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Twitter—more than just broadcasting—is about engagement.
If you agree with this premise, then take a moment to visit the University of Guelph’s Twitter account. Notice anything? A stream of tweets linking to the University’s communications and public affairs news releases and At Guelph articles. No conversations, no re-tweets. How many people are following @UofG? A little over 8700 (as of July 2012). How many accounts does the University follow back? 35.
How about a quick visit to the Library’s main account? Looks to be a feed of truncated re-posts from the Library’s news service. A lone-wolf, it follows no one.
Now have a look at the University’s Guelph Gryphons account. Admirably, there is the odd re-tweet, but again we see that the majority of time, it’s a tweet with a link to a news release on the Gryphon’s site. Not a single conversation in sight.
Perhaps it’s okay to be a nameless, faceless institutional account and go on sending out 140-character links to press releases, but what about the public faces of the University?
None would be more visible than President Alastair Summerlee. Dr. Summerlee’s tweeting tempo has improved recently and though abrupt, I don’t mind his staccato style but there isn’t a re-tweet or conversation in sight. The Associate VP Student Affairs is on Twitter too. But the trend continues, and Brenda Whiteside‘s stream is infrequently updated and (broken record time, sorry) without any evidence of conversations.
But why should @UofG, @LibraryUofG, @Guelph_Gryphons, @UoG_President or @WhitesideBrenda care about my observations here? Because people who are active users of Twitter are expecting engagement. And the best brands know this and already are engaging with their broad community of followers. And while brand could mean American Airlines, I actually mean fellow institutions of higher education here in Ontario. For examples of how other Universities are “getting” how to use Twitter, see the University of Waterloo‘s institutional account or Queen’s University Principal Dr. Daniel Woolf’s account: conversations, information, re-tweets. They’re all there. And personally as an alumni, staff member and active Twitter user on-campus, I can’t help but want better for our image, perception and institution.
It’s not all dire on-campus. The University’s Alumni account is exact antithesis of my criticisms above. But it does leave me with more questions about Twitter and Higher Ed: What are institutional accounts for? Is lower activity and no engagement better than no account at all? And can we improve how we “do” Twitter here @UofG?
Edit (4:31 pm, July 24): Ensuing conversation on Twitter that suggests other U of G accounts that are engaging, enjoyable and, in one case, a cannon:
— U of Guelph Library (@uglibrary) July 24, 2012
Edit (8:25 pm, July 24): Another suggestion:
@gavatron also @sustainableuog are engaging too :)
— Dr. Julie Gill (@DrJulieGill) July 24, 2012