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A Study of Best Practices in Social Media Use by University and College Presidents in Canada and the United States
by Dan Zaiontz on 17 October 2014

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Transcript of #FollowTheLeader

A Study of Best Practices
in Social Media Use by
University and College Presidents
in Canada and the United States

Table of Contents
Guide to the
Navigate the study highlights here.
Research Questions
Best Practices
Ask Yourself:
Are You Sir William Preece?
Table of Contents
About the study
Research Questions
Literature Review
Research Design and Participants
The Findings
Limitations and Conclusions
Next Steps
Research Questions

RQ1: How and to what extent are American and Canadian university and college presidents using social media tools to positively impact their personal, professional and institutional reputations?

RQ2: What, if any, are the personal, professional, and institutional opportunities and risks resulting from the social media activities of American and Canadian university and college presidents?

RQ3: What, if any, are the best practices employed by American and Canadian university and college presidents who are considered active users of social media tools?

RQ4: How, if at all, can strategic advisors, such as professional communicators, optimally support American and Canadian university and college presidents in their social media activities and engagement?

Best Practices
A President Must Choose
Ask Yourself: Are You Sir William Preece?
Assess Personal Aversion to Risk
Understand Amplification
More than one way to approach this
Find your role models
Develop your rules of engagement
Identify what needles you'd like to move
Take stock and pivot

How history remembers
Sir William Preece...
Research Findings
About the study
#FollowTheLeader is major research study conducted in spring-summer 2013 by Dan Zaiontz, a Toronto-based professional communicator and social media consultant. A graduate student in the Master of Communications Management (MCM) joint program from McMaster University and Syracuse University, Zaiontz also works in strategic planning and public affairs at Toronto’s Seneca College. Defended by Zaiontz in October 2013, the study was the culminating capstone project of the researcher’s tenure in the MCM program, informed by an exhaustive review of academic, industry and media sources; observation of relevant social media activity and more than 20 confidential interviews with Canadian and American university and college presidents. The study explored a number of emerging themes including: best practices in social media engagement by higher education leaders, the unique and perceived risks and opportunities of these activities, current conditions for university and college presidents on social media and recommendations for strategic advisors in assisting leaders to optimally and effectively employ these tools.

About Dan Zaiontz
Dan Zaiontz is a Toronto native and professional communicator with more than eight years of diverse experience representing some of Canada's largest media brands. Including stints at Rogers Sportsnet and Canada's Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium, Dan has helped to share the stories of a number of major events and properties from the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games to the Toronto Blue Jays. In recent years, Zaiontz has pursued new public relations opportunities in the postsecondary education sector, joining the communications and strategic planning team at Seneca College, serving previously as the college's Sports Information and Promotions Coordinator and currently as Special Projects Coordinator. Specializing in social media strategy, speechwriting, and public relations, he has completed a Master of Communications Management from McMaster University-Syracuse University. Dan loves to talk leadership, politics, the frustrations of being a Toronto sports fan, health foods, running, motivation, great TV and film (see: Aaron Sorkin), rock music (see: Foo Fighters) and ethical shopping (see: bleeding heart). He can be reached on Twitter: @danzaiontz.
Jeremy Piven as Dean Pritchard,
head of fictional Harrison University
in 2003's "Old School".
Source: (Pollock & Reitman, 2003)
Logos for popular social networks used by Canadian and American higher education leaders including: Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Source: (, 2013)
By: Dan Zaiontz, Social Media Researcher and Strategic Advisor
How did we get here...
Literature Review - In Summary

“Although the attention being paid to the new digital media may be the latest fad in public relations, these new media have the potential to make the profession more global, strategic, two-way and interactive, symmetrical or dialogical, and socially responsible.” (Grunig, 2009, p. 1).

Literature Review - In Summary

• “You can’t be a university president and be anti-social. In a president’s ceremonial role, she’ll have to attend luncheons, dinners, meetings, cocktail hours, fundraisers, all kinds of athletic contests.” (Stoner, 2012, para. 3)
Literature Review - In Summary

“The current presidents have had to deal with this era’s financial constraints by becoming fluent in the language of money, from fundraising with alumni and private donors to defending the sector against competing public priorities. Their successors must continue those efforts – while strengthening Canada’s global brand against ambitious new competitors.” (Bradshaw, 2012, para. 3)
Literature Review - In Summary

“Being a university president is a pretty complex job. It is part diplomat, part fundraiser, part cheerleader, part civil service administrator, part strategic visionary, part financial planner and part fire fighter given the tendency for assorted crises to flare up. The main tasks are really forging community relationships (both internal and external to the university), fundraising for the university as its front man, and general strategic vision and direction. Day to day management of academic and financial affairs as well as dealing with the staff and faculty is usually the preserve of a vice-president particularly at the larger places. The buck does eventually stop at the president as she or he is ultimately accountable to the board” (Di Matteo, 2012, para. 3).
Literature Review - In Summary

“Colleges today are serving the most mobile and social customers in the world, many of whom are using multiple mobile devices to network and collaborate. Today, social networking is the most popular use of the web. A 2012 study noted that students are choosing colleges with social media clout. A survey of 7,000 high school students revealed that university social media accounts influenced their selections” (Afshar, 2013, para. 1).
Literature Review - In Summary

“Yet if using Twitter makes college presidents more personable, it also makes them easier to impersonate. As in the case of @PrezHuddleston, the plausibility of a bona fide Twitter president has given rise to phony ones. And Mark Huddleston is not the only college figurehead with a doppelgänger. In the last two years, fake presidential Twitter accounts have cropped up at Columbia University, Wesleyan University, Georgetown University, Brown University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Vassar College” (Kolowich, 2011, para. 8).

Literature Review - In Summary

“College presidents who make their forays into social media can serve to further personalize their institutions through online engagement and foster connection with a vast digital audience interested in the workings of an educational institution. Twitter provides a viable platform on which to connect with students, colleagues, alumni, student-run publications and groups, college offices and even prospective attendees” (Walgrove, 2012, para. 3).
Literature Review - In Summary

“The solution is to stop looking at social media as another platform you have to learn—yet another responsibility—and start seeing it for what it can be instead: a personal toolbox for improving your practice of leadership” (Samuel, 2012, para. 5).
Research Design

Recruit Canadian and American university and college presidents for one-on-one interviews
Twitter-based recruitment approach
Ensured confidentiality
Case Study Method
Share findings on social media
Research Participants
22 interview participants
11 Canadian and 11 American
Social media active
Most interviewed via Skype

Research Findings
First experiences with social media
Common barriers to entry
Is social media a necessity?
Current Tools Employed
Common Stakeholder Interactions
Risks and Opportunities
Social media approaches
Current Tools Employed
Common Stakeholder Interactions
Risks and Opportunities

Five major types of risks were identified through participant interviews: personal security, reputational damage, account security, alienating key stakeholders and negatively impacting institutional interests.

Study participants identified five major types of opportunities gained through their personal usage of social media tools. These included: intelligence gathering, thought leadership, strengthened reputation, new and enhanced strategic relationships and a positive impact on institutional interests.
Common Approaches

The Customer Servant
The Institutional Promoter
The Socially Inconsistent President
The Oversharing Non-Strategist
The Socially Active Strategist

Recommendations for Professional Communicators and Strategic Advisors

Honestly Assess Your President
Scout the field
Make a strategic case
Provide Support
Measure Success Beyond 'Likes'

All participants were active social media users
Small Sample Size
Can data be replicated?

Results may vary
The decision is personal
The future may demand social media literacy
Next Steps

Disseminate research findings
Professional development for higher education presidents
Continue to share findings on social media
Future research
Thank You!

Any questions?
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