Social Media Manager Q&A: Rob Engelsman, Ithaca College

His name was Leon Holliday. He was 12 and the biggest, baddest pitcher in Kenton Little League. He threw HEAT. I was 10 the first time I stepped up to the plate to face Leon. His fastball blew past me. I remember thinking, "Oh! So this is what it's like to be in the big leagues." I struck out many times against Leon, but once I roped a double off of him, which to this day probably remains my greatest athletic accomplishment, except for maybe winning an adult kickball tournament once (Go RiKickulous!) and being the glorified water boy for two high school state soccer championships (Go Falcons!).

That feeling of "Oh!" has recurred non-stop since I started really paying attention to what other schools are doing in social media as I was planning to start this blog. People out there are good.

I came across the work of Rob Engelsman of Ithaca College last week, and I knew immediately I wanted him to be one of the people I featured in this Q&A segment, which is one of the things I'm most excited about for this website. So much of what I read about social media doesn't directly relate to the work I do, and I am really looking forward to hearing from peers who know what it's like in the trenches of higher ed social media.

And Rob doesn't disappoint - if everyone I feature in this Q&A is as thoughtful, insightful, and articulate as him, I'm going to just go ahead and quit. Check out Ithaca College on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram, follow Rob on Twitter, and check out his website (which has some great social media writing and is well worth a look).

1) One of the first things that jumped out at me when checkout out Ithaca’s social media pages was the quality of your videos. Could you talk a bit about the process of how you create your videos and how you promote them? The view count numbers are really strong for many of them.

Our YouTube channel is a mix of work I've done and a few others. From a social media standpoint, I've created videos like the Favorite Spots series, our New Year's Eve tribute, the snapshot of commencement, and the fountain jump recap. What these all have in common is that they appeal to a broad range of people. A challenge in higher ed is to appeal to so many different audiences at once, so if we can stoke nostalgia from alumni while also showing an environment that current students love and prospective students want to be a part of, we're doing something right. My office has a few student videographers on staff, and we'll work with them on the simpler videos. For others, I have students shoot them and I'll edit. For some very special ones, I'll shoot and edit it on my own. 

In terms of quality, we shoot everything we can in HD, and a colleague of mine developed a package of standards for our videos so we can keep it consistent. A lot of the music we use is from student musicians, which gives them some nice promotion while also keeping us from using creative commons music constantly.

When we finish a video that we think has legs, we'll share it across our different social media accounts. I hate the idea of parroting, or posting the same thing at a bunch of different places at the same time, so most of the time we roll the videos out over the span of a day or two. In special cases, releasing it to all of our social media sources at once can be effective, but it gets old if it's a tactic that becomes overused.

2) What do you think are some of the unique challenges managing social media in the higher ed world?

Demographics. Older alumni have a completely different expectation of a school than a 16 year old prospective, so appealing to so many people at once is hard. Coca-Cola knows who drinks Coke and who to target specifically, but higher ed doesn't get that luxury because of the special place it holds to so many people across different generations.

Another challenge is creating a voice. Higher ed is generally seen as a bit stuffy, so developing a voice and a strategy that can break that mold but still be seen as professional can be an uphill battle.

3) I’ve seen some posts mentioning Ithaca’s student social media team. Can you talk a little bit about what their role is and how you recruit students for the team?

Earlier this week I authored a guest post for a great website called Meet Content that breaks down the history of my student social media team and how they operate. Lots of schools are going this route with wildly different strategies and approaches, so it's been interesting to see the end results from across the board. Ma'ayan Plaut of Oberlin College recently gave a presentation that collated my student team's work and compared it to a few other student teams in HigherEd. The slides are well worth a scan.

4) Time to brag: What are a few examples of social media work at Ithaca that have been particularly successful?

Our calling card has become the disposable camera project, or Life at IC. (Editor's note: I wrote about this project here.) It's pretty much the pinnacle of everything I like in a social media project: it's authentic community created content, it connected the real world to the social media world, it appealed to all of our audiences, and it was unexpected. More recently, we've found a lot of success on Tumblr with accepted students. We reblog each acceptance on Tumblr with a fun GIF and it's gone over really well with just about everyone. I'm absolutely proud of everything I've linked to in your questions, and especially of the fact that we've consistently pumped out good projects for the past year and a half or so.

5) Time to spread some love: What are some other colleges you enjoy following and draw inspiration from?

I'm totally about to accidentally snub some people that I didn't intend to, so apologies in advance. I think there are a lot of great people and great social media initiatives out there. The challenge, to me, is that social is so dependent on the community it becomes hard to compare. Ma'ayan, who I mentioned before, has been putting together some awesome social projects at Oberlin that would have never worked at Ithaca, but they're very cool nonetheless. RIT & Ashley Hennigan were doing some great work with individual students acting as social ambassadors. Todd Sanders at University of Wisconsin – Green Bay has one of the more unique brand voices I've seen, and he plays it up really nicely. What's important to note is that these examples have been enabled to do what they've done by their schools and departments. There are a lot of people running social media in higher ed that have amazing ideas or hope to do more that get stymied by superiors that don't understand social or its potential power, and that's a shame. 

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Great YouTube Idea: Disposable Cameras