Appendix B
Episode 028 -

How Campuses Can Win on Organic Social Media

Appendix B Episode 28, text is present that reads, "How Campuses Can Win on Organic Social Media: featuring Jenny Li Fowler"

Our first guest! MIT’s Director of Social Media Strategy, Jenny Li Fowler, joins the show to chat with Joel about the different ways campuses should be thinking about organic social media. Everything from what platforms to be on and why, to challenging the assumption that there’s a one-size-fits-all solution. Jenny also tells us about her upcoming book, Organic Social Media: How to Build Flourishing Online Communities.
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Joel Goodman:

Hi Jenny, you’re our first guest on Appendix B. Really excited to talk with you about social media because we haven’t done a lot of that and I am specifically because we’re going to kind of talk a little bit about the strategic side of how institutions and organizations should go about approaching which platforms to get on top of and it’s like super relevant to what’s going on now with you know turmoil across all of the platforms around here so when you’re you know when you’re approaching I mean I suppose at MIT it’s probably working across different offices and things that want to like jump on social media in some way.

But, also I’m sure you’ve got other instances where you’re making these recommendations and kind of acting in a, you know, in a consulting role. How do you go about helping people or deciding for yourself, when or why a platform is the one you should get on?

Jenny Li Fowler:

Right. Well, first of all, thank you for having me. It’s very exciting to be talking with you again, Joel. So there just are a lot of factors. It’s just not sort of a one size fits all deal. And you’re right, we have 200 department labs and centers at MIT. And of course, most of them have their own social media presences. But it just depends. You know, some departments have large teams and lots of resources. There are a lot of centers and programs that actually have one communications person that does like everything, including planning events and assisting faculty.

So I think there are a lot of factors involved, but you know, the big questions that I think you need to answer are, does it really help? You know, with your communications goals and the goals for your department or whatever it is, and is your audience there? Do you have an audience currently present on the platform? And really, do you have the resources, right? Do you have the right content? Do you have enough content? Do you have enough people? That are available to post the content. So I think, every entity really has to take an honest look at those three questions and see if there’s value add, you know?


So we saw a post on, I believe it was on the platform formerly known as Twitter, where, you talk about how you never recommend going to a platform or starting on a platform simply for that recruitment, or prospective student marketing sort of side of what’s going on. And I think we had a conversation about this with our producer, Carl, about Threads because, you know, with Meta launching Threads and this like very quick kind of, you know, they made the onboarding really easy, which was smart.

I guess my question is, could you expand a little bit on the types of things that you, I guess like the criteria for how to market on different platforms that you’re looking for, or why you would recommend a platform?


So in my, where I sit and you know, the platforms that I manage, I actually am fortunate enough that I don’t, like admissions and recruitment is not my priority and they’re not my primary office. We are very fortunate here at MIT to have like just a really like badass admissions department that is just killing it. And so they, that’s their primary department.

But I do get a lot of questions. You know, people are always asking me, how do we reach our current students? So almost like an internal comms channel. And that’s a little bit, that’s what I was meaning by the tweet was, everyone always assumes that, oh, the best way to reach our current students or current student population is through a social media channel. Or they’ll just say, oh, it’s through social media, of course. And like, okay, great. What does “through social media” mean exactly? Do you mean a platform? Do you mean all the platforms? Do you mean… xyz?

So first of all, I’ve never recommended social media because if you think about it, not all of your students are 100% on one platform, specifically. They all have their own preferences. And say that a majority of your students do happen to be on a platform, then the algorithm is not gonna serve you well because it’s not gonna show your content to all of that population segment.

That’s the question that I get a lot. How do we get more students? Why don’t students know about our events? Why don’t students, how come they’re not? And this might sound a little harsh, but no. There is no one size fits all social media platform that they’re all going to be on and they’re going to see. And two, students actually do read email. I know it’s sort of this myth or maybe misconception that students don’t read email, but if it’s valuable to them, and if it’s important to them, they will know about it, and they will know about it through email.

If it’s particularly pertinent, they’ll tell each other, like to make sure all their friends know about it. So, you know, I always say, don’t worry about the platform, like even if it’s email, worry about your content. Make sure… Like make your content good so that the students seek it, it provides value for them, you know? And so, you know, work on that. I think a lot of times we’re focused on the wrong thing, right, we’re focused on the channel and not the content itself. And that’s really what’s important.


Yeah, we’ve been having kind of analogous conversations internally at Bravery Media about… media relations, which I think is very similar. There’s usually this idea that people are just gonna come and find the thing because you put it on the thing. Like, oh, I put it on the website or I put it on our Facebook or I put it on our wherever and the people are just gonna come and find it, whatever your target demographic is. And that’s not really it.

One, like if the content’s bad, if you’re not writing good stuff or creating content that’s interesting to people, you’re not gonna engage them. But you can’t also assume that they’re just gonna be seeking that out anyway because there are a lot of things, I mean, current students, right? There’s a lot of stuff going on day to day. They have to think about classes and intramural sports and when they’re gonna eat.


And they’re just being inundated with information, right? From everyone, right? Yeah.


And that’s the stuff that’s not as important. And so I think there’s definitely that content strategy side that you were referring to, making sure that content’s good. And then there’s the communication channels. And then there’s also probably this whole student experience side of it, where are you creating an environment on your campus where they’re wanting to be involved in these sorts of things or learn about these sorts of things. But it’s kind of similar to our approach with web design and content strategy. It’s like you can’t just assume that people want all of this content. You have to like… really like zhuzh it into a way where it makes sense for them and makes them enjoy it.


Also on a campus experience, I always say like, think of all the places where the students are a captive audience, right? And it’s not necessarily on a digital platform. It’s like in an elevator. It’s where they’re standing in line for food. It’s like when they’re in the bathroom, you know?

Like there’s some old school methods that people just don’t think about anymore that are actually the most effective. And so when I do a focus group and talk to a group of students, they’re always saying like when I’m standing by the elevator, I always read all of the flyers by the elevator. Or if I’m eating in a dining hall at those table with those trifolds, they’re like reading them because they’re there and they’re a captive audience. So sometimes the analog methods, I’m telling you, aren’t the most effective.


To your point about the algorithms that you made earlier, those analog methods where they’re at are kind of the only broadcast medium you really have full control over. Like you know you’re gonna put it in front of their eyes and they’re gonna see it, whereas with an algorithm you have to trust that the students are following the things that the algorithm’s going to relate your content with and put in front of them. You just can’t assume that that’s the case.


Right. No. And that’s where the engagements are key. And that’s why I always go, particularly when it comes to organic social media, you have to make content decisions that are based on evidence and the evidence being engagements. It doesn’t matter what I like. It matters what they like. If you really study your content to see what your audience is engaging with, just do more of that. You know, I don’t know. It’s sort of that simple and it’s that difficult.


Yes. Oh, 100%, I couldn’t agree with that sentiment more. Jenny, exciting news. You have a book coming out later this year, I believe.


Yes, in December.


So if you could give the listeners a little bit of a teaser, we wanna ask you. If there’s one thing that you want someone to take away from your book, and I’m sure there are like a thousand things that you want them to take away from your book, but if there is one thing that you feel is maybe just urgent to Higher Ed or maybe just the thing that you, the one message you really wanna get across so that, what would that be?


Probably that, you know, organic social media is not dead. It’s just difficult. But with a solid framework and having solid goals, it’s doable. And I, for one, believe that anyone can build their social media followings and their communities that way.




That would be the one thing if there was one thing to choose from. But it also gives a lot of tips to social media managers about longevity in this career. I share a lot of what I’ve learned along the way too, so I hope people benefit from it.

Carl Gratiot:

Thank you so much for listening to Appendix B, and a special thank you to Jenny for being our first guest. If you want to hear more from Jenny, definitely give her a follow on LinkedIn or on the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Also please consider pre-ordering Jenny’s upcoming book, Organic Social Media: How to Build Flourishing Online Communities, which comes out in early December.

We’ve actually included the direct link to the publisher’s website where you can pre-order the book and get more information in this episode’s show notes. And as a bonus, Jenny shared that listeners can get 20% off their purchase by using the code KPFRIENDS. That’s K as in kitchen, P as in pasta, FRIENDS. All one word. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you next week!