Most of the questions asked on GCC social media might be called predictable: “When do classes start?” “Who should I talk to about graduation requirements?” Others are more unusual: “What is the name of the paint used in the library?” (Asked by someone who wanted to use that color in a new baby’s room.)
Raechel Megahan, social media and online marketing specialist for GCC, has heard it all. More to the point, she has not only heard it all, she has provided countless answers to those seeking information. Raechel manages social-media outreach on behalf of the GCC Marketing Department, part of the Office of College Advancement. And she does it well.
One measure of success: The “GCC Ready” social-media marketing campaign recently garnered a Silver Medallion at the District 6 Medallion Awards, sponsored by The National Council for Marketing & Public Relations (NCMPR).
NCMPR is the only organization of its kind that represents marketing and PR professionals at community and technical colleges. The Medallion Awards recognize outstanding achievement in college communications. Winners were announced at the district conference in late September. No one could be happier about this news than Raechel, who developed the winning campaign.
In 2011, Raechel’s first year on staff at GCC, the Marketing Department won four local and national awards for GCC’s “Career Me” Facebook app: a Gold Medallion and Silver Paragon award from the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations; a Bronze Award from the Service Industry Association and the Innovation of the Year award, bestowed by GCC itself.
We caught up with Raechel to get insights on how the GCC community is using social media, and the requirements and future outlook for careers in social media. Following are excerpts from our conversation.
Editor: How are GCC students connecting on social media?
RM: Each month, our student population is growing by about 500 fans/followers across all networks. That includes Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google +, Pinterest, YouTube and FourSquare.
Editor: Which networks are the most popular?
RM: The majority of activity takes place on Facebook, followed by Twitter.
Editor: Does the growth of social media at GCC reflect larger trends?
RM: Yes, it’s consistent with how social media and technology in general are being adopted throughout our society right now.
Editor: Why would someone want to connect with GCC through social media channels?
RM: It’s a convenient place to ask questions and to get answers – in many cases, very quickly. It’s also a great way to connect with others because, when questions are posted, the entire online GCC community can see the questions and respond with information.
Editor: How does social media relate to other ways of reaching students and the general public?
RM: The GCC Marketing department uses many methods to reach people: our website, Gaucho TV, traditional newspapers, the electronic marquee on the corner of campus, posters, brochures and many other avenues. I try to time social-media content to coincide with information released elsewhere. I often share information others have compiled, so it’s the same content, just exposed in multiple places.
Editor: In your job, why is it important to analyze trends and evaluate statistics?
RM: These activities are very important, and consume the majority of my time, other than the time I spend writing. What interests people online is always changing, and conversations on social media reflect that. I track what messages are going out, which networks are being used and who the audiences are. Then I tailor future content to fit what people are demonstrating they’re interested in.
Editor: What do those trends and statistics tell you about users of social media?
RM: It helps me understand which channels are attracting which users. For instance, I know that Facebook attracts mostly students. So I make sure to post anything relevant to students on Facebook. Whereas if it were an event like a speaker forum, I would be sure to include postings to LinkedIn, because it would be likely to attract staff along with alumni who are already in the workforce.
Editor: How did you develop your interest in social media?
RM: It was gradual. I created my first website in seventh grade. I was always interested in computers and technology.
MySpace launched about the time I was a freshman in high school and it was geared toward music, specifically local musicians. As a music lover, I was very active in the local music scene. So I embraced MySpace quickly and that’s how I really got into social media.
I eventually started freelancing, doing writing and Web design. That led to marketing myself and others through the social media I was using. Then my interest in creating websites helped me tap into the possibilities for customizing social-media sites.
Editor: How did you discover you wanted to pursue social media as a career?
RM: Even four or five years ago, my job didn’t exist to the degree it does now. I knew I wanted to be in technology and I was enjoying the marketing I was doing, but the terms “social media marketer” or “community manager,” as we’re often known, were nowhere to be found at that time. So it took some time for me to evolve into that role.
Editor: What do you think it takes to do a good job as a social-media community manager?
RM: Of course you have to understand the science and technology involved, but you also need to have a good sense of personal relationships within a community.
It’s one thing to use Facebook as a general user who posts things and interacts in Facebook feeds; it’s completely different to represent an organization on Facebook. When you’re doing it professionally, you need to understand exactly what you’re doing on behalf of the organization, and why.
And you have to love research! In social media, that means analytics and keeping up with the trends.
Editor: What’s the most important thing for students to keep in mind when they’re engaging in social media?
RM: Most importantly, users of social media need to remember that everything is public.
Secondly, it’s helpful to realize that even though it’s a business entity – in this case, a community college – there are still real people behind the screen. Someone like me is monitoring the site and responding to questions, and I like to be very responsive. But the reality is that there are nights and weekend hours when I’m not working.
Fortunately our community seems to understand the reality of time, and they are very tolerant. They know we have a good track record of responding to questions, and they appreciate and respect the time it takes to gather and deliver information.
Editor: What are real “no-no’s” to avoid in the world of social media?
RM: Students need to remember that information they share on social media is available to everyone. So they need to be conscious of their own social-media presence, and how it might affect their prospects for jobs, internships and other opportunities. It’s always good to be sensitive about the appropriateness of sharing information in a public forum.
Editor: What kinds of people do well in a social-media role?
RM: One of the misconceptions is that social-media marketers need to be super-outgoing or super-friendly. In reality, I would say that strategic thinking and the ability to analyze information are more central. It’s not like being in front of a camera or performing. It’s more about getting to know the audience over time and participating in a two-way relationship.
Editor: What would you tell someone considering a career in this area?
RM: Start connecting with people online. Get involved in online Twitter chats about community management and online branding. It’s such a new career; everyone out there is very helpful in encouraging others to get started. I’ve connected with social-media people at Google, at Stanford, at the Huffington Post and all over the world.
Editor: What are the most interesting recent trends in the area of social media?
RM: One of the things that interests me right now is seeing how social media is turning into a business. Twitter is about to go public, as Facebook, LinkedIn and many others already have. This pretty much lays to rest the speculation that this is going to go away some day.
Editor: It’s a fast-moving field; how do you see it evolving?
RM: I think it’s going to become more refined. Because technology develops so fast, we don’t have time to think much about how we want to use a specific technology or platform. So we try to do everything with it. It will take time to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and how best to apply all of the new tools that are coming out.
Editor: You yourself are pursuing higher education; what’s your motivation?
RM: My goal is to stay in this career field and to move forward in it. And that takes credentials. Four or five years ago credentials weren’t so important because the field was so new that credentials weren’t even available. But now that companies on all levels are hiring people to manage their social-media activities, credentials are becoming more important.
Editor: What has your education been so far, and what else are you pursuing?
RM: I went to Mesa Community College for an associate degree in Web development. And now, I’m working on a bachelor’s degree in marketing; I should have that completed by the end of 2014.
I plan to pursue a master’s in statistics or marketing analysis after that. Market research is a growing field that will have lots of future opportunity.