched.
At a team meeting this past week, we discussed our Twitter strategy. The default assumption, I believe, has been that ALT Lab would have its own Twitter account. Of course we will, right? I mean, our tagline is “Connected Learning for a Networked World,” and social media potentially play a big role in connected learning. So, why wouldn’t we have a Twitter account. Well, here’s why; or, here’s my argument for why we might not have a Twitter account.
I often shake my head (#smh) at Twitter accounts for groups or organizations. It seems like every school, department, organization, club, etc. at VCU has a Twitter account. Based only on my observations, the vast majority of those accounts are broadcast only or mostly used for broadcast. I understand how vast the Twittersphere is, and, therefore, the temptation to shout things out to that vast audience. But, this approach misses at least a couple of key points about Twitter. First, Twitter is a form of social media; social being the key word there, for me. It is inherently more than a one-to-many medium. It is not email, or even a blog or a website. To use Twitter like email (or TV or radio) is to use it in ways that don’t maximize its affordances. When I see Twitter accounts being used as broadcast-only, I can’t help but to think, “You’re doing it wrong.” I’ll go one step further and say that I think lesser of organizations (or even individuals) with those kinds of Twitter accounts.
I recognize that we could have an ALT Lab Twitter account that does engage with followers. However, when I engage with organizational accounts, it feels impersonal. It’s like I’m communicating with an employee, not a person. Also, frankly, I don’t want anyone on our team to have to spend time responding on behalf of our Twitter account and having to “properly” represent the organization.
My thinking, instead, is that we’ll have a Twitter hashtag (#VCUALTLab) that my teammates and I will use when tweeting something relevant to our work. Currently, the Twitter icon on our website links out to the Twitter search page for that hashtag. Also, I’ve compiled a Twitter list with the accounts of everyone on our team. With one click, anyone with a Twitter account can follow everyone who works in ALT Lab. I believe this is more “personal” and, more importantly, is more consistent with Twitter as a network-based medium. In other words, if you want to know what’s happening in/with ALT Lab, don’t just follow one account, follow a dozen or so people. This gives you a diversity of perspectives on the organization, brings you closer to the people within the organization, and potentially exposes you to the networks of those people.
A few days ago, during our team meeting where we were discussing this Twitter issue, my colleague Tom Woodward noted that the company that makes his propane tank had a number of social media icons on the label of his propane tank. So, he sent out this tweet.
— Tom Woodward (@twoodwar) August 21, 2014
If you check out Blue Rhino’s Instagram account, you find nothing. And, so, all I can think is that some social media guru working for or with Blue Rhino has failed; I think lesser of that company.
What do you think? Do we need a dedicated Twitter account for VCU ALT Lab?