Why WeChat Matters for Universities

With coronavirus dominating the headlines recently and disrupting daily life for millions of people in China and beyond, there has been renewed attention to the significant role the platform WeChat plays in information sharing in China.

What is WeChat?

In short, WeChat is a social media network, messaging app, e-commerce platform, and more, all in one app. It’s become ubiquitous in daily life in China – with more than 1.1 billion active users.

WeChat logo

How do universities use WeChat?

Importantly for communicators, WeChat is also the first place many users will turn for official news and updates – before looking at an institution’s website, or checking their email.

At Duke, we have more students and alumni from China than from any other country outside of the United States. Because Chinese internet restrictions generally prevent prospective students, parents, alumni and others in China from accessing our other social media channels, we’ve been active on Weibo (another prominent Chinese social network) since 2011, and we launched our WeChat presence in 2015.

WeChat post screenshot

In addition to posting stories and updates and promoting admissions information sessions in China, we’ve successfully used WeChat groups to host live chat sessions for admitted students – most of whom aren’t able to visit campus before enrolling – who are eager to learn more about life on campus or connect with other students. And it’s an important way our Chinese alumni community stays in touch with one another and the university – there are a number of active Duke alumni chat groups in which members are sharing news and information with each other on a daily basis.

WeChat post screenshot

For our communications colleagues at Duke Kunshan University, a joint-venture university founded in 2014 in Kunshan, China, WeChat is even more critical to their work. In addition to sharing stories on the university’s public-facing profile on the platform, the university uses private WeChat groups to connect incoming students, communicate quickly with and build community among parents, and as a practical tool for the small but growing staff and faculty community to share news and updates.

In addition to its instant-messaging function, another useful component for communicators is WeChat Moments. Similar to Facebook, users can post pictures, story links and other updates to their feed for all (or selected) connections to view, “like” and forward, potentially boosting the reach of their content.

If you’re curious about how you might use WeChat to support your connections to Chinese students, parents or alumni, I’d encourage you to talk with your students and alumni who are active on WeChat to learn how they use it. You can dip a toe in the water by following some brands (many American and international brands are quite active there) and universities to get a sense for how they are using the platform. And don’t hesitate to reach out to our team (socialmedia@duke.edu) with questions about this work.

Follow Duke University

Duke University QR code link to WeChat

Follow Duke Kunshan

Duke Kunshan University QR code to follow on WeChat

I’m Not a Regular Higher Ed YouTuber, I’m a COOL Higher Ed YouTuber

I feel like YouTube has been a part of my higher ed stump speech for a couple of years now, but this year, we’re finally getting to implement some of the goals we’ve had around YouTube here at Duke for a while now. Allow me to explain.

We’ve decided that YouTube isn’t just a bucket for holding video content. It’s actually social media. I’ll show you what I mean. Get in, loser.

Girls in convertible, caption: "Get in loser, we're going shopping," from the movie Mean Girls

Lots of higher ed institutions and brands use YouTube to house their video content so that they can embed it in other places, like on their website. YouTube works great for that, but there are so many more things that you can do with YouTube. Let me show you.

Here’s Doritos’ YouTube channel page:

Screenshot of the Doritos YouTube channel page

Not bad, and I really love Doritos as a brand. BUT, here’s the YouTube channel page of one of my favorite YouTubers, Mamrie Hart.

Screenshot of Mamrie Hart's YouTube channel page

Looks different, right?

We’ve got the Doritos brand account, which basically just holds their video content that they’ve already created for somewhere else, like TV or their website. It isn’t using all of the YouTube channel page features, including custom thumbnails and end cards. Plus it has weird titles on the videos.

Mean girls gif with caption "Boo, you whore."

(If you haven’t seen Mean Girls, please ignore all my gif jokes.)

Now look at the YouTuber channel page. Mamrie is producing content with a series model so subscribers know what they’re going to get, she’s using YouTube’s interactive features, she’s got a featured video in the feature hole on her channel page, and she’s got branded thumbnails. Let’s break all of these down a bit more.

Mean Girls dancing in Christmas costumes

Series Model Content

Why would you want content in a series model? Well, one of the goals of YouTube is to get subscribers, and one way to do that is to have content that your potential subscribers can expect to see. We want our subscribers to be obsessed with our content.

Mean girls gif with caption, "Why are you so obsessed with me?"

Crash Course does an amazing job with series. They have lots of different series on their channel, but they’re all branded a little bit differently and they all stay on topic. You can have as many series as you want on your channel, and series content is what’s really going to get those subscribe clicks.

Screenshot of a few of Crash Course's series

What kind of content should you be creating? Well, rather than re-inventing the wheel, check out Matt Gielen’s The Taxonomy of YouTube Videos. It’ll tell you everything you need to know about what kinds of content work best on YouTube.

Explainers tend to work well for the higher ed space, so a couple of our new series will be this type of video. Extra Credit is a series we’ve recently launched. Here’s one episode:

Channel Optimization

There are lots of ways to optimize your YouTube channel, beyond just what kind of content you create. Here are the secrets to optimizing your YouTube channel:

Mean Girls gif with caption, "That's why her hair is so big -- it's full of secrets."

Descriptions

Your descriptions should be, well, descriptive. That means that they should say what’s actually in the video and use keywords that people might use to discover your video. Remember, YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world, behind only Google. Get those keywords in there! Search engines read just like humans do, so be sure to put the most important words and concepts at the beginning of the description.

Captions

Captioning your videos is not only important for accessibility, but also for Search Engine Optimization. YouTube actually reads the captions you generate to serve up better search results for people. Also, it’s just plain nice to caption your videos. Be a good citizen. Caption your videos.

Titles

Titles are really important for the search function on YouTube, too. One mistake I see people make with series content is putting the name of the series first before the content of the video. This gives the name of the series more weight in the search algorithm, when really people are probably searching for the actual content of your video, not the series name. Here’s how LEGO titled one of their videos in the Rebrickulous series:

Screenshot of LEGO video with title, "LEGO Floating Tower Challenge - REBRICKULOUS"

You’ll note that important keywords like “LEGO” and “Challenge” come before the name of the series.

Thumbnails

The thumbnails for your video are part of the language of YouTube, and you’re just going to look like you know what you’re doing better on YouTube if you create YouTube-esque thumbnails. As in the LEGO example above, thumbnails usually have lots of bright colors, pictures of action and people’s faces, and the title of the video. They should look good in a small format. Pro tip: Don’t put your logo or watermark in the bottom right corner, because the time stamp for the video will always go in that corner on the thumbnail.

WVU has some of the most excellent higher ed thumbnails I’ve ever seen.

End Screens

Ok, let’s talk about end screens. I have feelings about end screens. A lot of feelings.

Mean Girls gif with caption, "I just have a lot of feelings."

End screens are a YouTube-only functionality. If you’re using end screens, it tells YouTube viewers that you created this content for them, not for all of your other platforms. It tells them that YouTube isn’t an afterthought, but a strategy for you.

Bonus, you can also get some Call-To-Actions in your end screens and I know you marketers get all happy about that stuff. (I’m a marketer too, so I can say that.) Most end screens include a subscribe button and links to a couple other videos that people might like to watch after watching what they just saw. Here’s ours for the Extra Credit video I embedded above:

Changing How We Promote Video

Normally when we put video up on social media, it makes the most sense to direct-upload the video file to whatever channel we’re going to use (Facebook or Twitter or whatever). The channel algorithms highly favor direct uploads because it keeps people on that platform rather than sending them somewhere else.

But what do you do when you’ve got a YouTube-first strategy and want people to interact with end screens and hit the subscribe button? Well, you change how you work a bit.

Embedding is, of course, the easiest way to promo YouTube videos. If you’re embedding the YouTube video, you don’t lose any of the functionality like end screens and captions, and all of the views get counted in your YouTube analytics, no matter where the video is embedded.

For Facebook, we’ve done a bit of experimenting, and it seems to work best to link to a Duke Today story where we’ve embedded the video, rather than linking straight to YouTube. The algorithm favors our website over YouTube for some reason.

For Twitter and Instagram, we’re running really cool preview videos, formatted for the platform and using a link to the full YouTube video.

So Does it Work?

Our preliminary data says YES, we’re getting more views compared to our typical non-series videos, and picking up more subscriptions to our channel, but we’ll get back to you when we have more numbers. We’re still in the early stages of experimenting with YouTube this way, but we’re super excited about it and we hope you will be too.

Student-Run Social Media: Make it Work for You

Did you know we here at Duke have a suite of channels branded Duke Students and run by a team of actual students?

Facebook: @DukeStudents
Instagram: @DukeStudents
Medium: @DukeStudents
Snapchat: @DukeStudents
Spotify: DukeStudents
Twitter: @DukeStudents
YouTube: Duke Students
Website: DukeStudents.com

Well now you do!

Here’s how we’re set up:

Student editors posing
Last year’s team of editors
(I don’t have a group pic yet this year because several of our editors are studying abroad!)

We have approximately one student editor per @DukeStudents channel. I say approximately because we have a couple of people who run multiple channels, and our Instagram channel has two editors. (It works better that way for content flow.) One of these editors is our editor-in-chief, who runs strategy, analytics, and the process of keeping everyone on track. We’ve found it works a lot better when we let them be in charge of each other. I’m basically just there in case they get stuck on something.

These editors are paid! We meet in person (or via Google Hangouts for the study abroad students) once every two weeks, but the rest of their work is done off-site whenever they have time. We keep things organized on a team Slack. We try really hard not to over-schedule them. They do a lot remotely and they work different hours than I do, so it works better for everyone this way.

You might be surprised to know that the student editors have full control over their respective accounts. That means that they don’t have to submit drafts to anyone for review, and they are allowed to choose and curate what they want to post! (More on how we make that work later.)

We also have a team of content contributors. They are mostly underclassmen and are unpaid. There are about 40 of them! We meet with them once a month and keep in touch online via GroupMe. They’re each assigned one of the paid editors as their mentor for a set period of time, and then they rotate to a different editor. This gives them exposure to a lot of different social media channels. Their job is to contribute content to the editors for each of the different channels. Eventually, we hire our student editors from this group, so being a content contributor is almost part of the interview process to be a student editor.

Here are the rules:

People usually gasp and clutch their pearls when I tell them the students don’t have to submit drafts to me before they post, but we do have a pretty solid set of time-tested rules that all of the editors know and follow. I do read their posts once they go up, and on the rare occasion I have to ask them to take something down, but they’re actually usually even more careful than I would be with the rules I’ve given them.

The rules go thusly:

  • The “Grandma Rule:” If your grandma wouldn’t want to see it, don’t post it.
  • No references to alcohol, parties, drugs (and no red Solo cups, no matter what’s in them)
  • Nothing dangerous
  • No content promoting Greek or SLG organizations (This is because we don’t want to accidentally play favorites, so it’s just easier to not promote any of them.)
  • No profanity, including phrases like “AF,” or hashtags that contain profanity (like #GTHC and #DDMF)
  • Do not insult other schools, even in reference to sports
  • Follow NCAA athlete recruitment rules
  • Do not answer admissions questions. Always redirect to Admissions!

These rules really take care of most of the problems we might have with what to post and what not to post. It really helps to begin a group like this with the rules in mind so that you can be clear about expectations. We’ve found that once the expectations are established, the more freedom we can give them, the better. More freedom equals more creativity!

It’s also helpful to remember that they are students, and students are human, and humans mess up sometimes. They’re going to mess up. (To be fair, so are you.) So with that in mind, make sure that you have a plan in place for when they mess up or need help and a way they can contact you anytime.

Hiring:

I mentioned above that we hire to our paid student editors team from the pool of content creators. This gives us at least an academic year to make a determination about whether the student is enthusiastic about @DukeStudents or not, and we’re hiring for enthusiasm, not necessarily skill. You can teach skills. (Doing social media isn’t brain surgery, guys– hate to break it to you.) You cannot teach enthusiasm.

Student editors in a silly pose
Enthusiasm!

Other ways students can help you:

If you don’t want to set up social media that your students can run on their own, there are lots of other ways to use the talent of your students:

  • Use them as a focus group! They know really cool stuff. Ask them about new social media channels and how they use social media.
  • Have them collect content for you! Most of them already know how to shoot great video on their phones and have an eye for what will work in an Instagram feed.
  • Occasionally make them do boring stuff. No one likes spreadsheets, but let’s be real. You’re the grown-up here and it won’t kill them to copy-paste for a couple of hours.

In conclusion, students are awesome!

Get yourself a team of them and see how much more fun they make your job!

How to Create a Global Social Media Campaign (with Students!)

Tiles of Global Baton images

This summer, I managed the Duke Global Baton, a campaign on Instagram where students posted photos and videos from their international studies and global work.

The campaign required me to connect with a new student each week in various locations around the world, and this was my first time coordinating an international campaign. Here’s some of what I learned, from one novice to another.

Before the Campaign Starts

Plan, plan, plan! There are numerous steps that need to be taken well in advance to ensure a successful project.

  • Advertise and recruit. This is a big one, and the earlier you start, the better. For example, starting in February or March, we would post graphics on social media inviting students, faculty and staff to apply to hold the baton in the summer. We would also promote through our newsletter and ask partners on campus to spread the word.

For sign-ups, we’ve used a Qualtrics form and email. Both work! With a larger campaign, it may be nice to have the additional organization that Qualtrics provides.

Applicants would send us their preferred name, year at Duke, program of study and availability. We also considered asking for a photography sample, but so far, we’ve had no issue with lack of quality.

  • Select participants. Decide what criteria you are looking for. For our global campaign, we like to show the breadth of Duke’s international work. We selected baton holders based on the region they would be traveling to and the type of work they would be doing. Availability is probably the most important factor, however! Which leads me to…
  • Schedule. During our ten-week summer campaign, our goal was to have a new student posting every week. Create a spreadsheet as candidates volunteer and use this to solve the scheduling puzzle.

And have a Plan B for scheduling. As we all know, life happens. During our scheduling step, we would make sure to note other Duke study away programs held during the same timeframes and keep a list of other students that we had worked with in the past and could possibly ask to fill in if someone cancels.

  • Prep instruction. We made a short document that explains the campaign and provides some guidelines. Once participants were selected, we would send the document in a template emails for participants that also included dates, passwords and trouble-shooting advice.
  • Design graphics. It really helps to have some of the design work done when the campaign starts. Think about how you might use graphics in advance. For our campaign, we used graphics as covers for the Instagram highlight reels and also shared flyers on Facebook. It helped to have a versatile design where we could plug in images from the different countries and adjust the text as needed.
  • Prepare thank-you’s. Everyone likes to feel appreciated. Write a template email in advance to save a little time, and tailor it to the individual participant.

During the Campaign

Screenshot of Global Baton homepage

Remind. A week before someone is scheduled to post, send an email to remind them of the dates that they are scheduled to post. In this email, we would also include our username, password and any other small reminders about hashtags and signing posts with their personal handles, etc. (We’ve also considered using LastPass to make it easier to share and change the passwords but haven’t quite implemented it yet.)

Respond quickly. Answers questions from participants promptly. With a multi-person campaign, it is important that you answer questions as fast as you can. For us, there were times when participants would have trouble logging into the Instagram account because of security concerns with their location. To allow them to post, we needed to send the authentication code, and quickly. You don’t want to risk your contributors losing interest or not being able to post during their scheduled time.

Send encouragement. A lot of our participants are either in intensive programs or spending time with family and sometimes need a little encouragement or a reminder to post. Let participants know what you’ve enjoyed seeing.

Monitor social accounts. We didn’t review posts before baton holders published, but we would read each post. We’ve never had an issue with content so far (fingers-crossed!).

Throughout the campaign, show some engagement on your social media feed, and it will pay off! We look for active posts and also like and comment on images from other users. Think of it like being an interesting guest at a party – share something valuable and encourage others.

Archive images. Keep in contact with the participants and ask for their original photos that they posted. These pictures will be extremely useful for any sort of documentation or advertising after the campaign, and the resolution is much better than a screenshot. After participants finished posting, we asked them to upload images to a Box folder. Some just emailed their images, and that’s fine, too.

Promote the campaign on other platforms. Here is another instance when having access to archived, full-resolution images can help. We would repost photos from Instagram to our Facebook account and share the link for the campaign. This would allow us to promote the campaign to a separate audience and generate more engagement on both platforms.

Contact partners, again. Let other communicators know when students in their programs are posting and ask other groups on campus to help promote the campaign.

Make highlight reels (Instagram) and collages (Facebook). This is the fun part. This is where your pre-made graphics are extremely helpful. This year, we decided to make a highlight from the country where each baton holder posted. Our highlights feature some of our favorite posts and most active posts this summer (another use of the archived photos; it’s all coming together huh?).

Highlight reel examples

After the Campaign

Once it’s over, there are just a few more things that need to be done.

  • Show more appreciation. Another thank you to the participants can’t hurt. Your mom would be proud. And by doing this, you help your chances with good participation during the next campaign.
  • Offer a reward. We would give participants Duke Global swag. If they completed a survey, the swag was even better ☺
  • Reuse content. We made a couple multimedia features that summarize the campaigns. To create the layout, we used Adobe Spark and posted the feature on our website and shared with partners. Again, full-res archived pictures are very useful. Show what your campaign is all about. This also serves as a last “thank you” to participants. Here are a couple examples:
Screenshot of 'A Week in Singapore' website

Other Tips

During this campaign (again, my first one. EVER) I found a few things that aren’t necessarily required but very helpful.

  • First, remember to leave lots of room for creative freedom. We want to make sure that our participants are expressing themselves (while representing Duke respectfully). You want variety, why else run a collaborative campaign?
  • Next, be flexible. Admittedly, this was hard for me. However, I learned with working on a campaign relying so heavily on outside participation, flexibility is a MUST. Be ready for things to change or not go how you planned. It is ok, and the truth is probably no one will know there is a problem but you.
  • My last bit of advice, before I send you off to be a global campaign expert – it’s okay to be annoying. Everyone is dealing with time differences, travel logistics and overall busy people things. I learned very early that it is ok to “hound” people, and they often seem to appreciate reminders. But you also must be very responsive, in turn.
Picture of 4 women from the Office of Global Affairs
(Here’s the wonderful team that made it all happen, the Office of Global Affairs.)

Social Media Do’s & Don’ts

Whether you’re looking to expand your social media efforts or simply keep pace with the competition, here are some tips, tricks and some of my personal preferences that might make the job slightly easier and your content all the more share-able.

THE THOUGHTFUL ART OF TAGGING

We’ve all seen the @ symbol. Every major social media network offers the ability to tag other users, which you should do. But there are some rules (more like guidelines).

First, a tag is not a hashtag and should not be used the same. A tag identifies the person or brand and notifies them you’ve mentioned them in a post. A hashtag identifies posts on a specific topic. (More on that later.)

Tags work very much like starting a conversation in real life. They’re the social media equivalent of a “heads up,” helping to signify to another user that you’re talking about them, alerting them to potential topics of interest, and/or initiating a chat.

Much like there is an art to conversation, so too is there an art to tagging. Tag no one and you miss opportunities for positive conversations. Tag everyone and you’ll turn them off and they’ll tune you out — Kind of like someone calling your phone repeatedly and leaving a bunch of voicemails (boo).

  • DO: Use tags on all social media platforms
  • DO: Be selective about who you’re tagging
  • DO: Limit tags to two or fewer per post and to users who would be legitimately interested in your content
  • DO: Incorporate tags into the general flow of your writing
  • DON’T: Tag anyone & everyone who just might be interested in your content
  • DON’T: Tag yourself
  • DON’T: List a bunch of tags at the end of your post

HASHTAGS ARE NOT #MEANT #TO #BE #USED #LIKE #THIS

Hashtags are a great way to join a conversation and/or categorize your post for others to find with ease. However, excessive hashtag use is one of the most irritating social media habits to avoid (IMO). A well-used hashtag can increase engagement, but too many or inapplicable hashtags render your post illegible and gives your account an air of desperation.

This section’s title trends towards the hyperbolic, but even the below tactic is rather unadvisable:

Also keep in mind, hashtags do work differently on each platform. For your convenience, the one and only Sonja put together this most practical of presentations. And if you’re in the market for Duke specific hashtags -> Well we have a list for that.

  • DO: Use hashtags appropriate to your content
  • DO: Use hashtags differently depending on the platform
  • DO: Check hashtags to make sure they don’t have unintended or alternate meanings
  • DON’T: Use inapplicable hashtags just to join trending topics
  • DON’T: Over hashtag — For maximum engagement, you pretty much get 1 or 2 per post and that’s it (except on Instagram)

EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY

Every day millions of people upload millions of social media images. It’s true that photos usually garner greater engagement, but those that inspire actual engagement rather than a cursory glance are few and far between. Why? Too many images are low-quality, unappealing, incorrectly sized or just flat out boring.

The images you share with a post are every bit a part of the story you’re telling as the text. Actually images are more emotionally resonate, so your image will generally supersede the accompanying text as the main takeaway for your audience. So a pixelated photo or an image without a focal point is like showing up to a cocktail party in your worn-out pajamas.

  • DO: Use the right size image for the right platform – Sprout’s handy list is a good place to start
  • DO: Improve your visual literacy (Words have meanings — So do images)
  • DO: Use visuals with consistent color and design aesthetic (if possible)
  • DO: Plan your social content with visual imagery in mind
  • DON’T: Use headshots alone on social platforms — There’s almost always a better way
  • DON’T: Use graphics on your Instagram feed — Trust us
  • DON’T: Post blurry or pixelated pictures

A CHAIN IS ONLY AS STRONG AS ITS WEAKEST LINK

This section begins with one overarching message: People are less likely to click on a link if they don’t trust where it takes them.

There is a lot of bad content on social media, so people tend to be a tad skeptical. This means we have to work even harder to gain users’ trust, most of the time before they ever click on that link we’re sharing.

When it comes to links, looks aren’t everything but they certainly make a difference. The main platforms we use to share links — Twitter, Facebook & LinkedIn — use social cards, which allow the content creator to choose the image, title and description that displays on social media platforms when someone shares the content.

Without social cards on your website, we have to manually upload (and alt text to) an image every time we (and anyone else for that matter) share your link. The alternative is to live with whatever image the platform pulls in from your website, which is more-times-than-not most unflattering. Facebook and LinkedIn allow for some customization when posting natively. Twitter does not.

If your website does not have social cards (especially Twitter Cards), please talk to your web developer to have them added. If you do have social cards, please be cognizant of what images are being pulled in. Decapitated headshots and too small images don’t do anyone any favors and diminish the chance a reader might actually click your link (unless you’re indeed trying to scare them away).

  • DO: Have your web developer add social cards to your website
  • DO: Pay attention to what images the cards pull in on different platforms
  • DO: If your website uses vertical images, plan to have horizontal options for social
  • DON’T: Share sketchy links to sources that might not be trustworthy
  • DON’T: Bury your link in a bunch of tags and/or hashtags like it’s a word search puzzle

THE END IS NEAR

Since we’ve given you examples of what not to do, here’s a Tweet that gets all four things right to end today’s conversation:

Well that’s all the advice I have for this blog post outing. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading and be sure to check out our previous entries as well as be on the lookout for upcoming posts on all manner of topics related to the wide world of social media. Until then 👋

Social Media Accessibility at Duke

You may have heard communicators starting to talk about accessibility at Duke, and while a lot of it has to do with websites and videos, some has to do with social media as well.

Video Captioning

Let’s start with videos since we use video so often on social media. While not all videos require captioning at Duke, in order for us to share videos on our main Duke channels, including social media, videos do need to be captioned.

Screen capture of video with captions featuring President Price

The easiest way to caption your videos is in YouTube. YouTube allows you to upload a text file or transcribe your file in real-time, and then it auto-times the captions for you and makes an .srt file. You can use that same .srt file on pretty much every platform that allows captioning, including Facebook and Twitter (although on Twitter, you need to use Media Studio).

If your video is longer than a few minutes, you can use an OIT-vetted captioning service to outsource the captioning. For livestreaming, we’ve also typically outsourced captioning.

Image Tagging

The other main part of making social media accessible is adding alt tags to your images. Alt tags give alternate text to describe an image. If your websites are accessible, you’re using alt tags there already. Now, many social media platforms also give us the opportunity to insert alt tags for images.

On Facebook, every time you upload an image, there’s an option to edit your photo and add alt text:

Screencapture of Facebook post showing edit option on uploaded photo
Click the paintbrush to edit the photo.
Screencapture of alt text option on Facebook images
Then click the “Alt text” button to add your own alternate text to the image.

You can even go back and edit photos you’ve already posted to include alt text.

On Instagram, the idea is the same. You can edit the photo to add alt text.

Screencapture of 'Add Alt Text' option on Instagram
Click on the “Add Alt Text” option.
Screencapture of Alt Text screen on Instagram

As with Facebook, you can go back and edit images you’ve already posted to add alt text.

Twitter allows you to add alt text as well, as you are posting. You do need to turn on the option first, though.

Screencapture of 'Add description' option on Twitter
Click the “Add description” option at the bottom of an uploaded picture.
Screencapture of space to add description on Twitter images

Unfortunately, as with all Twitter posts, you cannot go back and edit them later, including going back to edit or add alt text.

Scheduling

If you’re doing a lot of social media, you’re probably scheduling your content. You can schedule natively in Facebook, including adding the alt text, but what about the other platforms?

We haven’t found a great scheduler for Instagram that includes all of Instagram’s features, like alt text and location tagging. Luckily, if you have a scheduler you like, you can continue to use it and just add the alt text after you’ve posted.

For Twitter, we’ve been told that Sprout includes accessibility options. In UComms, we’re using Buffer for Twitter scheduling, which does allow us to add alt text. Without a scheduler that allows alt tagging, Twitter is really hard to manage and make accessible. There’s no native scheduler in Twitter and no way to edit old Twitter posts.

Hacks to Make Things Easier

Not everything has to be alt tagged! If, for example, you’re posting a link on Facebook or Twitter, the “card” that comes with that link does not need an extra alt tag.

Screencapture of Twitter card example
This is a Twitter card!

If your website is set up with the proper OpenGraph tagging for Facebook and Twitter, you should be all set and not even have to worry about uploading a separate image for your tweet or post. (Your webmaster can help you with this!) If you want to see a preview of what your link or anyone else’s link will look like on Twitter, you can try the Twitter card validator.

More on Accessibility

There’s a whole website at Duke dedicated to accessibility, so I encourage you to dig into that if you have more questions about what you should be doing, what you’re required to be doing, and how to implement changes in your processes. Also, please feel free to reach out to me (Sonja Likness) about social media accessibility or Joel Crawford-Smith at Duke about your other Duke accessibility-related questions. We’d be happy to help!

And, BONUS: Joel and I recently did a Learn IT @Lunch about accessibility.

Lessons in Social Media and Life

As we all know, social media doesn’t take days off. So when a number of professional opportunities recently left our team understaffed for a month, I decided to cover day-to-day management of our social content and engagement.

Some people laughed when I told them. Others gasped. And they all asked – how I would do this in addition to my own full-time job?

I’ll admit I was concerned. Although I had been part of the social media team since 2016, I had only occasionally actually pushed the buttons to control our accounts, and certainly not for an extended period of time.

But as is common with professional “opportunities,” this was a valuable learning experience for me, and a chance to realize just how many life lessons also apply to running social media, for example:

Mistakes are inevitable. Own them, learn from them and move on.

“It’s a rite of passage,” my colleague said when I texted her in a panic one evening, after a Twitter follower pointed out that I had linked to the wrong story from a tweet. The follower’s #loveduke response to my correction was a welcome affirmation of the community we engage with on our social channels. I made other mistakes after that, but never again failed to double check my links.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

We generally post to our Instagram feed and story once a day during the week, and I was fortunate that colleagues from our digital team – skilled photographers, videographers and designers – were happy to plan and create our content for the month. They recommended photos for the feed and pulled together slides for our daily stories for me to post.

When I realized my Insta caption skills weren’t really going to cut it, and that I risked spending many long hours agonizing over captions, our student social media team jumped in and suggested captions that resonated with our followers. (Pro tip: this caption business is way harder than it looks.)

Quality output requires real investment.

We can – and should – find ways to be efficient in our work, but there are no shortcuts to quality.

Last year we adjusted our strategy for the @DukeU Twitter feed, vastly reducing our retweets of other Duke accounts and increasing the volume of original tweets. While that’s helping us support important institutional goals, it has also added a solid two hours to our daily workload.

Managing all of our channels, monitoring and responding to hundreds of mentions and messages a day, and trying to get my other work done meant that I had to reduce the volume of our tweets in order to get it all done. As a result, our posting volume and engagement measures were significantly down for the month I was trying to do it all.

We have a small but mighty social media team, and although it was a good test to see what we could get done with fewer human resources, it was also a clear demonstration of the resources our team needs to deliver the best results for the university.

We’re back to full staff now, and I’m happy to have real pros managing our channels again. I’m also grateful I had this opportunity and glad I took the leap to do it, even if my Instagram captions still need some help.

Trends in Social Media

What should you be looking out for in social media for 2019? I recently gave a talk about this at Duke, and here’s some of what I think is coming:

Video

  • Live video is still a big trend this year, but it’s even more engaging and interactive!
  • Keep an eye on native LinkedIn video.
  • Create with mobile in mind.
  • Look for more YouTube content from Duke University this year!
Aaron Chatterji is one of Duke’s LinkedIn video stars!

Speaking of LinkedIn…

Is it the year of LinkedIn? They’re rolling out lots of new features lately. We’ve seen huge growth in native video uploads, especially first-person explainer-style formats. LinkedIn also recently relaunched Groups with new features. We’ve found that the articles we post on Duke’s LinkedIn page give us pretty good referral numbers to our website.

Messaging Apps

You all know about Facebook Messenger, and I hope you’re paying attention to your Facebook page’s inbox. But did you know that you can now do ads in Messenger?

WhatsApp also just launched WhatsApp Business, and while we’re not doing anything there yet, I’m definitely keeping an eye on it.

And, yeah, Snapchat is still a player here! While the stories-format content is easier and sometimes more popular on Instagram now, Snapchat is still an important 1-to-1 communication tool for many of our students.

More on Stories

Yep, we’re still talking about the stories format. It’s the big new thing! So what does that mean for you?

Source: Buffer

It means you’re going to have to start thinking about vertical video if you haven’t yet. Gone are the days when I’d constantly yell at people to turn their phone horizontal to make videos. Now vertical video is a totally legit format!

It also means you have a great opportunity to make in-the-moment, less produced content, and for those of us with a small team, this is great news!

Music

A couple of apps based on the idea of music are up-and-coming. Of course there’s Spotify, which lets you create public playlists. (Check out the @DukeStudents Spotify!)

And if you have teenagers around you at all, you probably also know about TikTok (formerly Musical.ly). We don’t have an institutional TikTok account yet, but we might in the future!

My prediction? Apps and social media with huge music libraries are going to keep being kind of a big deal!

Social Media’s Reputation

Social media took a big hit this year. People are questioning everything that’s posted, stupid viral stunts are hitting the news, users are worrying about their privacy (and rightly so!) and some are even leaving social media all together.

As brands, it’s our job to make the spaces we control on social media as safe as possible for our fans and followers. Puppy pictures are always a good place to start, just sayin’.

Social Media Efficiency

If you’re doing social media for higher ed, chances are you’re also doing lots of other things. We’re famously over-burdened with communications duties. Fear not, though. I’m here to help give some guidance on how you can do the social media part of your job faster and better.

Use a social dashboard.

I’m not here to sell you a product, but using a tool like Hootsuite or Buffer (even the free versions!) can really help you streamline your process. Instead of making sure you’re sitting by your computer to hit the tweet button when it’s time, or worse, tweeting randomly when you have a few minutes between phone calls and meetings, a tool like this will help you plan out your day or week of content and will send out your content when you schedule it to go out. You’re not off the hook on monitoring any responses, but at least you don’t have to remember to press Publish each time!

If you’re working with a team, some kind of social dashboard also helps you keep track of what everyone else is doing. You can share a login and all take turns, or if you have a little money, you can buy multiple “seats” on a platform like Hootsuite.

Another advantage to using something like this is that it gives you a monitoring/listening dashboard. I like to use mine to look at several Twitter lists at once, all in columns next to each other.

Get an editorial calendar.

Again, I’m not here to sell you software, and it doesn’t matter what tool you use as long as you’re using it properly and getting the other members of your team to use it properly. An editorial calendar can be as simple as sticky notes on a whiteboard or as complicated as a big project management system.

The goal is to let everyone on your team see what content everyone else is producing and when it will be published. As a social media coordinator, having other people show you what their content is and where it will be published will save you so much time! After all, it’s your job to share all of that tasty content.

At University Communications, we use Trello, but you can use whatever works well for your team.

Trello has a nice calendar view that’s helpful to see, too.

Get quicker about image sizing.

If you’re working on social media, you’re probably spending a fair amount of time resizing images for use on your different platforms for posts, banners, profile images and all kinds of other things. Check out the always up-to-date social media image sizes cheat sheet from Sprout, and keep in mind that if you have a horizontal image already, you’ll be mostly ok.

I’m also a heavy user of Canva.com, which is a whole ton easier to figure out than, say, Photoshop.

You can make pretty, professional-looking graphics like this in just a few minutes on Canva.

Use tools to make your life easier!

Here are some of my favorites:

Photography:

VSCO – Photo editing app
Plotaverse – Animate your photos
Flixel – Animated photos
Snapseed – Photo editing app (iPhone or Android)
Werble – Animated photos
MaskArt – Using a video, make a still photo with a little motion on it (called a cinemagraph).
PICOO Camera – Another cinemagraph creation app.

Video:

Open Broadcaster Software – Free video recording and live streaming software                 
Filmic Pro – Video recording app with more functionality than the native iPhone app
LumaFusion – video editing app (like FinalCut, but on your phone)
CutStory – cut video into 15-second chunks for Instagram Stories (iPhone app)

Analytics:

Google Analytics – free website analytics
CrowdTangle – track social media activity on a website/article
Tweriod – figure out when your Twitter followers are online

If you’re at Duke, we also have a big, huge, crowd-sourced list that we add to all the time. (You have to join the Duke Communicators Facebook group to see the doc.)

Hope that helps create some more space for your other job functions or even just a few minutes to be more creative with your content during the day! Feel free to comment below with your own tips and tricks for social media efficiency.

How to Get Your Social Media Strategy From Zero to Running in One Month or Less

I had the opportunity in November to make a trip to China to consult with my colleagues at Duke Kunshan University. The university itself is in its infancy– only a few years old– and so the communications strategy is ramping up, too. The team at DKU is smart and lively and they work reallyhard, but they needed a little help adjusting course on their social media and coming up with some processes to make everything more efficient.

Just look at these adorable colleagues from Duke Kunshan University!

Here at Duke I stepped into a well-oiled machine set up by my predecessor, so it was a new challenge for me to create a well-oiled machine. The experience gave me a lot of helpful knowledge and tools to use in consulting with people who want to get their social media set up in the future.

In that spirit, I’d like to offer you some of my lessons learned:

1. Start by cleaning up.

You probably already have some social media floating around that someone, at some point, started with good intentions. Begin your process by gathering and evaluating everything you have.

  • Make sure you can log in to everything. If you can’t, you may have to do some sleuthing and support calls.
  • Store your passwords somewhere secure, where multiple people can access them. (Duke recommends LastPass for this.)
  • Facebook is different! For Facebook, you shouldn’t be using shared login credentials. You should make sure that your personal profile is added as an admin on the page, and that any other people who need access are also added. Don’t use a fake account for this! (Facebook will shut it down if it finds it.)
  • Make sure you have business accounts (rather than personal accounts) where appropriate, like on Instagram and YouTube.

This whole process could take a while. I spent most of my first week hunting things down, writing things down, setting up systems to keep track of everything, and making sure the right people had access to everything and were trained on how to get passwords and log in.

Colleagues Janet and Snow White get a lesson from Yangyang on the new camera.

2. Create a strategy!

You can do this in a less formal way, but I eventually created a social media strategy document template to use.

3. Get into the nitty-gritty.

Once you’ve got a strategy in place, you’re going to want to think about your step-by-step process and schedule, and maybe a weekly checklist so that you know what should be happening on all of your channels every week. You’ll want to cover:

  • Posting frequency and type (video, image, link, etc.)
  • Password access and other ways to get account access
  • How-tos for scheduling content (Think about using some kind of scheduler like HootSuite or Buffer to help with this.)

If it helps, write all of it down! This is less important if you’re a one-person operation, but very helpful if you have a team of people working on social media or helping out, or you’d like to have documentation for future hires.

Before I left, the team took me out for hot-pot! It was delicious. (And hot!)

4. Don’t forget your other communications!

It’s really important to remember that social media is just one part of your communications strategy, and a lot of what you use can be stuff that you are re-using or sharing from your colleagues. The easiest way to keep track of what everyone else is doing is to have an editorial calendar that everyone looks at and contributes to.

I’ve set up both our Duke communications team and the communications team at DKU on Trello. I find it pretty simple and intuitive to use.

Hope that helps you out if you’re struggling to get your social media headed in the right direction! Start small and just keep plugging away, and always feel free to contact me if you need some more help.