University of Nebraska (NU) President Hank Bounds gained a deeper understanding of Nebraskans' higher education concerns through a targeted Twitter campaign.
When Bounds became the seventh president of NU last April, he was not only new to the university, but also new to the state of Nebraska. He embarked on a statewide listening tour to learn more about what state residents wanted from higher education and their public university system. But one stop on Bounds' tour took place online. Twitter-based Nebraska Talks: A Digital Listening Tour helped Bounds reach more than 150,000 stakeholders, including current and prospective students, faculty and staff, educators, business and civic leaders, policy
makers, alumni, and donors.
Using the hashtag #PrezUnplugged, Bounds engaged in conversations on Twitter regarding pressing subjects such as access, affordability, out-of-state and international recruitment, and alumni engagement. Bounds saw that many people sent tweets commending his use of social media as a way to listen to people's concerns and push for dialogue.
For Bounds, a spike in Twitter followers wasn't the most important outcome. He learned that he could use Twitter to engage in continuous conversation with the people most important to the NU system and even build relationships offline. Bounds selected one junior at NU's Omaha campus and the president of the Nebraska Educational Technology Association to keep the conversation going with him in person.
Bounds stresses that Twitter takes a lot of effort to use effectively, but adds that investing in the tool is worth the effort.
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"I... challenge my peers to rethink—and even embrace—social media as an opportunity to connect with stakeholders in real time, to listen and engage on real topics, and to be accessible," Bounds writes. "For new and established presidents alike, Twitter is an underused tool for gathering information, understanding the evolving educational landscape, and hearing and recognizing the needs of key audiences" (Bounds, Inside Higher Ed, 8/2).
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