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Social Media Use Growing At Duke

More than 100 official social media channels engage Duke community and beyond

Dave Bradley, Duke basketball's recruiting/communications coordinator, uses Twitter, YouTube and other channels to engage fans. Photo by Duke Photo.
Dave Bradley, Duke basketball's recruiting/communications coordinator, uses Twitter, YouTube and other channels to engage fans. Photo by Duke Photo.

When August Burns wants to learn about colleagues and get the latest news about benefits and resources at Duke, she checks the "Working@Duke" Facebook page.Burns, who has used Facebook for about three years, plans to start following the "WorkingatDuke" Twitter feed too.

"Social media is the best way to keep track of what's going on right now," said Burns, business manager for the Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics in the Pratt School of Engineering. "With so many of us on these sites, tools like Facebook and Twitter are a great way to share information and be a resource for each other."

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As employees experiment with social media channels, departments and schools like Athletics and the Fuqua School of Business are finding impressive success in using social media to enhance professional reputation, expand research and scholarly contacts and interact in real-time. Duke has more than 100 official school Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as sites on YouTube, iTunesU, Foursquare and Flickr.

According to a survey of Duke faculty and staff last year, Facebook is the most widely used social network (61 percent), followed by YouTube (32 percent), LinkedIn (23 percent) and Twitter (11 percent). Those numbers mirror national statistics on social media use, according to the Pew Research Center.

"Everyone on campus is trying to figure it out," said Cara Rousseau, Duke's social media manager. "They're trying to connect with different audiences, but it can be really challenging to tell what will click on different channels, and the landscape is changing all the time."

Rousseau has met with dozens of Duke departments to offer guidance on social media best practices. She recently led a workshop with about a dozen event planners from across Duke on social media basics like creating accounts and sharing content.

Still, some faculty and staff are reluctant to venture into social media channels, concerned that learning the new technology won't be worth the time investment, said Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African-American studies at Duke.

"They think it's superficial and a waste of time," said Neal, whose New Black Man blog draws about 62,000 hits per month. "I tell my colleagues, `This is the same way you felt about email 15 years ago.' It's time-consuming, but most folks have successfully integrated it into their workflow. This is an effective way to communicate and interact with students and former students in creative, nontraditional ways."

Neal has his own web show "Left of Black" and about 9,000 Twitter followers and 3,000 Facebook friends. He said there is a clear connection between social media and Duke's academic mission.

"We can write the greatest books, but they will only remain among the audience of the scholarly community," Neal said. "Social media is a critical tool to show the vitality of the work we do, to function as an academic and also engage with audiences outside the academy. I'd say about 70 percent of what I do on social media is teaching. It's perfectly in sync with Duke's mission of knowledge in the service of society."

Enhancing Duke's reputation

Athletics overhauled its social media presence last year, launching Twitter accounts for all of its programs. In addition, put together a social media landing page to allow fans to see Twitter feeds from Duke's official athletics website.

Social media is a natural way to connect with fans and recruits and to humanize the Duke brand, said Dave Bradley, Duke basketball's recruiting/communications coordinator.

Bradley has netted more than 800,000 views on YouTube with the viral "Buckets 2.0" video, showcasing trick shots by basketball player Kyle Singler. He also worked on the "Show Us How You 903" contest, sponsored by Duke Athletics, which collected hundreds of online submissions from Blue Devil fans celebrating men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski's record 903rd win.

"For many of our student-athletes and fans, Twitter has become a primary means of communication," Bradley said. "There is a great synergy there for Duke because our athletes are engaging and dynamic. And we have unbelievable fans all over the world. Social media can then help bring together the Blue Devil community and provide new opportunities to advance the Duke brand."

The Fuqua School of Business also is looking to students and alumni as "brand ambassadors" through social media. A recent effort involved an online game: a virtual "Campout," a take-off on the real campout undertaken each year by Duke graduate students hoping to score coveted men's basketball tickets. The game challenged students and alumni to earn "participation points" (used for prizes) by "liking" a page on Facebook, sharing faculty research with their networks and other tasks to promote the school's brand.

The three-week campaign last summer marshaled nearly 800 Fuqua alumni and students to take 11,000 actions to volunteer for, learn about or support the school.   "People won't spend five hours reading your bulletin or brochures, but if you make it a game and give them points, they'll do it," said Elizabeth Hogan, Fuqua's assistant dean for marketing.

Fuqua is now exploring ways to share the platform with other schools and departments at Duke, she said.

"Social media is an experiment. Nobody knows what's going to happen," Hogan said. "Some institutions want to control the message and be all buttoned up with what they say. You need to be OK with a different tone and focus not on what you're telling them but on encouraging them to talk to you and to each other. It requires thinking in a different way."   

For Alumni Affairs, one of the most important social media tools is LinkedIn, where Duke's group has grown to more than 16,000 members. While Facebook is useful for promoting events or sharing "fun" tidbits, LinkedIn posts often generate intense discussion on sports, jobs, research and other issues, said Jon Goldstein, executive director of marketing and communications.

His approach: let the conversations grow by themselves and sometimes seed the group with topics based on Duke research and news.

"The best way to build community is through content," Goldstein said. "And where better to be than Duke, where we have really interesting content all the time, from science and art to government, history and the environment. We're having more conversations now than we were in the past because we have new ways to talk to one another."

Connecting the workforce

Community building is occurring on social media channels managed by Duke's employee communications team, too.

Since launching its Facebook account, Working@Duke has grown to more than 2,100 members. Its Twitter stream is also growing steadily. And late last year, Working@Duke created a LinkedIn group to stimulate professional discussion among Duke staff and faculty on topics such as career development and email practices.

"Communicating to a workforce of 34,000 through traditional media can feel impersonal, but social media gives people a face and a voice and allows for a more direct and personal interaction," said Paul Grantham, assistant vice president for communication services. "This type of exchange fosters an environment of mutual respect, trust and collaboration - the foundation for a strong community."

Rousseau, Duke's social media manager, frequently fields inquiries from Duke units interested in learning more about social media.

August Burns and Mary Lindsley recently attended the workshop Rousseau led for event planners. Their group, the Duke Special Event Planners Council, plans to use Twitter and a new blog to interact with vendors and share tips like how to run a "green" event.

"We're still learning how we can do it so it works best for us, but it's a must-do as more people join these social networks in order to improve the work they do," said Lindsley, chair of the council's social media and web committee and event manager at the Sanford School of Public Policy.

Social media also helps Lindsley feel more connected to faculty research at Sanford and more a part of the larger Duke community.

"It helps me learn more about how much we're engaged in the world and the issues of the day," she said, "and that helps me be a happier, more fulfilled employee."