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Making the most of social media

Jenny Fowler, manager of social media strategy in MIT’s Communications Initiatives, shares tips for those building a social media presence for their DLC or group.
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Social media can be a great way to promote your MIT department, lab, center (DLC), or group and to engage with your audience. For those who are new to it, though, running multiple sites for outreach can be daunting. Jenny Fowler, the manager of social media strategy in MIT’s Communications Initiatives, shares some tips for those starting to build a social media presence.

Which platform?

The most popular platforms are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, with Snapchat on the rise. Fowler recommends Facebook for those new to social media. “Facebook is still really popular with early teens, and their grandparents are on it too. It has this huge audience reach and lets you do almost everything, now. You can post images, post videos, go live, create events, and more.”

You’ll want to give careful thought before taking on a new platform. Fowler encourages communicators to consider their goals, audience, and the platforms their audience may be using. Also consider the type of content that will be shared. For example, if you plan to share a lot of images, Instagram is a good choice.

Fowler cautions communicators from rushing into new platforms. “Opening a platform just to be in that platform is spreading your valuable time even thinner. Decide if it makes sense.”

Creating content for social

Once your group’s social media presence stretches across two or more platforms, it’s important to tailor the content. “My posts on Facebook are different from my posts on Twitter and my posts on Instagram,” says Fowler. “It can be the same content, but it should be presented using the best practices of that platform.”

It’s also helpful to understand the user base for each platform when deciding what content to use. For example, Snapchat skews younger than Facebook or Twitter.

Although each platform is different, one thing remains the same: visuals. Putting a picture or video on every social media post has come to be expected — and is demonstrated to improve audience engagement. GIFs are a great way to spice up your feed; you can find them on the Giphy site, including some that are MIT-specific.


Hashtags are an important part of social media. Fowler pictures a hashtag as a “virtual room.” Those who know about the hashtag and are interested in the topic will use it to enter the conversation.

They’re not used in the same way on each platform, however. Fowler notes that “Instagram is the medium where you can just hashtag away. You can have 23 hashtags and it’s fine, but on Twitter it gets messy. On Twitter I recommend using just one or two.” Facebook has implemented hashtags as well, but they aren’t often used there.

“Twitter is the most hashtag savvy, the most actively engaged in hashtags,” Fowler explains. “Although Instagram allows for the use of many hashtags, I feel the importance of each one is lost. Instagram hashtags help users find each other, Twitter hashtags help users discuss hot topics.”

To find active hashtags, Fowler searches within Twitter. While she normally uses hashtags that are already popular on Twitter, she does create original hashtags for unique topics such as #MIT2016, the commencement hashtag that’s updated each year.

Fowler warns against creating too many new hashtags, though, going back to the virtual room idea: “If you create a room that no one else knows exists, it’s just you talking to yourself.”


Social media gives you a quick and easy way to gauge audience interest. The amount of likes, comments, and shares a post gets can be telling. “I’m not a fan of vanity metrics,” says Fowler, referring to impressions and reach. “It doesn’t mean that everyone a post ‘reached’ necessarily even saw the post. The metrics I value are likes, retweets, and shares — engagements. Those mean that people looked at that post and were motivated to do something.”

Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics provide these numbers, as well as trends, for free. Hootsuite is an external service that provides analytics for multiple platforms and helps manage and schedule social media. It has a free version, or you can contact Fowler to ask about Hootsuite Enterprise, a paid license.

Analytics show which posts are the most compelling. Once the account has enough content, trends may appear around specific types of posts. “Our posts with pictures of the dome do really well, so we probably post a picture of the dome about once a month because people love it. Analytics help you make more informed content strategy decisions,” Fowler says.

She counsels, “To start off, measure one metric. It depends on what your goals are. Maybe you’re concerned with video views or Twitter engagements. Check that metric often, and it’ll look the same for a while, but one day it will do something crazy. It will spike up or shoot down and you’ll ask ‘why did that happen?’”

If that metric isn’t providing enough information, focus on another. “Maybe the video views aren’t telling you what you’re looking for, so you decide to look at how many people click through from your post to an article.” Fowler notes, “You can be really specific, and you can change your mind.”

Engaged support

Fowler is a resource on campus for those seeking guidance about their group’s social media presence. She hasn’t created any online guides because social media is so versatile, but she’s happy to meet with community members and give them personalized advice: “I’m here to talk about content strategy and help you zero in on your goals and focus.”

If you manage a social platform for a DLC or manage a person who does, you can join the social-media email list and the Social Media Working Group, which meets monthly on campus. To find out more, or to set up an appointment, send email to Jenny Fowler.

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