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Best Practices Are Overrated
Featuring an interview with Maya Wesby, Social Media Manager for the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE).
This interview with Maya Wesby, Social Media Manager for the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), should be required reading for anyone working in higher education social. Or really anyone working in social.
In it she talks about why the algorithm isn't king (conversations are), using UGC to increase engagement, how she balances community-building content with institutional content, and lots more. There are so many good insights, like:
“As long as your content resonates with your most engaged audience, tapping into an existing conversation or inspiring a new one, you can create your own best practices.”
“I'm a huge fan of user-generated content (UGC)! Students are already posting about their journey with us—it's like having hundreds, sometimes thousands, of content creators at your disposal.”
“Look beyond peer institutions for inspiration. Some of my favorite social plays were inspired by influencer channels and unrelated brands.”
Let’s get into it!
First, we've got a brief ad from our friends at Sprout Social, the social media management and analytics tool helping more than 30,000 brands deliver smarter, faster impact from social.
I get questions all the time around organizational structure and where a social media team fits in. In this article from Sprout Social, they break down a social media center of excellence model. A social media center of excellence (CoE) is a council of people from different parts of your organization who provide input on your social strategy and drive collaboration between business units. It can include representatives from teams such as social, PR, brand, HR, and more. By establishing a dedicated social media center of excellence, you can connect your social strategies to broad company goals and harness the complete potential of social.
Rachel Karten: Can you tell me about your current role and any other social (or not!) jobs you've had?
Maya Wesby: Hi! I’m the Social Media Manager for the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), so on a day-to-day I’m strategizing, creating, and analyzing content across all of our channels, plus advising the social leads of our research centers.
Before this role I worked for the PR firm Edelman where I helped manage social content, analysis, and strategy for Samsung, HomeGoods, Dove, and other brands. It was a great intro into what it means to be social-first and embracing new opportunities for your brand.
RK: What's your social media philosophy? How would you distill down the way in which you approach this industry?
MW: People starting in social media should know that the algorithm isn't king, conversations are. As long as your content resonates with your most engaged audience, tapping into an existing conversation or inspiring a new one, you can create your own best practices.
RK: I think a lot of social managers scoff at best practices at this point. There's no "ideal" way to do social. There's no perfect time to post. Talk to me about creating your own best practices!
MW: I’m thankful to have a team that embraces trial and error, especially as so many rules on social have changed or expired since I started this role. So if a certain post doesn't live up to expectations, we have the creative freedom to adjust for next time or create a new benchmark for it.
For example, last year's spring semester recap didn't perform as well as an event recap around the same time. In the latter, we hear directly from recent alumni about their time on campus and the impact they hope to create. Hearing directly from students then informed future recaps and videos.
RK: What are some of the ways you make higher education social engaging?
MW: I'm a huge fan of user-generated content (UGC)! Students are already posting about their journey with us—it's like having hundreds, sometimes thousands, of content creators at your disposal. They're going to view campus from a different lens, and any SMM should value that.
RK: How do you balance community-building content with institutional content (i.e. promoting new research)?
MW: I'm keeping two goals in mind: how can we showcase the student experience (authentic, creative, engaging) with our institutional presence (statistics, research, field-building). But the more I reflect on it, the more I realize that these content types aren't in conflict with each other. Students want to come here because of the research we create, and the research we create is part of the student experience on campus and beyond.
RK: What's a post or campaign you worked on that you are particularly proud of?
MW: I’m so proud of this community and it’s hard to choose just one! This past academic year we welcomed the first cohort of online master’s students, and I was planning to just feature ~2 students in a back-to-school post. Over a dozen students responded, so I pivoted to post throughout that fall semester to make sure everyone’s voice was heard. It was a low lift, but it had such a great impact both to spotlight our new program and to help the new students form online bonds, cementing their place as part of HGSE community.
Also, this campus squirrel! I was taking fall foliage pics and found this guy posing at just the right time.
RK: What are three pieces of advice you'd give someone for working in social in higher education?
MW: Look, listen, and leave:
Look beyond peer institutions for inspiration. Some of my favorite social plays were inspired by influencer channels and unrelated brands. Be creative as long as it’s brand appropriate.
Listen to your students and balance the content you want with what they want to see. Sometimes what they want might go against your channel’s best practice, but if it resonates well with your audience you should adjust that practice.
Leave your desk and walk around campus! Experience the environment from the eyes of your students and faculty: where do people like to spend their time? If there’s a café, what does the food taste like? Is there a popular (or unpopular) building? Changing your perspective can help create a deeper connection with your community.
RK: Any final thoughts?
MW: Working in social means you can wear many hats. You’re a creative, you’re an analyst, you’re in crisis comms, you’re in marketing, you’re in PR, the list goes on.
But SMMs are also translators, sometimes taking lofty ideas and distilling it into snackable content. Use that skill to also explain why social matters to those outside of the social media bubble. Why you're on certain channels, why you chose X post instead of Y—those are strategic choices. It's the best way to make sure your team is aligned and they can invest in your social strategies, plus it builds trust in you as a professional. Everyone wins!
In this week’s Logged On post for paid subscribers I talked to Meta’s Director of Social about Threads, broke down my favorite recent brand posts (like this one from SUNNEI), and included links I am reading (like this emoji lawsuit). Paid subscribers also get access to the 400+ person Link in Bio Discord community. There’s lots of fun stuff happening in there like a book club, “I Don't Think So, Honey!” but for social, and so much more.