I know, I sound a little like Ed Koch, the colorful mayor of NYC who famously went around asking everyone “How am I doin’?” I am not trying to suck up. Really.
In social media terms – my question is answered with metrics!
And before the figures and charts, I should add my reasons for taking this class in the first place. Part of my job as a Communications Specialist at the University of Delaware College of Agriculture & Natural Resources is to promote what our college does, the southern Delaware satellite campus where I work – and the role of Cooperative Extension in particular. We need to brag about what we do to new audiences as well as our friends, partners and legislators the positive impacts of our research and outreach. Another goal is to foster excitement about social media within our communities of 4-H families, farmers and growers, rural and urban audiences, and also staff. I would not be out of line – nor am I going out on a limb – to say that aside from students, most of our constituents we serve (on the Extension end) are in the rural community, and most of these would freely admit they are slow adopters of social media.
Another reason I sought out this class was a fellowship I was awarded from eXtension.org to study best social media practices for Delaware Cooperation Extension – and report my findings to the national organization at the end of this year.
For reference, on Twitter, the accounts I manage or co-manage are:
As a result, I learned about the UD Social Media Marketing Strategy Certificate Program and enrolled this fall with a purpose to learn effective strategies in social media communication. I travel two hours each way to attend class. The fact that it was taught by respected experts from my own institution’s communication team was a tangible positive that I could not resist. Our college benefits from being part of a team. We are all in this together!
First class revelation: Aside from promoting my work brands, I realized my personal brand also mattered. Everyone in this class has a different personal goal. To get a better job, make money, become an effective marketer. I hadn’t put much thought into what my personal brand should be or how it should interact with my social media goals for work vs. personal goals.
Earlier in the year, I had instinctively made a step in the right direction. In January 2014 I abandoned an older and infrequently used Twitter account and created anew @MWalfred – my real name and picture. I was only semi-serious with the old Twitter account – and the posts tended to revolve around pop-culture, TV shows, music and politics. Until this year, keeping up with Twitter had been a low priority. I discussed personal branding in an earlier blog post for this class.
The new account was created to talk about my professional life. I don’t want to be a professional drone however. I want my Twitter presence to be authentic. A splash of color! So in addition to my work interests (which overlap into personal interests) I talk about gardening, photography, my academic interests, and occasionally I toss in a haiku or a picture of my adorable grandson Hugo or my mischievous Siamese cat. On Twitter, I deliberately avoid politics or celebrity gossip. I am not marketing a product. I am marketing ideas and conversations – wisdom perhaps. As one of our instructors Holly framed our goal, to develop ourselves or our clients as “thought leaders.” If this leadership leads me to new opportunities (on the side, thank you very much, I love my job) that is great. I would love to consult or teach, but my objective is not to get rich from this.
Far from being a Twitter force to be reckoned with, I am nonetheless pleased with the trajectory of my personal account and results reflect skills learned from this class:
It is slow and steady. And I am fine with that.
A good deal of growth has resulted from participating in conversations with others – known as “Tweetups” or “chats” revolving around a specific topic and hashtag. I have participated regularly in #AgChat @AgChat and #GardenChat @TheGardenChat where I have found the warm exchange of people – professional and passionate enthusiasts alike – who share ideas, knowledge and pictures. I recently participated in #FoodChat @FoodChat and found that fun. Usually one or two hours, the time flies and lasting social media engagements are made.
It is important to follow people who are “thought leaders” in areas you wish to break into or join. With this class, the area was social media so I began searching and following those terms and tags, some use #SM others #social but the most effective for me in making new connections is #socialmedia. Look at who is participating in that conversation. It easy to weed out who are leaders Vs who are sellers, and while there is nothing wrong with the latter, I was looking to learn, not necessarily buy, so cultivating the former is important. I am drawn to the people who have something to say, apart from simply something to sell.
There are generous “gurus” out there who have an obvious vocation to share and teach. I find content, share and comment on what I find interesting. They in turn, check me out too- and sometimes it clicks – like Roxann Souci @roxannsouci a Social Media Specialist from FetchResponse with 12.7K followers, who took an interest in this blog, and me, and has inexplicably shared and promoted my efforts on her Twitter and Facebook page. My stats took a noticeable jump, especially for this new blog. I suspect she’s been where I am. There are really nice people out there in the Twitterverse! It can be a real community if you work at it. As my colleague Christy Mannering has said often in training webinars for social media newbies – it’s the SOCIAL part of social media that resonates. So Thank you Roxann for the virtual handshake and hello!
For Extension and my personal account, I follow other Extension offices throughout the country and other land-grant colleges of agriculture. I follow @USDA and the Delaware Department of Agriculture @AgricultureDE. I look at who they follow and who follows them and engage with those who offer content I can share or who stand out as “thought leaders.” Following them doesn’t mean they will follow you back. That is a lesson I can confidently impart. You must listen to what they are saying and when the conversation resonates with you on a personal or professional level, join it!
For work, I keep a spreadsheet of the Twitter handles for all local influencers including media, my university, popular bloggers and active social media movers and shakers, elected officials and partner organizations.
I follow all local elected officials, regardless of party affiliation. I follow trade publications and partners and all local press and reporters. I follow my local hashtag catchall for Delaware #NetDE and frequently use #FarmDE. As a result, most of my followers are also local:
Along this journey, my colleagues at UD CANR have enjoyed sharing what we know and continue to learn about social media. We’ve given webinars at Extension conferences, 4-H training sessions and conferences and have presented at workshops and conducted webinars for groups such as MidAtlantic Women in Ag who in turn are sharing what they learn from us to their constituents. Yes it adds to our bona fides, but more importantly we are building lasting relationships and personal respect.
I’ll never have all the answers. Social media is a challenge because it changes so much, so rapidly. I am in varying degrees part teacher, part student, trying to catch up and endeavoring to stay current. But I think I am stumbling on some answers to social media success. Be humble. Be generous. Remain forever curious. The rest will fall into place.