Public engagement and social media, part two: Twitter threads, chats and LinkedIn articles

In the previous post, I looked at setting objectives for your use of social media in a professional context, developing your online presence, and how you can collaborate with marketing-communications colleagues to promote your research.

In this post, I’m going to look in-depth at thought leadership on Twitter and LinkedIn, and highlight some ways you can start to engage in wider debates and raise your profile as a thought leader.

Being human vs being professional

Something that always comes up in discussions with academics is the line between the personal and professional. There’s a perceived risk in putting too much of ourselves into our online persona: what if we say the wrong thing? Someone might be offended, and we risk bringing our institution into disrepute.

But what’s the real risk?

Unless your political views are extreme, or you have outdated social values, your opinions are probably fine to share.

The bottom line is: use common sense. If you were in an open plan office, would you say the same thing? Treat online discussions the same as verbal discussions, and you’ll be fine.

In fact, there’s a risk in ‘always saying the right thing’. If we filter too much of ourselves out of our social media presence, constantly making sure that our updates and replies are corporately acceptable, our accounts can become bland and boring, and people might unfollow us.

Some people are comfortable separating themselves into two accounts: one professional, one personal. If you’re really concerned about saying the wrong thing, this may be the solution for you.

The no right answer that works for everyone. This is about your own values, your preferences and the culture of the people and organisations you work with. My own take on it is that the divide between the personal and professional are diminishing. The way people communicate online is changing, and people are much more comfortable expressing themselves openly.

So, if your activity on social media is a genuine reflection of who you are, your timeline will be more interesting, and people will be more likely to interact with you.

AkwugoAkwugo Emejulu’s Twitter account is a great example of an engaging academic profile. Her cover and profile images, for starters. She looks approachable and friendly, yet academic and knowledgeable.

Her username is her actual name, so she’s easy to find, and it’s clear that this is really her.

Names and faces will always be more interesting than logos and acronyms.

Akwugo’s biography tells us everything we need to know about her professional identity and research specialism, and we get a bit of flavour about who she is as a person. We can also see that Akwugo follows people, and she likes their tweets.

She doesn’t just broadcast: she replies and interacts, and this is a key part of thought leadership.

Telling stories in the real world

People and stories. When it comes down to it, that’s what social media is for. It shapes our approach to the marketing content we publish.

And, as experts, your storytelling starts with the people at the heart of day’s biggest stories.

Peter Neumann’s Twitter thread on the radicalisation of the Finsbury Park attacker is a very good example of expert analysis combined with storytelling. Peter starts with an analysis of the attacker, before exploring bigger themes around the process of radicalisation, current perceptions of radicalisation, and the spread of misinformation.

When the news is so bad, it’s important that there are rational, measured and academically-informed voices leading discussion and debate. Twitter is a great platform for doing that in real time, in response to current events.

Challenging current thinking, leading the debate

Twitter chats are a goo way to expand your network and learn from others, but they can also be a way to raise your profile by leading a discussion on a thought-provoking subject.

We’ve held a couple of Twitter chats recently. They were led by Hallam academics, in collaboration with the social media team here. The most recent one was led by Professor Laura Serrant, an expert on the nursing profession.


You can see how it played out in this Twitter Moment, but essentially we engaged a large group of nursing professionals and academics in an hour-long debate about whether nurses should have more of a political voice.

From a Hallam point of view, we showcased one of our academics, and built on our reputation for being a real-world university. This kind of Twitter chat benefits from lots of planning, and genuine collaboration between communications professionals and academics.

LinkedIn has moved on, so should you

A lot of academics I speak to don’t realise how much LinkedIn has changed over the last couple of years. LinkedIn’s mission is to be the social platform for education and professional development. There’s a huge opportunity for universities here.

First, you can write articles on LinkedIn. If you publish regularly on LinkedIn, you have the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of readers (many of whom are 30-49 years old and, according to LinkedIn’s data, earn good salaries).

If you’re not familiar with LinkedIn articles, go and explore. There’s a lot of good stuff out there. They’re picked up by search engines, they’re easily shared (you can tweet your LinkedIn articles), and people can like and comment, which gives you another opportunity to interact with followers.

Lastly, how people use LinkedIn is changing. Have a read of this incredible article by Guy Kawasaki for some evidence of that.

Ride the wave, not the board

Surfing pioneer Duke Kahanamoku was asked how he always stays on the board when he’s surfing. He reportedly said: “Ride the wave, not the board.”

This same thinking applies to social media and communication. I’ve outlined some ways you can use Twitter and LinkedIn to do public engagement and thought leadership, but there will be other tools and technologies that enable you to do the same thing.

There are bound to be things I’ve missed here. It’s such a big subject. I’d love to hear from you if you’re interested in developing your profile for public engagement. Let me know if there’s something I can help with.

Joe Field, social media manager


Clearing 2016 – three ways we used social media to make a difference

A-level results day. It can be an incredibly stressful time for students and, depending on what happens, it might involve them changing their study plans very quickly.

At Hallam, hundreds of members of staff (and student ambassadors) from across the University worked tirelessly to help those people, recruiting new students to the University through the clearing and confirmation process. Like previous years, Clearing 2016 was a huge team effort, bringing staff from every department together.

Our social media presence has grown significantly over the last few years, and the way we use it during clearing and confirmation has changed. This year, we wanted to do a few things differently.

Firstly, we wanted to tell our clearing story: the range of people involved, the excitement on the day, and our enthusiasm for changing people’s lives.

We also wanted to reply to everyone who took the time to message us about how excited they were to come and study here. No, really. Everyone. Engagement with our new fans and followers was really important, and we wanted to get it right.

Lastly, we wanted to use the technology to add real value to the clearing process at Hallam.

This is how we did it.

Telling our story

Our promotional content focused – as it often does – on our students. We found four students who came to us through clearing, and we created visual content based on their experiences.

Because we wanted to reach new audiences, we did a lot of advertising on Facebook and Instagram with our student stories. We also did some organic posts with them.

This organic post reached over 13,000 people, had over 4,500 video views and got a bit of engagement, with over 150 likes, comments and shares. Our paid-for posts obviously reached many more people – people who fit our target demographics and who didn’t already like our Facebook page.


We knew activity on Twitter would peak between 7am and 2pm, based on previous years. We’d get questions, in the form of @s and DMs, and we’d get notifications from people happy they’d secured a place at Hallam.

So we assigned a team member to each stream on Twitter: we had someone looking after notifications, one person looking after DMs, and someone else ready to post relevant, interesting and useful content to our timeline. The system worked well, and it meant we replied to every message.

In total, we sent 190 tweets during Clearing, and 35 DMs. We received 353 mentions, and our tweeting behaviour over the key two days of Clearing was 92 per cent conversations and 8 per cent updates. 72 per cent of our tweets were with new contacts, and 28 per cent were with existing contacts.

To increase engagement further, we set up a Facebook Live broadcast from the clearing suite, featuring one of our ‘faces of clearing’, Ben. This live video reached over 14,000 of our fans, and got shared nearly 30 times.

We used the live stream to answer questions, show the buzz in the clearing suite, and humanise our operation. We did something similar with our Instagram and Snapchat stories, which even featured a surprise appearance from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Chris Husbands.

Adding value

Our biggest change this year was to open up the application process through Facebook’s Messenger service. On results day, people could begin the application process by sending a direct message to our Facebook page.

Once they’d done so, one of our dedicated Facebook triage team would ask for their qualifications and other details needed to create an application. Or, if they didn’t meet our requirements, they’d sensitively let them know.

It was exactly the same process and conversation that new applicants would experience if they called our clearing hotline and spoke to an adviser. But on a social media platform.

We used Facebook’s functions to enhance and manage the process. We used saved replies for parts of the conversation, and we tracked conversations with the labelling function. We also added a note to each conversation, identifying the status of the application – either ‘application created’, ‘didn’t meet requirements’ or ‘other’.

In total, we put around 20 applicants forward through this process, knowing that if just one of them converted, it would be worth our time and effort.

Overall, this was our biggest social media operation yet, involving two separate teams: one dedicated to engagement and publishing, and one dedicated to facilitating the application process. A whole range of Hallam people took part in our social story-telling: from students to the VC.

As a result our content across social platforms was genuine, engaging – and it was about people.

Joe Field, social media manager

Engagement. How do you do yours?

The 2016 degree show, in the Sheffield Institute of Arts at the former Head Post Office

Raising awareness and creating conversations is a key central pillar of being able to increase engagement levels with your desired target audience on social media.

The ability to provide an opportunity for people to interact with you, offer their feedback on your ‘product’ (both good and bad), become an engaged advocate and to share this is now readily available through a number of social media products.

The key is choosing the right platform for the audience you want to talk to in order to create the right level of impact.

For final year students who are part of the Sheffield Institute of Arts (SIA), their degree shows are a culmination of three or four years of hard work in order to prepare and display the fruits of their work to friends, family, and industry.

We wanted to give those students the opportunity to share their success – so as to not just confine to the within the walls of our newly renovated Head Post Office, or the Cantor Building.

Taking into account the visual nature of the work produced by our students including fashion, photography, design, we felt Twitter was a great way of communicating this message.

To enhance the Twitter user experience, we were able to call upon the services of two PR and Journalism students – Bonnie Hines and Stefan Meinhardt – who ‘took over’ the @SIAgallery Twitter account during the preview evening.

By going through this route, it also allowed us the opportunity to demonstrate to industry influencers, internal and external stakeholders, as well as current and prospective students the breadth and quality of work on display.

It also gave us the chance to have conversations with our audience – so that it wasn’t just us broadcasting outwards. We involved them.

So, how did it go?

In short, very well. Four hours and exactly 50 tweets later, the tweets had accrued: 14391 impressions, 419 engagements, 29 RT’s and 37 favourites.

By using the SIA Twitter account, it gave us the perfect opportunity to display this. RT’s from other University Twitter accounts proved the perfect advocacy tool too ensuring the tweets were able to reach a significant amount of people – and by going through the SIA account, it meant that it would reach key influencers, leaders and other vital stakeholders.

Utilising two students who were able to upload and send tweets via their own phones meant that they could visit more of the degree show as our students work was on display across a number of university buildings.

By doing this, rather than there being downtime in proceedings during travel between sites, it allowed the number of tweets to continue to be communicated at a regular pace – which is important for keeping your audience interested for longer. As it’s a ‘live’ takeover, the amount of tweets needs to reflect this, which we were able to achieve.

The takeover gives Sheffield Hallam a unique opportunity to harness and utilise the skills of our own students as a peer-to-peer engagement tool, which was a great outcome for those who have an interest in both Sheffield Hallam and SIA.

Lessons learnt?

Being able to draw upon a pool of willing and confident students to host the takeover does prove to be a tricky obstacle at times. This was something which needed staff resource to resolve, which during the summer holidays, bought with a series of challenges – but everything was alright on the night. Agreeing on the need for a takeover soon would help to alleviate this.

Those who host the takeovers are always enthused by the simplicity of how they work. Guidance is always issued, which covers tone, the type of content to tweets, simple dos and don’ts and the fact that a nominated staff member was on hand to monitor the tweets and answer any questions they have, gives those hosting take takeover the ability to use Twitter to its full effect.

A measurement of its effectiveness is the answer to the question; ‘would you do it again?’ and when the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ you know it has been worthwhile.

Aidan Begley, Communications Assistant, Faculty of ACES.


What’s this blog for?

When I first started in the role of social media manager at Sheffield Hallam last summer, I was overwhelmed by the positive responses I had from colleagues. The creation of the role demonstrated that this was a university that was taking social seriously and, for colleagues in the organisation, there was someone they could call on for help and advice.

And that’s what my role is about: helping people around the University do social well. Similarly, that’s what this blog is for. It’s somewhere that, as a University community, we can share thoughts, ideas, experiences and resources, so that we can learn from each other.

So it makes sense that posts won’t just come from me. Posts on this blog will come from a wide range of contributors: academics who are using social platforms for research, support teams who are using them to engage with students and provide services, and students who are using social tools to publish their own work and develop their own networks. We’ll share case studies of community management projects, promotional campaigns and approaches to teaching and learning.

This blog is also intended to be a useful resource. There will be guidelines, practical how-to guides, and links to other useful resources. If there’s something you’d like to see here, or if you’d like to contribute, get in touch.

Another important question is: who is this blog for? It’s primarily for Sheffield Hallam staff, in support of their work. But – in the interests of being social and sharing – all of the content on this blog is accessible to everyone. It’s important that we contribute to the knowledge economy, and show the world how committed we are to using social media to do good things.

Joe Field, social media manager