PHILADELPHIA —About three-quarters of Americans have Internet access in their homes, and most of them have Facebook accounts. With new social networks and content platforms popping into and out of existence at a dizzying pace, traversing this landscape is not about mastering technology as much as it learning how to adapt messages to increasingly diverse media.
With this in mind, the University of Pennsylvania's University Communications Office hired its first manager of new media communications earlier this year. Matthew Griffin comes to Penn after working as a social media manager in education settings, as well as in online marketing in the publishing world.
“In online marketing, it quickly became apparent that social media would become a big part of how brands would present themselves online,” Griffin says. “For universities, it’s taken longer to see what it should be used for.”
With 800 million Facebook users and 140 million Twitter users worldwide, having a presence in those social-media sites is now no more optional than having a Web site. Like many other colleges and universities, Penn is exploring potential ways of using those platforms as it goes and now has a point-person to develop strategies and measure if they are working.
Situated in Penn’s central communications office, Griffin has started by leveraging the content coming out of various schools, departments and programs, trying to spread them as widely across the online landscape as possible. Success in this landscape means capitalizing on the differences between the “many-to-many” communication style that epitomizes social networks and the “one-to-many” of magazines, newspapers and television. The concept of engagement is key.
“When somebody picks up a newspaper and reads a story, unless they write a letter to the editor, that’s where their engagement ends. For social media, there are next steps,” Griffin says.
Most of these steps increase the likelihood that other people will see that piece of content. On Facebook, a reader can, with a single click, broadcast a link from Penn’s page to their entire network of friends, many of whom have no connection to the University.
“That means, if you drive up engagement in your user base by a even very small percentage, the amount of times your content is seen goes up exponentially,” Griffin says. “A .5 percent increase in engagement might translate into a 70 percent increase in potential views.”
In the three months he has been here, Penn’s Facebook engagement has doubled.
Maximizing engagement means understanding the idiosyncrasies of various network’s users and what they consider compelling content. Moving between Facebook and Twitter is more than condensing a story to 140 characters; it can mean creating content that is specifically intended for a social-media audience.
Several projects including A Day in the Life of Penn, and a series of posts that juxtapose historic Penn images with modern ones, have already been a success online. These items epitomize the media-specific nature of Penn’s developing social-media strategy: quick, interesting and easy to share and understand without a lot of context.
But that’s not to say that these projects aren’t the product of serious research. Beyond monitoring Penn’s various social network pages, Griffin spends much of his day delving into their communities, looking for trends and innovative tactics that will give him insight into what makes them tick and what new social network may be poised to explode onto he scene.
"It’s fun and engaging,” Griffin says. “But fun and engaging take work too.”