Introducing A New University President on Social Media

On July 1, 2019, Colorado State University welcomed its 15th – and first female – president. Joyce McConnell took the helm and a new era began at Colorado State.

President McConnell hails from West Virginia University where she was most recently that institution’s provost. In the higher ed social media community, West Virginia University has an excellent social media presence and reputation (shout out to our friend, Tony Dobies), and WVU President Gordon Gee is very active on social media.

Our previous president, Dr. Tony Frank, respected and valued the role of social media as a trusted university communications tool, but he himself was not active in the social space. He was (and is) a beloved figure on campus (students love to take selfies with him) but he didn’t always personally take part in social media efforts – it just wasn’t his jam.

Imagine our delight to learn that President McConnell was very interested in integrating social media into her role as CSU’s president. This was a first for my team. We have a university president who is open and eager to learn and use social media? Oh, the possibilities.

President McConnell is up and tweeting on Twitter (give her a follow). Through 280 characters or less, she gives personalized glimpses of her days. By embracing social media, she offers authenticity that only she can give. She joins a small group of senior administrators on campus who are actively using social media as part of their roles at CSU. Big-time kudos to our Athletic Director, Joe Parker, who is a Twitter whiz. Joe’s Twitter game is strong because he is active on the platform, his Ram Pride is always on display, and he uses Twitter to connect directly with fans. Fans crave authenticity. It’s encouraging to see university leadership embrace social media as a venue to provide a personal connection. 

First Day

The campus community, alumni, donors and friends of the university are all very eager to get to know President McConnell. Her first day presented a prime opportunity to introduce her to social media fans.

In coordination with the President’s Office, #CSUSocial pitched the idea of hosting a Facebook Live of President McConnell arriving at her first day of work… she said yes. And that’s exactly what we did. We introduced Colorado State University’s 15th president on social media via Facebook Live. Here’s what we learned.

Don’t Be Afraid To Be Real

Sure, we could have filmed a one-minute welcome message from President McConnell and shared it on social. That would have been perfectly fine. But how much richer of an experience for our fans to have a front row seat to the new president pulling up in her car and walking into her office on her first day as president of Colorado State University.

Always Do A Walkthrough

Live video can be risky. Anything can happen. As a risk-adverse person, this makes me anxious for any live video we host, so we ALWAYS do a walkthrough with the individuals starring in the video. It is super helpful for people in the video to practice and it is helpful for the production crew (aka #CSUSocial), to map out the camera angles, shots, sequence and pacing. Unfortunately, we did not have time to do a walk through with President McConnell before she arrived on campus. When she pulled up, we went live. It was a very genuine experience. Perhaps not the smoothest and certainly not perfect. But it wasn’t mean to be. I accidentally was in a few of the shots (sigh) and a cleaner end to the video would have been preferred. But it’s all good. Fans liked it and joined in on welcoming President McConnell to CSU.

Trust Your Gut

Do you spot something that may be out of place in this photo?

Screenshot of Instagram photo of Joyce McConnell in her office.

If you’re a CSU Ram, you instantly notice the buffalo painting. Our in-state rivalry is with the University of Colorado Buffaloes. President McConnell has a buffalo painting on her bookshelf. I noticed it right away. After we were filming the live video, President McConnell was generous with her time and spent a few minutes getting to know the #CSUSocial team and also was telling us some stories about different pieces on her bookshelf. I should have asked her about that painting but didn’t. My colleague Nik Olsen reminded me of the old adage, see something, say something.

We took a photo of President McConnell in front of her bookshelf and the painting was in view. We debated cropping it out when we posted to social but decided to leave it as it was. This was her office. Her bookshelf. Her personal items that have special meaning. Not to mention that CSU is heavily involved with the successful Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd. We took a calculated risk and decided to post the photo knowing that would get comments from fans about the buffalo.

Well, we did get comments. Not a ton but enough for us to talk about how to address the buffalo in the room. Turns out, the buffalo painting does not have a special back story or personal meaning but is simply a piece of art that she enjoys. She also did not realize that our arch rival mascot is the buffalo.

With President McConnell’s support, we recruited CAM the Ram to do a little redecorating.

Campus Executives on Twitter

I recently came across this timely report, Examining Twitter Influence of Campus Executives, by Josie Ahlquist and Campus Sonar. They examined the Twitter activity of some of the most influential campus presidents, vice presidents and provosts on Twitter. Among many insightful highlights, this one stood out to me: “Authenticity – posting things that are truly interesting and personal about themselves – is a university characteristic that makes an executive most impactful online.” That’s what it is all about. Being real.

Welcome to Colorado State, President McConnell!

President Joyce McConnell and three CSU staff members smiling
Of course we had to get a selfie with the new prez! Brian Buss, Kimberly Stern, Joyce McConnell and Ashley Manweiler

Read more about social media at Colorado State University on our blog, Social.