College and university presidents tweeting

...Or not?

Not surprisingly, one of my professional interests is the use of Twitter and other social networks/media in higher education. And not just for educational/classroom purposes but also for outreach.

In other words, people who work at a college or university using Twitter in an official capacity to reach out to other people outside their organization. Of course, this applies to using Twitter to recruit students, to reach out to parents, to connect to similar external departments or organizations.

It also applies to outreach within an organization. For example, we use twitter at my library to connect with students, faculty and other campus units. We answer questions, monitor traffic and respond to issues, retweet interesting stuff, make announcements. It's not so much for looking outside York's walls as building relationships within.

Now university presidents are an interesting case. Presumably they want to do both: enhance their institution's reputation with the external world, attracting attention, funding and students. They also want to forge bonds and build relationships with internal stakeholders and units -- faculty, staff, students, parents of students, etc.

So I decided I would start building a Twitter list of senior academic administrators on Twitter, mostly presidents but also deans and provosts. I just wanted to get a sense of what they're talking about, how they're engaging, how personal and authentic their persona's seem.

And I'll admit to being a bit surprised at what I found.

Sure, I found a couple of lists of twitter handles for presidents, mostly fairly recent. I also found a few just with simple Google searches. There are quite a few that are active tweeters, with various levels of personality in their tweets. Some are quite formal, some almost folksy. I'm really pleased so many are finding Twitter to be a useful tool in reaching out.

But a surprising number of them (maybe 10-15%) seem to have deleted their accounts within the last few months since the lists were made or since Google found them.

Why?

Good question.

I guess many got on the Twitter bandwagon when it was the hot thing to do, gave it a try and then either lost interest, found it too time-consuming or perhaps even found the rough-and-tumble nature of the open web a bit disconcerting.

Is Twitter well-suited to the kinds of messages that modern university presidents want to communicate to the outside world? Were they trying to fit a square promotional/institutional message into a Twitter round hole?

Here's some of the lists I've found. You can check it out yourself.

Also, if you know of any senior administrators that are worth following, please let me know. I'd love to see what's they're talking about.

Anyways, check out my list and let me know what you think.

5 responses so far

  • Janne says:

    I quit because it was a distraction. The real-time nature makes it very much like having people call you at all times of the day, dropping bits of information, then hanging up without even asking if you're interested.

    If I can't cache communication to when I have time to deal with it, it doesn't work for me. I wrote a blog post about this just last week; blogs work, email works and RSS feeds work for me, precisely for this reason. The communication can sit for a few minutes, or hours, or even days, and I know I can get to it when it doesn't interrupt something else.

    So I am not at all surprised that busy people like that give up on twitter. I am surprised any of them persevere. Or maybe they don't - how many of those twitter accounts are really handled by a secretary or assistant, as part of their general communications duties?

  • Please check out UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp who tweets actively, and imho, quite nicely at @chanthorp. He strikes a good balance between promoting the university, interacting with students, alums, and faculty, and cheering on our many sports teams. He even posts fun videos of himself (see any of his tweets about his Rubiks Cube expertise).

  • John Dupuis says:

    Thanks, Stephanie. You're right, he's a great tweeter.

    Janne, I think you're probably right on. Not everybody can juggle their schedules and time commitments the same way. I suspect a few of the accounts I've seen are maintained by PR people in the president's name. On the other hand, the former mayor of Toronto, David Miller, maintained a pretty active twitter feed himself during a fair bit of his last term. I doubt many university presidents are significantly busier than the mayor of a very large city.

  • Mike Knee says:

    Nice post! I'm interested in knowing about academic library deans or directors who blog (or tweet).

  • John Dupuis says:

    Thanks, Mike. A few that come to mind off the top of my head are Mike Ridley, Jenica Rogers and Jeff Trzeciak. I'm sure there are more and I'd love to hear about them from all of you out there.

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