by Jennifer Fandel
I have two words of advice on using social media in the Writing Center—embrace it!
And, to be absolutely honest and establish my hard-won credibility on the subject, let me say that I’m, personally, no social media devotee. But I have seen what social media can do, and I am convinced that embracing this important communication medium can only help an organization down the road.
Still not convinced? Let me admit that social media can take A LOT of time, and given staffing concerns and time constraints, that can seem daunting to many Writing Centers. But it is possible to bite off what you can chew, metaphorically speaking, and step things up incrementally. To prove this, I’ll give a real-life example from early in my UW-Madison Writing Center days (meaning Fall 2017).
Maggie Bertucci Hamper, the online coordinator for the 2017-2018 academic year, and I were in agreement that the Writing Center should have more presence on Twitter and Facebook, the social media channels where we had accounts. Since Twitter was primarily used for alerting student writers when there were openings at Writing Center satellite locations on campus, and Facebook hadn’t been used much at all, we figured that simply increasing our social media postings—and adding followers—would be a good start. (Mike Shapiro, a past UW-Madison graduate student and online coordinator of the UW-Madison Writing Center, wrote a blog in 2013 called “The Social Center: Why Writing Centers Need Twitter.” Readers may find it interesting to read or re-read his blog post to reflect on similar priorities, as well as changes, between now and then.)
Maggie typically posted information about our online locations (email and skype instruction), and she also created posts that provided insight to the joys of the Writing Center. One of my favorites was a photo that she took in the Writing Center after the receptionists had sharpened boxes of pencils for our satellite locations. She coupled it with something like this: “There’s nothing better than freshly sharpened pencils.” I loved how easily one could convey a mood, an aesthetic even, with a few words and an image. Maggie also added events (such as workshops and special events, like Midnight Madness) to our Facebook page. Followers could be notified, then, of upcoming events and could even indicate their plans to attend.
For me, my goal came down to amplifying my messaging about workshops. I figured that if I was spending a good amount of time on organizing and editing the descriptions of the workshops (which make it into our print Writing Center Guide, as well as on our website and in email blasts), I should get those messages to as many people as possible, and social media might reach audiences that we weren’t yet reaching. And any reaction to our postings were the other side of the conversation that we had started: we would have proof that people were listening.
A Picture Can Say More Than 280 Characters
I worked in various aspects of the publishing industry, but my favorite position, in addition to writing, was in marketing. One of my favorite tasks was reviewing the proposed book covers. The authors would give us a sense of what they thought should be conveyed (specific moods, especially) and it was up to our artists to translate those ideas into image. Though I can’t quote any sources, I know that image is one of the primary drivers of engagement with social media posts (pictures just grab us faster than words do), and I wondered if I might be able to make images that would represent some of our workshops, similar to how a book cover might encourage you to pick up a book. Thankfully, in the interest of time, I discovered a new Adobe product called Spark that provides templates for the creation of images, specifically for social media. For the most part, I’ve focused on our undergrad workshops since we are always looking to build our undergrad participation (graduate student participation is typically very healthy). New workshops for undergrads and grad students alike have also been a focus.
While an image to help people conceptualize a workshop—or get a sense of how fun or helpful it will be—have helped publicize our undergrad workshops, photos of real-life people still seem to garner the most views. Some of our largest engagements via Twitter and Facebook have happened when our audiences have a chance to get to know our instructors (in the case of the posting about skype featuring Anwesha below) or distinguished guests at the Writing Center (our Writing Is Power event poster is a good example). When it comes down to it, for those unfamiliar with the work of Writing Centers, it’s helpful to see a smiling face and know that that’s the person you might meet.
A Medium for Every Audience
It takes a while to build an audience, and the tricky thing about the number of platforms out there is that there’s no universal way of reaching everyone you want to reach. From what I’ve observed, Twitter seems to be a good platform for sharing information (particularly about upcoming workshops) with campus partners. Indeed, based on the interests of some of our campus partners, they know when particular workshops are coming up and sometimes even tweet info to their followers. Because of the convenience of including people in the message (@uwwritingcenter), we’re always aware of mentions, which help me determine what groups might be worth reaching out to—what relationships could be strengthened with a meeting, email, or phone call.
Facebook seems to be a good all-round medium, as indicated by how many people’s moms (hi Mom!)—and even grandmas—are on the site. Seriously, though, it’s a place where a lot of people go when searching for information, and it seems worthwhile to continue to post information there. Additionally, posting info to the Events section can help followers see what’s coming up.
In speaking with the communication manager at the Center for First-Year Experience, I was told that Instagram is where they are focusing their efforts in terms of directly reaching and interacting with students. I set up an account and then realized that a phone is really necessary (I’m often posting from my work computer). In a fortuitous discussion, I found out that our Writing Center TA Amy Gaeta loves Instagram. I am indebted to Amy for getting us started; her fun and casual voice works well with Instagram, and she has brought our audience to 221 followers in just two months.
What’s on the Horizon?
Social media lends itself well to conversation and interaction, as well as education of current and future audiences. Communicating online, where people can take action by clicking a link or forwarding a message, is crucial for the opportunity it gives an organization to see that people are listening.
In terms of future plans for social media, there’s an endless horizon. UW-Madison’s Writing Center runs a lot of different programs and events (the Writing Fellows program, the Writing Across the Curriculum program, our Outreach Program, Madison Writing Assistance, and our social justice series), and provides a multitude of services (from in-person instruction to workshops to the online Writer’s Handbook to our blog), and I think that it would be worthwhile to expand our conversations to encompass all that the UW-Madison Writing Center does on a daily basis to support the university community, the Madison community, the writing center community, and, perhaps, the global writing community as a whole.