Twitter from the trenches… Washington State University Spokane

Not long ago I reviewed how 9 professional and graduate schools are using Twitter. Barb Chamberlain at Washington State University Spokane then outlined in detail her experiences in setting up and operating a Twitter account in the midst of other ongoing communications responsibilities.

Barb’s contribution is valuable for anyone trying to balance exploration of the new with maintenance of the old. In this post I’ve edited her comments, made them more visible as an individual post, and added links to the Twitter tools she uses to help measure impact and manage workflow.

Very many thanks to Barb for taking time to help others with these details. Follow her on Twitter.

From the Trenches at Washington State University

“Bob, I manage the @WSUSpokane account. We’re an upper-division/graduate/professional campus of the multi-campus Washington State University system, headquarters for our health sciences research and teaching, and home to our Interdisciplinary Design Institute and selected professional programs such as educational leadership.”

  • Started tweeting in early November 2008, have 452 followers, are following 407, and have provided 668 updates (updated for this posting). Our Twitter “Bio”: Health sci, educ, & design programs @ a beautiful new downtown campus on river.
  • Our tweets are a mix of links to news releases, event announcements, campus happenings (such as our record snowfalls in December/January), retweets of resources relevant to our followers in health sciences, health care, and design disciplines, recognition of students and alumni who have done something great, live tweeting from selected campus events, and occasional links to the blog maintained by one of the campus librarians and others as they get established.
  • My goal is to be “professional with a personality” in managing the account. I use search results to identify people tweeting about us so I can respond and follow.

Evaluating the Twitter Investment 

  • WSU systemwide is taking to Twitter in a big way. See our full account list.
  • For a longer list of higher education Twitter accounts, look at this wiki. I use this as one of our measurement resources, although it’s not comprehensive. Twitter outcome measures certainly are nowhere a science. I use the wiki list to measure us against comparable schools for # of followers (which isn’t at all a measure of engagement).
  • I also look at retweets, twittergrader rankings, and twinfluence, just to have some sense of whether we’re improving in our reach and value. I also track clickthroughs for all links I tweet, so I know how many eyeballs I’ve drawn and which content is the most popular.

Investment in Time and Energy

  • It isn’t a full-time effort. At this point, I couldn’t justify doing that for social media given everything else we need to produce in a small shop, although we’re shifting priorities.
  • It took more time in the beginning to get going, which is true of any social space. For Twitter, that’s time to find accounts to follow, and effort to build good value in our tweets so they would see why they might want to follow back. A more sophisticated result-tracking package might make it easier. It is a bit time-consuming to do my low-end copy/paste/spreadsheet analysis, and I only do that about once a month now. I did it more often in the beginning to get a sense of trend lines.

Workflow… and a Helpful Twitter Tool 

  • I use tweetlater to make it easier to have something going out every day whether I have much time to check or not. I tee up tweets on future events and basic items (like a periodic reminder to faculty/staff/students to update their emergency contact info). That way, on a daily basis I pop in, check the last couple of pages of tweets of people I’m following, maybe RT a couple of items, check our @s & DMs (still very light on the latter), and set up tweets on the day’s news items.

Ongoing Challenge: Building Engagement 

  • The other piece I continue to work on is building a following among local people (as community relations work), students (on-campus communications), media (both traditional/mainstream and online), and alumni (although Facebook is the bigger priority there). It’s not enough to have the account–to make it worth using as a communications tool, someone has to be listening.

That’s all for now.

One Comment

  1. Hello!
    I’m with Westminster College Admissions, and about a month ago we started efforts towards creating and managing a twitter account for the college. It’s been a great pleasure to do it. On the past 5 weeks we got about 170 followers: a few are current students and we have at least one prospect student on the list who we exchange tweets with.
    Our strategy when we started the account was to search for people that live in the area of Salt Lake City and Utah (where the college is located), and people with interests in winter and outdoor sports – which are popular things to do in this state. We also did searches with to see who was talking about Westminster College and then we also added those users. And at least for the beginning we made sure to follow back most of the people that chose to follow us.
    So far our tweets are mostly about events happening on campus, news about the college and snow reports. Since our account is still pretty new, we are still doing a lot of research on how to market our twitter, and also we are still trying to find out the best language and the best way to communicate and to open a conversation with the students and followers.
    Our twitter is
    Anita Boeira

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