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Validation as Part of Social Media Customer Service

While many universities and their departments jump right into broadcasting their message via social, many pause before starting to use social networks for customer service. They know it will be much more difficult to use social in this way. Why? Because producing one-way content is easier than dealing with a two-way conversation.

Some companies start using social media to broadcast and find that they are involuntarily included in customer service conversations. For example, when customers are unhappy, they might take to Twitter to air their grievances.

Whether well-thought out or involuntary, your customer service via social is happening (or will happen) and you need to be ready for it.

Positive, neutral, negative

When someone mentions your department online, her mention will be positive, neutral, or negative. Plan your response to each type of mention. Here are some of my tips:

Positive mention
A positive mention is one that extols your department or shows the department in a positive light. This could be students taking a picture of themselves having fun at one of your events, or it could be direct praise of the department itself. How to respond:

  • Acknowledge with a “thank you.” He’ll feel even better about it and will be likely to share more positivity in the future.
  • Like or share it to your own page.
  • Validate the feelings and keep the conversation going. If she says, “I love my linguistics class!” perhaps say, “That’s great to hear,” and add, “Which class is it?”
  • Some may not need a reply.

Neutral mention
These mentions may not require a reply, but others may. For example, questions about products can be neither positive nor negative; the individual merely needs more information. How to respond:

  • Respond with information (e.g., “Yes, that class counts as a humanities core credit.”).
  • Validate in some way. Some people want attention and will mention you more if you give them attention.
  • The mention may not require a reply.

Negative mention
These are the mentions we dread. This type of mention includes complaints and lies in an effort to put down your department, or it may consist of an innocent person who had a bad experience.

  • Don’t be defensive.
  • Don’t attack the person for his statements.
  • Take the conversation off-line quickly (e.g., “We’re sorry you had that experience. Email us at ___ so we can help you.”).
  • Some individuals say mean things, but not because they have a concern that can be resolved. Usually, this type of trolling should not get a response; they want a fire and you’d be fueling the flame. Just ignore.
  • Validate him. Help him feel heard and valued, even if you can’t give him what he wants.

Case studies on validation

These three types of mentions will have opportunities for you to validate the individual.

On Instagram, @murcia73 posted a beautiful photo of the MIT dome from a unique angle. This is a great example of someone expressing her positivity toward an institution through art. I made sure to comment via MIT’s Instagram account, @MITpics, “Very nice.” And indeed, she continues to post to Instagram beautiful photographs of MIT’s campus.

On Instagram, an individual posted a math joke and said, “Tomorrow I am participating in a national mathematics competition.” Through MIT’s Instagram account I replied, “Good luck with the math competition!” She responded, “Thank you so much!” This wasn’t a positive or negative mention, nor was it an ask for information. However, I helped her feel noticed and validated for her love of math. I’m sure she views MIT more positively than she did before.

An individual had applied to an MIT program and was rejected. Feeling upset, he took to Twitter and posted, “The future of education will be in the FACTS of the young leaders and not in the judgment of any system.” Attached to the tweet was a screenshot of his rejection letter from the department. I have had this experience before and I know if I don’t validate the sentiment, the individual might continue to post until he gets the attention he wants. This wasn’t a bad or a malicious person. It was someone who was rejected and experienced disappointment.

My reply: “Let’s explore your idea further – besides time in industry, how could a prospective student be evaluated?”

His reply: “I attached a visual map with my answer.” The image he attached was a diagram of the qualities he thinks an MIT leader should have.

My reply: “Thank you for your thoughtful response!” I validated him. I made sure he felt valued, despite the rejection.

What Kind of Experience Does Your Content Provide?

Scott Murray, MITBy Scott Murray
Social Media Specialist / Career & Global Ed Advisor
Global Education and Career Development (GECD)
Twitter: @strangewander

There’s more to meeting audience needs than providing the right information. Medill on Media Engagement (by Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism) organizes content creation around a core question: What kind of experience does your content provide? Through their study of media engagement, Medill scholars have classified dozens of content “experiences” and determined which promote readership – and which discourage it.

Experiences offer a powerful way to conceptualize a brand’s tone and voice. In addition to thinking “What does my audience need to know?”, experiences encourage us to ask “What should having their questions answered feel like?” Perhaps you want your audience to feel smarter, empowered, inspired, enlightened, clever, elite or transported. And certainly you want to avoid making them feel overwhelmed, manipulated or bored. Identifying and describing your ideal user experiences can greatly influence content creation.

Thinking in terms of experiences helps to prevent the folly of assuming your posts are successful because they provide all the right information. It encourages you to address how your audience should feel while reading it.

MIT’s Global Education team, a part of GECD, provides a good current example. We created the Twitter handle @MITglobal with the goal of sharing information about the wide range of opportunities our students have to go abroad. But we also want to deliver what Medill calls the “Makes Me Feel Smarter” experience by providing international context to MIT life. So we try to highlight global initiatives from across the Institute and even share bits of news and culture from around the world. When the Guardian reports on MIT’s Civic Data Design Lab and their contributions to mapping informal public transit in Nairobi, we want to be tweeting about it. That way we can help showcase the many international applications of MIT research and talent.

Our Facebook page, on the other hand, seeks to tap more into an “Identity” experience, connecting students for whom international adventure is a key, transformative part of their MIT narrative. International opportunities are often highlighted through the lens of student stories. This past IAP, for example, study abroad participants were encouraged to share photos documenting their global voyages using the hashtag #iapglobal. Those photos are now collected in a Facebook album and as an article on Storify.

There is plenty of overlap between providing global context and celebrating global narratives, but the subtle differences of the two platforms’ strategies are informed by the articulation of these different experiences.

When considering user needs and strategic goals, it’s worth remembering that emotional concerns are also a crucial component to content strategy. To keep social media social, build your content around the feeling you want your brand to provide.

CPS Presentations for Spring 2014

Bara BlenderGuest post by Bara Blender
Communications Strategist
MIT Communication Production Services


Communication Production Services invites MIT communications staff to attend our spring presentations. Registration is required, and the location will be provided upon confirmation.

Social Media for Events
March 12, 2014
2:30-3:30 p.m.

With social media, you can feel the pulse of an event and listen in on the many different conversations that stem from one keynote speaker’s remarks. The immediacy and connectivity provided by social networks help participants engage more with each other and give more people a voice. Join us to learn how to optimize your social media efforts before, during, and after an event.

Presenter: Stephanie Hatch Leishman, MIT Communication Production Services

Instagram 101
March 25, 2014
10-11 a.m.

Launched in the fall of 2010, Instagram is a relatively new platform next to giants like Facebook and Twitter. What makes this social network unique is that it restricts content creation to mobile devices and its content to a square. See what makes Instagram wildly popular and how to use it for higher education communications.

Presenter: Stephanie Hatch Leishman, MIT Communication Production Services

Creating Communications That Connect: What’s Your Strategy?
April 17, 2014
1-2 p.m.

In a world where the average person is bombarded with more than 3,500 marketing messages per day, it is crucial that organizations communicate clearly and consistently. Learn how best to develop a strategic roadmap for identifying and creating the right mix of communications vehicles – whether web, print, or social media – ensuring consistent visual identity, message, voice, and alignment with the MIT brand.

Presenters: Tammy Dayton, Moth Design, and Dave Demerjian, 43,000 Feet

Time Management for Social Media
May 14, 2014
11 a.m.-12 p.m.

Whether social media management is 5%, 50%, or 100% of your job description, you want to do it well and the best you can with the time you have. Learn how to be more efficient with your social media management. You’ll learn the tools, techniques, and mindset that will give you a return on your investment.

Presenter: Stephanie Hatch Leishman, MIT Communication Production Services

The Obsession with Best Practices

One of the best blog posts I’ve read this month is “Digital labor ou digital volunteer? Marx à l’heure du web 2.0” by Sylvain Léauthier. He argues that the world of personal and professional marketing on the social web has become obsessed with best practices.

In this article, Léauthier says (translated from French):

“Websites, blogs, and articles are full of tips, recommendations, white-papers, and other good practices on the proper use of FacebookTwitter, or blogs, whether personal or professional contexts. … These tips may sound like real injunctions, as if there was only one right way to behave and use these media. This obsession with ‘how-to’ prevents an introspective approach to our use…”

And Léauthier, I completely agree.

Firstly, just read enough best practices, and you’ll realize they contradict each other. Dan Zarrella says to write tweets between 120 and 130 characters, while Miranda Miller tells you to use fewer than 100 characters per tweet. Zarrella says people who post 10-50 times per day have the most followers, with the “sweet spot” at 22 tweets per day. Miller says to tweet 4 times per day or less.

Secondly, although best practices are important and offer valuable information, the obsession with these best practices results in two bad behaviors: total dependency and overlooking your goals.

Avoid total dependency
It’s actually helpful to read best practices, and you should pay attention to them. However, don’t depend entirely on someone else telling you how to do everything without some experimentation and analytics assessment on your own part. Someone told you the best time to post to Facebook is at noon, so you do. It’s good to respond to best practices by experimenting on them. However, if you never go back and check on how effective posting at noon was for you, you’re lacking an important step in your social media management: analytics assessment for iterative improvement.

Know your goals
Every department is different. This means that its goals are different, meaning its key metrics are different, meaning the tactics employed on its social media platforms will be different. This means there isn’t “one right way to behave,” as Léauthier says. One tactic may bring you more followers in your key audience. Another tactic will bring you more interaction and engagement on your posts. In their best practices, the experts tell you how to do both, but they can’t tell you which tactic is more important, because different metrics match up to the unique goals of your department.

Think about best practices lists this way: 

  1. When a social media expert tells you how to get more followers or more shares, they really are telling you some ways to get more followers or shares. But ask yourself, will more followers or shares affect your ultimate goal, or is it actually click-throughs or likes? Figure out what metrics matter to you.
  2. See these lists as opportunities to do an informed experiment. Although best practice lists aren’t the end-all-be-all rules of the trade, they are still highly valuable. An uninformed experiment is like shooting in the dark, but best practices help guide your aim.

Stephanie Hatch Leishman (@hatchsteph)

What Is “Dark Social”?

You might have noticed an increase in direct referral traffic to pages on your website. This traffic can come from visits that result in bookmarked URLs or typing a URL directly in the browser, but much of this traffic also comes from “dark social.”

In the past, the term “dark social” sometimes referred to the “dark side of social media.” The phrase described online activities of drug dealers or the bad effects of social media, such as cyberbullying.

In the fall of 2012, dark social started to be used in a different way. Now, dark social refers to social media sharing that isn’t distinguishable from direct referral traffic that’s not social (e.g., bookmarks and typing the full URL, as mentioned above).

Examples of dark social sharing

  • Email
  • Online chatting
  • Text messages
  • Sharing a handwritten URL

Origins of the phrase

The first instance of the phrase “dark social” appears in what is still one of the best-known articles on the topic, “Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong” by Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic (Oct 12, 2012). Madrigal’s article was reviewed by BuzzFeed less than a week later:  “There’s Less ‘Dark Social’ Than Meets the Eye” (Oct 18, 2012).

Soon after that, the phrase appeared in other articles, such as “‘Dark Social’ Media” (Nov 1, 2012) and “Six serious misunderstandings about social CRM” (Nov 21, 2012).

Why should I be aware of dark social?

As you report on your website analytics, you can see how much traffic comes from social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. However, social networking goes beyond the big-name social networks. Email is social. Online chatting, texting, and even talking in person are all social activities. If you really want to track how much social activity is referring people to your site (versus most search traffic), dark social should figure into your numbers.

Now that experts are aware of direct traffic and its largely dark social composition, they try to tackle the issue of these “invisible referrers” in relation to analytics. One example is Angie Pascale’s article, “Tracking dark social media: a light at the end of the tunnel” (Dec 11, 2013).

As Pascale points out, “Take note of direct traffic on the long, complicated URLs that users would rarely remember and type directly into a browser window. This will help to inform you of how much dark social sharing occurs with your content and further understand how you can accommodate the needs and habits of your target audience.”

What are your go-to resources on understanding dark social traffic? What observations are you making about the effects of dark social on your own website? Share your comments.

Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Where to Start with Facebook Insights

Last week I gave a presentation called Introduction to Facebook Insights. Insights can sometimes be overwhelming when you’re first learning to use it, so I explained how to start in a few steps:

  1. Understand metrics terms. Learn what “Reach” and “Engaged” mean. Learn to tell the difference between Page metrics and Post metrics (e.g., Page Likes vs. Post Likes).
  2. Acknowledge your department’s priorities. Without them, you won’t know what numbers to look at and report on. Set social media goals aligned with those priorities.
  3. Find the information in Insights that matches your priorities and goals. Are you interested in getting more female applicants for your program? Export your Insights data and look at the tabs called “Lifetime Likes by Gender and Age” and “Daily Demographics People Talking About This.” Are you interested in gathering a more global audience? Look at your top countries and languages.
  4. Assess your work. How are you doing in these areas? Is one of your priorities to get more traffic to your website, but most of your posts don’t mention or link to any page on your website?
  5. Optimize your content based on the information you’ve found. Does most of your audience log in to Facebook later in the day, though you are posting in the morning? Do more people click on your photos than on video? Figure out what is working for you and what isn’t, and change your tactics accordingly.

Stephanie Hatch

Google+ for Higher Ed

MIT has a large Google+ following, to its main page as well as its many departments, e.g.,: Alumni AssociationComputer Science and Artificial Intelligence LaboratoryCenter for Civic MediaMIT Energy Initiative, and Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.

Earlier this month, those of us who manage Google+ pages and communities for MIT departments met via Hangout with Amelia Muller of Google+ Community Partnerships. We discussed ways to go beyond “just posting news” on Google+:

  • Profiles. Faculty, researchers, students, alumni, and administrators can share their research and passions in the field through personal profiles and may link to/mention the MIT page. For example, Hiroshi IshiiBradley HorowitzJoichi ItoJohn Baez, and Amy Robinson have Google+ profiles.
  • Organize with Circles. Use circles to organize other organizations on Google+. “Circles are the organizing principle of Google+.” – Amelia Muller
  • Google Hangouts. Involve up to 10 different screens at once. Screens do not necessarily have a one-to-one correlation with people, but can mean more than ten people, even ten groups.
  • Hangouts office hours. Get questions answered in real time. Students, professors, or administrators don’t have to travel, and don’t have to go to the office if it isn’t convenient.
  • Hangouts On Air. Announce discoveries and discuss these advancements in a Hangout On Air. Go beyond Google+; promote it on YouTube and embed on your website. This means people without a Google account can watch.
  • Events. Collect photos, videos, comments in one place as the event is happening. Ask for questions to be submitted beforehand. Turn on Party Mode on your Android phone, and any photo you take during that span of time is uploaded to the event page.
  • Class-based communities. Sections of a course can have their own communities on Google+ for discussing homework, tests, problem sets, etc. This allows for discussions and a blended learning experience.
  • Topic-based communities. Got some science news? Don’t just post it to your wall. Post it in a topic community with a self-selected audience. For example, Amy Robinson posted about MIT researchers in the Science on Google+ Community.
  • Event-based communities. Before the event, participants can join a Google+ community and introduce themselves. Events may include scavenger hunts and other online activities that reinforce and augment engagement during the in-person event, merging the in-person and digital experiences. Follow-up for an event: communities are a destination for that back-and-forth dialogue.
  • Hashtags. Generally, look for hashtags that are trending on Google+ and then post. Try #ThrowbackThursday with retro photos from campus.
  • College athletics. Integrate Google+ into promotion. Use events for Homecoming game, watch from home, hangout with star players and coaching staff, etc.
  • Alumni conversations. Alumni can use private hangouts to interview students for admissions and host mentoring sessions.

Quora: How Ashton Kutcher, Joi Ito, and Drew Houston Respond

Ashton Kutcher and Joi Ito

Jobs, the movie about Steve Jobs, hits theaters today. People are wondering how well Ashton Kutcher plays the lead role, and this question showed up on Quora:

“How did Ashton Kutcher prepare for his role as Steve Jobs in the new movie Jobs?”

Although the question was asked in the third person, to anyone who might have intel, the question seems to have been answered by the man himself. Questions about people get asked on Quora often, and it’s always a delight to see the subject of the question find the post and actually respond to it him- or herself. Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, responded to this question about himself:

“Why does Joichi Ito live in Dubai, United Arab Emirates?”

He responded by linking to a blog post he had written answering that very question. On Quora, users create unique bylines for each question they answer to show why they are qualified to respond. Joi used the clever byline, “Joichi Ito, I live in Dubai.”

Drew Houston

Drew Houston ’05 is an MIT alumnus and founder of Dropbox. He is also on Quora answering many questions, including those about his company. Last year, Dave Trindall asked,

“Is the original Dropbox private beta video still available online somewhere?”  

Drew answered, “The very original (pre-YC, maybe early April 07) video (and landing page) that I made back in my apartment in Cambridge can be seen here” and includes the link. Then he adds, “(wow, blast from the past.)”

How do these examples translate to higher education? 

Almost every university has a place to ask questions. For example, visit a university’s Admissions Office website and chances are there is a telephone number or email address on the contact page or in the footer of the home page. However, some universities don’t take questions and only offer an FAQ page or direct visitors to individual departments.

Whether or not a university or its departments accept questions, people find a way to ask them – especially on social networks. Don’t just wait for questions to come in through a web contact form. Find those questions people are already asking elsewhere.

Question on Quora: What is it like to study physics at MIT?

Find and answer questions

  1. Search for your department name on Quora. What are people asking? For example, “What is it like to study physics at MIT?
  2. Give a short response and link to a longer version on your website or blog. This way you’ll be answering the question, but offering more elsewhere and generating leads to your site.
  3. Responding publicly will benefit not only the person who asked the question, but others who come across it in other ways.

Bigger return on your investment

People expect someone to answer their questions when they fill out a web form or contact your office by phone or by email. People who ask questions about a department on a large social network are usually looking for a response from the community. Therefore, they are pleasantly surprised when an actual department representative acknowledges and answers their question.

By Stephanie Hatch

A Tour of the New Facebook Insights

Facebook is rolling out new Insights. The improvements are apparent in the new design and layout. Insights now includes a dashboard with the following tabs: Overview, Page, Posts, People.

Screenshot of Facebook Insights Overview


In the overview, you can view how your page is doing in likes, general reach, and engagement. Under this, Insights shows your most recent posts and how they are doing, which can be filtered by type, targeting, reach, and engagement (similar to the former Insights layout).


In the Page tab, you can use two sliders to adjust the time period for which you’d like analytics. The charts below change as you adjust the sliders. In this tab you can view your page likes, post reach, and page visits.

Facebook Insights Page Tab


More charts are included in the Posts tab to show all your posts and how they did, when your fans are online (by day of the week and by time of day), and how well your posts are doing by type (e.g., image, link, etc.).


In the People tab you get to see who is engaging with your page by age and gender (and a comparison with all of Facebook); by geography and language; and also by fans, people reached, and people engaged.

Export data

You can still export data in the same way as you could with the old Insights.

How Colleges and Universities Use Instagram

(Pi Day at MIT)

Universities and colleges around the nation are using Instagram. They’ve found a few ways to take advantage of this every-growing platform, so I thought I’d give you a tour of higher education instagramming. These methods are not only for main university accounts, but can be used by specific departments, labs, programs, and offices. Ways to spice up your department’s Instagram account:

Show a different point of view

Look back on history

Show off the campus

Show off students

Show off alumni/ae

Have fun

Start a hashtag

Spotlight others’ photos (with permission)

Challenge your followers

Share a quotation

Celebrate special days

Focus on the details

Capture an extraordinary moment

P.S. Sometimes it’s just creepy how similar some universities are.