Getting started with social media

Social Media sign

Is your department or group considering delving into social media? If so, this primer is for you.

What is social media?

Platforms, typically web-based, that allow users to connect in conversation. Social media is public, interactive, accessible and focused on its users.

Some examples:
There are thousands of social media sites, such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Flickr, LinkedIn, Instagram and Wikipedia. Each one has a different purpose and use.

What's right for you?

Weigh the options and pros and cons. Before you sign up, understand a medium's intended purpose and how it is used and you must have a clear, well-planned strategy. If you are planning to request a social media account, complete the social media strategy form first.

Define your audience and purpose

The answers to these questions will guide whether you need social media communications:

  • Who do you want to interact with? Like-minded researchers or students, or potential students? It's OK to have a couple of different audiences, but any more than three and you won't be focused enough. 
  • Why do you need to talk to these people? An example: Like-minded researchers want to know what we're studying and how it's progressing. We want to share tips for similar research.
  • What do you need to tell them? We recommend you write down the answers and develop a strategy for what you plan to post on your social media sites.

Make sure you can maintain your site

Getting a social media account is a lot like getting a puppy. If you can't commit the time and resources to it, it's not for you. Are you ready to:

  • Feed it? (You should post to your site every day.)
  • Monitor it? (You need to keep an eye on how others are interacting with your site.)
  • Nurture it? (You have to be creative with your social media or your audience will lose interest.)


  • It's conversational. Because social media is about conversations and relationships, it gives the organization an opportunity to establish a personality.
  • It helps reach a wider audience. Social media is like a constant cocktail party because users can interact with each other. An organization that builds a network of individuals and like-minded organizations will probably connect with new people and organizations faster.
  • More people are using it. More than half of Americans ages 30 to 49 use social networking sites, about one quarter of those over age 50, and 80 percent people age 18-29. Experts expect even more growth. (For more information see the Pew Research Center's "Social Networking Popular Across Globe.")
  • It's cheap. Although there are human-resource costs associated with design and maintenance, social media is free to join.


  • You're committed. By being involved in social media, you're required to be social. You must constantly monitor the social media universe, make meaningful posts to your audience to remain interesting and relevant. There's no vacation time in social media: stay quiet for too long and your audience will be gone.
  • You can't control it. Readers' responses to your messages can't be controlled on social media, and you can't stop someone from ignoring you, mixing up your words or bad-mouthing you. Once you put it out there, it's no longer yours. It's theirs.
  • It requires patience. It takes time for your audience to get to know you -- or to even get an audience.
  • It's personal. Many users are determined to keep their social media social and are not interested in hearing from professional organizations on social media.

Last modified: Sep 21, 2016
Getting Started

Before creating a social media account: