University looks into colleges' use of social media, development of individual brands

Consulting firm Bain & Company highlighted the topic in a diagnostic report for SU in April.

When Syracuse University named Kelly Lux its first online community manager in 2010, Lux understood the expectations that came with the new position.

SU officials wanted her to start and build an online community with students and alumni through Twitter and Facebook. During her time in the position, her frequent activity on these channels led to an impressive growth of followers on SU’s social media platforms.

"This is what we study. You go to class, you talk about Twitter.”
- Emily Kulkus

But when she accepted the job of social media director for the School of Information Studies three years later, Lux found herself posting on the social media channels more frequently on a daily basis. Social media had now become a major marketing tool for specific colleges within the university, Lux said.

“What happens is once the staff and administration figured out this is a good way to get our message out, then everyone wanted their messages put out on social media,” she said.

One change with the individual branding efforts involves the growth of social media across specific colleges at the university. While each college within SU has a social media presence, some schools use the platforms more thoroughly than others to distribute news and information. Bain & Company, a global management-consulting firm, highlighted these developments in a diagnostic report for SU in April. The study concluded that the university “lacks an overarching strategic plan,” with some colleges within SU embarking on individual branding efforts.

Some programs have developed a reputable brand on social media that essentially allows them to splinter off from the rest of the university. Although the university is looking into the report’s findings, some students and faculty believe that the individual branding strategies are justified.

Seth Kornfeld, a broadcast journalism senior at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, said he thinks the branding initiatives are smart as long as each school operates with the understanding that it’s a part of the university. He sees it as an opportunity for schools to promote their unique brands and present a platform to those interested in learning more about the work of students and alumni of specific programs.

“It enables them to illustrate the benefits of their school and allows people to immediately connect with that specific school through social media,” he said. “Individual schools’ promotion allows employers to recognize the accomplishments of that student in the context of that specific school.”

Kornfeld believes each school has its own personality and caters to their respective audiences with a variety of perspectives and interests.

“I think it helps the overall brand of each school and of a university as a whole because it allows students to begin finding out where they may fit in and where they don’t at a specific school,” he said.

The Newhouse School has made a commitment to use its resources for building social media platforms. In order to develop a quality social media presence, the school ensured that its communications team focused on publishing content about students and alumni on social media. Known for its reputation as an elite communications institution, Newhouse has established social media platforms with more than 13,000 Twitter followers and 6,000 likes on Facebook.

Emily Kulkus, a web content manager for Newhouse, is one of the multiple staff members of the school’s communications department. While Kulkus understands concerns regarding the lack of unison from schools at SU, she is fond of the Newhouse’s ability to effectively create a brand on social media.

“I think it’s great because we are a unique school under the large SU umbrella,” she said. “By giving us the freedom and ability to use social media, it’s incredible how we can tell the world the cool things that are happening at Newhouse.”

Kulkus said that since Newhouse puts an emphasis on social media in its academic curriculum, there are more resources available to the communications team on a daily basis. She communicates with industry veterans such as Stephen Masiclat, a Newhouse faculty member who is extremely knowledgeable about search engine optimization.

As a result, Newhouse has a major advantage over other programs that don’t have the same luxury, she said.

“We get it. This is what we study. You go to class, you talk about Twitter,” Kulkus said. “If you’re taking a class in the School of Education, you’re not talking about Twitter. You’re talking about education or biology.”

Kulkus mentioned that one person she often consults with outside of the Newhouse School is Lux. When the iSchool started to make social media and digital platforms a primary marketing tool, Lux had to leave her comfort zone of simply making a few posts a day. Now, the job has more responsibilities on a daily basis in order for the iSchool to achieve maximum exposure with its audience.

“I have so many other things to do in addition to social media, such as running our school blog,” she said. “I’m not in the trenches like I was five years ago.”

Anjelique Cooley, a senior education major, said she thinks that SU should be more united with its branding efforts. But she believes that if changes are made to branding initiatives, then it should be up to the chancellor to decide how he wants to shape the school’s image.

Cooley recognizes the difficulty of individual schools collaborating with each other on branding strategies since they all have different target audiences.

“I think it would be hard for the people in charge of the social media because there is always something going on all the time,” she said. “I feel that they do it to gain more students to their departments, as it’s easier to target a certain group.”

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