Engaging with an expert audience on Twitter

Running point on the Twitter account for a highly-respected institution can be intimidating, but if you hold yourself to a high standard, the audience rewards you for it.

I’ve been working as a social media manager (among other things) in higher education for six years now, which presents unique challenges in balancing different audiences online. But more than any other, engaging with the academic community—faculty, graduate students and scholars—provides the highest stakes for what I do. It’s the group that has the most to say the daily work, concerns, and interests of experts in a given field, and that’s essential for understanding what your organization should be looking for in terms of stories and topics that interest them. But they’re also the most likely to regard engaging with your account cynically, preferring to avoid engaging with a disembodied institution in favor of actual colleagues.

Keeping these constraints in mind, I’ve found the following edicts valuable in my time running the Twitter account for the Becker Friedman Institute.

Read and respond to what your audience is reading.

Google Alerts and RSS feeds are useful but noisy tools for monitoring what matters in a given subject area—when you’re approaching an audience of highly engaged experts in a field, the audience itself will be your best source of what matters at a given moment. Curate lists of faculty and outside experts that share stories that dovetail with your core focus as an institution, and act only as connective tissue between experts talking about a subject across the web. No need to co-opt the conversation, just connect one valuable voice to another.

Bonus points when your own content—interviews, videos, podcasts—is the medium through which those different experts can connect.

Social media is about FOMO.

Your access to unique people, conferences and places makes your institution’s presence online the salve to make it sting less. Sometimes the best value you can provide is to help people who are interested in what you do know that they don’t have to miss out if they can’t be in the room.

It’s just good customer service. And if you have good solutions to the problems your audience brings to you online, you know you’re properly preparing behind the scenes.

(PS, I don’t speak Spanish, but Google does. I assumed a bit about the ability of my audience here, switching languages on them, but it allowed me to more authentically respond while respecting their intelligence.)

Respect the content, and respect that the audience wants to find it.

Your audience follows you because they find it valuable, and sometimes that value is simply that you make awesome stuff that they find interesting. Obviously it pays to make good content, but be sure to have the proper follow through with your power user faculty Twitter users to make sure they can see and advocate for things they find compelling.