I was able to sit in on several sessions where IT groups (from Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Indiana) talked about using social media tools to reach their audience, particularly Twitter and Facebook. The challenge they faced was twofold: first they needed to identify the audience using these tools and second they had to come up with an appropriate way to communicate through them. The first part was easy. A majority of students and a great number of faculty use either or both Facebook and Twitter frequently.The second part is a bit trickier.
By nature Twitter and Facebook are informal and open. That is they are very stream of conscious oriented, contain a great bit of the mundane, and occasionally become something greater, e.g. the use of Twitter to capture the election discord in Iran. As Clay Shirky point out, most times it has nothing to do with the actual content. It's because we care about and are interested in the people posting it that we follow.
So the question becomes, why should our audience care to follow us? And how do we stay connected with them through these medium? Do we make informal chit-chat or do we simply post official announcements? It's not a simple question to answer.
I know I struggle with representing myself and my unit in these areas. When I joined Twitter and Facebook I joined as myself (Twitter: jeffswain; Facebook: Jeff Swain). Quickly I encountered the problem of separating my personal stuff from my work stuff. It all bleeds together in the either where everyone can connect. Now I also am the persona for our symposium and e-portfolio initiative. Well, how do I represent them? Is it strictly business or is it personal?
It seems from the presentation that Northwestern prefers to keep it all business. They use these medium to direct their followers to announcements, emails, etc. They prefer to use these as one-way channels to push information out. I do that to but I also post other items as well, such as asking attendees to participate in building things, letting them in on where we are, etc., sort of the behind the scenes look, if you will. By no means have I found a comfort level (Am I speaking as Jeff or am I speaking as the symposium?) but, I do try to make the communication as open as possible.
The results are mixed and I think it's because of two factors. One, I have not yet found "the voice" for these entities and, two, the audience is not yet sure how they feel about entities acting like people in these informal spaces. For example, I believe that if I ask for help with something on Twitter I will get a greater response than if I used the symposium persona to ask the same question. But there will come a day when I am not the voice of the event so am I doing a long-term disservice to the symposium if I speak for it as Jeff and not the event?
I do not have the answer and would welcome advice from others using social media in this manner to communicate with students and faculty.