Harvard’s Chief Digital Officer on being relevant in the digital world

Hewitt_Sept_2012Perry Hewitt joined Harvard University in 2009 as the institution’s first Chief Digital Officer. The mission, as she describes it, was to help the university “be relevant and relatable in the digital world.” Though Facebook had been founded in a Harvard dorm room five years prior, for example, the school didn’t yet have an official Facebook page when Hewitt took the position.

Under her stewardship, the 378-year old university now boasts a social media dashboard, which keeps track of digital activity in and around the Harvard community; a university Facebook page now closing in on four million “likes”; and rapidly growing social presences on channels like Instagram, Twitter, and Giphy, right, a site that collects animated GIFs. giphy-harvardStudentAdvisor.com now rates Harvard as the #1 social media university in its ranking of how “innovative schools use social media to give insight into their culture, their personality, their DNA.” As noted on the StudentAdvisor.com site, “The school with one of the most historically prominent offline networks is now dominating the social media world.”

But Hewitt’s role is not without challenges. Harvard is an infamously distributed place, and it can be tough to reach all stakeholders with new initiatives. It can be a job in and of itself to ensure Schools and faculty are informed of a new digital means of aggregating content, like the Online Learning Portal launched this past fall. That said, a movement toward increased collaboration, informally dubbed “One Harvard,” is beginning to ease the process.

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