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W&M using social media to expand presidential search engagement

  • Reaching out
    Reaching out  The Presidential Search Committee has launched a social media campaign to keep the community informed about progress finding the university's 28th president.  
  • Reaching out
    Reaching out  The Presidential Search Committee has launched a social media campaign to keep the community informed about progress finding the university's 28th president.  
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As the search for William & Mary’s 28th president enters its “quiet phase,” university officials and search committee members continue to develop ways to keep the W&M community informed and engaged in the process.

Search committee members heard last Friday about University Communications’ multi-pronged approach to boosting engagement in the search process, which launched last spring when President Taylor Reveley announced his plans to retire in the summer of 2018.

Since then, the university and the committee have routinely sent emails to students, faculty, staff, alumni and the university’s friends, updating the community and referring them to the special website dedicated to the search, The page has been viewed more than 25,000 times since its April launch.

The website features background information, a timeline, biographies of search committee members, an introduction to the search firm retained by the university, a how-to for nominations and most recently, the presidential leadership profile.

The profile reflects input from the more than 150 listening sessions the search committee conducted with university stakeholders as well as insights into the greater Williamsburg community, Virginia’s higher education landscape and William & Mary’s unique academic achievements, history and culture.

In addition, the university has launched a social media campaign across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, specifically with an eye to making sure that current students and young alumni remain informed and engaged, said Chief Communications Officer Brian Whitson. The communications team, for example, developed social-media-specific graphics that quickly convey where the university is in the search process and that highlight relevant quotes from search committee members, he added.

Committee members themselves are also active on social media, sharing photos from listening sessions on their channels, which are then reposted from William & Mary with the enduring hashtag #wmPresident. Two committee members even hosted a live listening session with students on Google Hangouts.

William & Mary on Friday launched an Instagram Story about the leadership profile, marking the first time the university used that feature on the social media platform to highlight content. The Story included a series of slides that began, “What are we looking for in our 28th #wmPresident?” The following nine slides, which cycle on the Instagram app, quote salient points from the leadership profile.

“The idea is that if you don’t want to read the entire 36-page leadership profile right now, you could spend 45 seconds and at least get a sense of what it says about priorities and the work of the committee,” Whitson said.

The search committee is now entering into what is known as a “quiet phase,” when the search firm is actively recruiting candidates and respecting their confidentiality.

“This will present some communications challenges, especially in maintaining engagement,” Whitson said. “You want to be transparent, but we also understand we need to make sure we keep parts of the process confidential.”

In response, Whitson said the university is working on a series of social media videos featuring Committee Chair Tom Watkins ‘74 providing additional information and background about the work of the committee and process.

“But we also wanted to have some fun,” Whitson said, before he previewed a newly produced, light-hearted video about the search that is expected to air at the end of September. “We think this one will be popular with students.”