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MIT Sloan Management Review: As a leader of a large public organization, how are digital tools, such as social media, changing the way you do your job?
Santa Ono: I have an integrated communications strategy, which includes traditional face-to-face meetings as well as town hall meetings and communications through media, television, newspapers, magazines, and interviews on regional and national news media. In addition, I have an extensive and robust digital strategy that includes a presence on most social media platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, occasionally Snapchat, and Reddit, as well as a regular blog and Facebook Live communications around topical areas.
What have you noticed has been an impact of that strategy? How has that affected how you do your job?
Having a digital strategy, in addition to the more traditional means of communication employed by university presidents, allows me to have more of a global reach. It also allows me to connect with digital natives and the younger generation much more effectively than if I stuck to face-to-face meetings, town hall meetings, and communications through traditional media. Increasingly, the younger generations are looking at the world through a digital lens. In many cases, it’s much more effective for me to use social media.
The other thing that is very attractive and powerful about communicating through social media is that it’s a dialogue; many of these platforms allow individuals to communicate directly with the communicator. That can be done either in the open or by a direct message. People, especially the younger generation, are increasingly comfortable in communicating in that way. They’re also, in some cases, much more comfortable communicating through digital media in direct messaging as opposed to out in the open.
Do you do this entirely yourself, or do you have a team that helps you with this digital strategy?
The digital strategy is almost exclusively my own activity. It’s something I started when I was at Emory University, when students demanded that I have some sort of a social media presence. At that time, I really didn’t even know how to text. Students felt that it was important for me to have a Facebook presence, so it started with that.