Recently, the Wyoming legislature debated a Doomsday scenario bill which in the event of a collapse of the U.S. political system would’ve given the state legislature to form a task force that could’ve created a Wyoming armed forces, a statewide currency and other absurdities. While the intentions and merits of the bill are curious at best, it led me to consider my own doomsday scenario in regards to social media. What happens when Facebook goes away?
I read a lot of insights from smart people who make generally compelling pitches for the whys and hows of using social media to extend your brand. In the higher ed space, we spend a lot of time talking about tactics to reach prospective students, engage alumni and use these tools at our disposal to boost enrollments and raise tons of cash.
The conversation I hear less (as in, never) is what happens when they go away. The obvious answer is “something else will replace it” but that negates the time and energy it takes to invest in those networks in the first place and how all of that gets lost when the network dies. Those of us who’ve been doing this for a while joke about AOL or Friendster or Myspace (what? you’re still using it?!) and bygone niche social networks that burst onto the scene like Pinterest. Facebook is a panacea today and Twitter is a modern miracle for a bevy of diverse activities.
Of course, the telegraph was once the most advanced piece of technology on the planet. It all goes in cycles I guess. Where I’m going with this is less an admonishment and more of a set of broader questions about priorities, resources and time.
In a situation where there’s limited resources (read: staff) and a lack of institutional dexterity, does it make sense to drive precious energy towards social media? Answer: People are already doing it anyway. So there becomes a need to corral what’s happening and find a way to contain that rather than allow a wild west approach.
There was a conversation a few weeks ago on HigherEdLive about social media and whether there should be consolidated social media presence or whether schools ought to have targeted social media for different departments/colleges/programs and so forth. There were no outliers who argued — even on twitter — for a consolidated strategy. This owes to size and scope, though.
When you’re an engaged digital denizen, working with others who are similarly inclined it’s easier to advocate for the “smart” strategy. When you’re in a more constrained situation (for example: there’s one or two people wearing the less defined hats of an entire website) this becomes a bit more unwieldy. These one-size fits all answers don’t work for small, niche institutions (tiny colleges with no web marketing plan, community colleges serving a small target area) where it might make a ton of sense to have one page with 1,000 likes and a centralized repository of information rather than five or six different pages that are not curated as well and heavily dependent on the individual who might be in that job at that particular time only to be abandoned by a future person based on their skill, interest, etc.
But back to my original question, I’d argue that it’s counterproductive to invest significant amounts of institutional resources trying to woo constituents through external networks when your own presence fails to engage them. It’s akin to fishing with a lure and no hook.