Great Twitter Idea: Giving the Keys to the Community

One of the hot topics we higher ed social media managers faced this year were the anonymous Facebook "confessions pages" that spread like wildfire among the high-school and college-aged crowd. So, in this blog's desire to always be on trend, here is what my submission to such a page would be: "I run the school's Twitter page and am a self-styled social media professional, but secretly I... well... I kinda sorta don't see a ton of value in it for my institution." 

Blasphemous, right? Twitter is an immensely powerful tool and I would never advocate not using it - every school NEEDS to be on it - but I do feel like as a social medium it is better suited for large brands, celebrities/athletes, media outlets, small businesses, and individual personalities. Universities and other non-profits sort of land in a Twitter Bermuda triangle: we're not big enough to hit that critical mass of followers that really results in Twitter payoff; we're not selling anything; we're usually not generating tons of content every day; and we're not really able to be super opinionated, funny, or edgy. Of course, there are plenty of standout institutions (i.e., standout people that Tweet for institutions) that counteract my argument, but for someone with too many responsibilities and not enough time, I often put Twitter at the lower-end of the priority list. Why? Because of all the social media outlets, I feel like Twitter - again, in the specific circumstance of higher ed - has the lowest ratio of time put in to return, measured in engagement, clicks, etc. (Think I'm completely wrong? Tell me why in the comments!)

Hopefully you have't x'd out your browser yet in disgust at a social media blogger that just disparaged one of the sacred cows, because now it's time to talk about a bold, innovative, audacious Twitter experiment being put on by George Mason University. Called the Mason Nation Project, it puts a different person from the university community - student, faculty, alum, etc. - in charge of school's official Twitter account every week.

Tweets from this week's voice of @GeorgeMasonU, Elizabeth Bodine.

Tweets from this week's voice of @GeorgeMasonU, Elizabeth Bodine.

I had heard of a similar project like this done by the government of Sweden, in which they put a hilariously eclectic range of Swedes in charge of @Sweden every week. The idea always stayed with me because it struck me as so wonderfully anarchic. (The internet being the internet, it met with regrettable Hitler jokes at one point.)

Which is why I got SUPER, SUPER excited when I saw what George Mason was doing! 

From their official description of the project: 

Every week, a new Patriot—student, faculty, staff, alumni—will tweet from @GeorgeMasonU, telling us about their classes and/or students, recommending places to eat or events to check out and sharing his or her unique viewpoints and ideas along the way. Most importantly, they’ll help to tell the story of the Mason Nation.

It's been going on since last fall, and has gone through about 40 guest Tweeters so far. As would be expected in a project like this, some of them are much better than others, but on my cursory examination of the archives I've been pretty impressed with the quality and diversity of Tweets over the course of the project.

Apart from outright admiration of the - for lack of a better term - balls that it takes to attempt something like this, I especially like how they have a running tally of all the previous Tweeters - complete with a nice photo and bio - on their website. To me, this has all the potential in the world for a really fascinating alumni magazine article and for both media interest and academic research.

I haven't connected with George Mason's social media people, and there are a lot of questions to ask about security and monitoring and all of that, but I'll leave that for now and will instead just sit back and admire the fearlessness of the whole thing.

For someone like me who occasionally questions the value of Twitter for a college (especially a small one like the one I work at), I can't help but be seduced by the idea of flipping everything on its head and using Twitter as a medium for a wild social experiment rather than just another social media marketing drumbeat. 

Wise men say only fools rush in, but I can't help falling in love with this daring idea from George Mason!

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