University of Guelph

Respectfully, you’re doing it wrong

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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:

Edit (8:25 pm, July 24): Another suggestion:

4 replies on “Respectfully, you’re doing it wrong”

Interesting. @CourseLink is primarily for getting the word out about being responsive if people tweet @CourseLink or #CourseLink and being able to get the word out about any problems we might be experiencing and resolutions to those problems in as many communication paths as possible. Occassionally we retweet something from the community as well.
I think ‘institutional accounts’ need to tweet within their context or risk either being moot for lack of interesting tweets, or becoming just another Twitter noise that needs to get filtered.

I think you’re right about context. It I also think that it’s okay for institutional accounts to take on a more “professional” tone with their tweets and conversations but there still are “best practices” in the medium that ought to be followed.

Good post. I encountered it after it was re-tweeted by Morgan Jackson. I recently started tweeting for our institution – The Canadian Field-Naturalist, which is a non-profit scientific journal about Canadian nature. I see tweeting as a way to distinguish our journal from the others, in a way that drives home the brand we’re trying to build. Most journals are run by mega-publishers with stiff reputations. We’re run by volunteers who genuinely love science and nature. I’m trying to get our tweets to reflect this. Feel free to follow us @CanFieldNat

Interesting thoughts Jay. As I was biking home and thinking about this, the term “authentic voice” entered my head. By this I mean that, regardless of medium, you’ve got to sound real and like yourself. The institutional accounts I mention above certainly don’t have a distinct voice (or if they do, they’re robotic).

In the case of the journal I’d say your approach to Twitter makes sense–you’re differentiating yourself from those “mega-publishers” and putting a real person (with an authentic voice) behind the larger publication.

Enjoy reading the journal, by the way.

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