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4.1 Strategy 

Most of the institutional documents publicly available are labelled policies or guidelines. This begs the question, “does an institution need a social media strategy?” The Institute of Education (IOE), which is now part of UCL, notes that social media is just one element of many communication channels and should therefore form part of the corporate communication strategy. However it goes on to say that the newness, distinctiveness and potential of social media may demand a strategy not least to help with accelerating uptake and effecting the required culture change. It also states: “Additionally, social media strategies are a useful way of generating policies and guidelines to shield universities from the reputation risks associated with social media free-for-alls.” Given that the Institute was one of the few institutions to actually term its approach a strategy (and to have a clear action plan for implementing it), the fact that there were both positive and negative drivers behind the approach is interesting. "There is a slower movement towards institutions exploiting and leading strategically with their use of Web 2.0 for institutional purposes. … and much of the drive is coming from bottom up. … The potential transformation of the practices themselves is yet barely understood or encountered.” (Armstrong and Franklin 2008)

It is difficult to escape the view that the need to manage risk, as opposed to an emphasis on benefits and opportunities, has been the key driver for institutions until recently. Armstrong and Franklin came to this conclusion in 2008:

    “The use of Web 2.0 for both social and professional purposes has created uncertainties for HEIs. This is reflected in institutions’ current sharing of regulatory behaviour codes for use of Web 2.0 for staff and students. These appear to be coming into place before institutional policies or strategies for effective development and use of Web 2.0 for learning, teaching and other areas.

In Section 6, How are we doing so far?, we see some evidence that the sense of not wanting to be left behind but at the same time being cautious about managing risk, has led to a situation where universities are still not entirely clear about what they should be aiming to achieve through the use of social media. It is perhaps telling that there seem to be many more HE level courses on developing a social media strategy than there are university social media strategies!

Also notable is the paucity of obvious links between social media strategy and policy and overarching information strategies. There are some exceptions: the University of Stirling’s Information Strategy 2009-13 made reference to exploiting web 2.0 as well as other related issues such as the implications of changing formats of information; consumer-led developments and changing information ownership. The strategy for 2013-16 states:

    “We will enable our students and staff to use richer means of communication, particularly new social media, collaborative working tools and electronic conferencing”, and

    “Academic discourse is increasingly being enabled and delivered by information systems and technology. We will strive to help students and staff improve their digital and media literacy and information management capabilities.”

The current University of Greenwich Information Strategy (dated 2009) similarly recognises the importance of social networking and puts emphasis on digital literacies:

    “The growth of the use of the internet for information content and communications is changing the pattern of teaching, of academic publishing, of ideas of copyright, and indeed what constitutes valid knowledge. Students are increasingly making use of social networking tools outside the University to communicate with one another, work together in self defined groups that do not necessarily fit the groupings that the University uses to define its communities ...

    ... We need to develop methods of raising awareness of new methods of using electronic resources and helping staff to evaluate their use for their own purposes.”

The message here for strategic decision makers is the need to recognise that transformative changes are taking place in the core activities of universities and to understand how new, and possibly unfamiliar, tools can play a role in helping each university fulfil its particular mission. There is a possible role for educational developers in supporting such change.

Good practice tips:

  • Fit with mission – discuss the role that social media could play in underpinning your institutional values and supporting your particular mission.

  • Understanding the strategic context – where does social media sit in your institutional strategic context: you may not need a separate strategy but is the use of social media aligned with your other strategies? Have information and communications strategies been updated to take account of these new forms of communication or do you need a separate (possibly short-term) strategy and action plan to make the most of the opportunities?

  • Benefits realisation – review the sections of this Toolkit on delivering benefits and guidance for corporate users to see whether you are making the most of the available opportunities.

  • Compliance – review your approach against the Jisc checklist reproduced below.

 social media checklist

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