Universities have an urgent mission: Make lying wrong again

The current generation of university faculty and administrators does not fully grasp the myriad opportunities for social connection available nowadays nor the different ways that individuals engage with others – and each communication channel offers opportunity, risks and complexity.

The reach of video platforms is daunting. For instance, YouTube’s T-Series – featuring music and film trailers – has roughly 3.52 billion channel views, according to December 2021 figures. On other social media outlets, artists, sports celebrities and digital influencers collect millions of followers.

Most higher education institutions, even with thousands of alumni, do not come close to having a comparable digital impact.

According to a recent social media engagement report, the top university in terms of social media presence in the United States is the University of Iowa with around 125,000 followers on Twitter, 200,000 followers on Facebook and 100,000 followers on Instagram.

In many universities, there are many faculty members who have higher numbers individually, but still fall short of the reach of popular culture channels.

So many communication channels now compete for audience attention. Social media, messaging apps, managing systems and media platforms are the most visible aspects of this revolution, but apps and platforms are continuing to emerge at frightening speed while few university administrators or professors keep pace with audiences of their own.

Yet universities have an incredibly important mission in modern, democratic societies as the source of evidence-based truths. Our concern here is how universities can compete with all the ‘noise’ to ensure that facts are not only disseminated but that they are trusted. And this, when universities are struggling to defend their value to increasingly dubious societies.

They must do a better job of communicating their worth to both internal and external stakeholders.

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