University’s new social media director pushes ahead

Allison Farrand/Daily
Nikki Sunstrum, the University's newly appointed social media director, discusses how the school's Twitter accounts can help engage students. Buy this photo

By Jennifer Calfas, Managing News Editor
Published January 27, 2014

Updated: This story has been updated with Nikki Sunstrum's salary.

When the University’s Board of Regents announced the selection of Mark Schlissel as the University’s 14th president, one new staff member sat among the audience members in the Michigan Union, vigorously updating the University’s social media sites.

While Nikki Sunstrum, the University’s new director of social media, didn’t get a press conference on her arrival, she did fill an empty spot in the University’s Global Communications Office.

Sunstrum was selected for the position after a year-long search. She previously served as the state of Michigan’s social communications coordinator and started in her new position on Jan. 6. In her state position, Sunstrum oversaw more than 149 social media accounts and curated regular live chats and town hall forums.

Jordan Miller, the University’s former social media director, resigned in December 2012 amid allegations that she lied about completing her bachelor’s degree.

Sunstrum received her bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State University and her master’s from Aquinas College. University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald confirmed that Sunstrum is paid $100,000 per year — the same amount Miller earned during her short time in the position.

After three years working for the state, Sunstrum said she is excited to take her social media work to the global level.

“Going globally gives us a different opportunity to seek out how our content will play into other audiences,” she said. “My first goal for the year is bringing everyone together. We have a lot of accounts, and they’re all on different levels. So, how can we work together so that we’re all leveraging the collective audience.”

Sunstrum said she has already met with representatives from the University’s different schools and colleges to understand their social media needs and aspirations.

During Miller’s stint as director of social media, she curated the University’s social media platforms and profile, and launched the @umichstudents Twitter account in July 2012.

Sunstrum said she plans to maintain and enhance the University’s several social media accounts. For example, Sunstrum hopes to shift the focus of @umichstudents to not only current University students, but to prospective applicants who may be interested in understanding the campus community. Sunstrum has met with orientation teams to gauge a better understanding of what goes into welcoming new students.

Since she attended graduate school for education, Sunstrum said she has the opportunity to give guest lectures and speak on different elements of social media.

“I think I’m going to turn things on its head a little bit,” she said. “A little more strategy-based — I’m going to leave the creative part to the people who know how to do that well. I’m going to focus on really growing our audiences and making ourselves look great on a global scale.”

In December 2012, Reddit user citizenthrowawayx announced in a post that Miller did not complete her Bachelors of Arts in Journalism degree from Columbia College Chicago as it reads on her résumé. According to the documents, Miller was a few credits short of graduating.

William Gregory, a records specialist at Columbia College Chicago, confirmed that Miller did not graduate.

“My intention was never to deceive the University, but I acknowledge that I made a mistake, and I’m sorry,” Miller wrote in a statement to the University regarding her resignation.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in December 2012 that Miller resigned willingly with no disciplinary action taken against her.

In a January 2013 interview, Fitzgerald said each department and specific position undergoes a unique background check and interview in their employment process. Regarding how the University may have missed Miller’s error, he added that it was “a very unusual set of circumstances.”

Student Advisor ranked the University as the 29th best social media-using college, ranking it fifth for its Instagram account and as the “Most Collaborative Large College.”

The University has nearly 63,000 Twitter followers, its Instagram page holds nearly 27,000 followers and its Facebook page boasts nearly 538,000 “Likes.”

As for where social media is heading, Sunstrum said the future is unpredictable. To maintain its importance in day-to-day life, she added that social media should become integrated into everyday goals and objectives.

“My job didn’t exist five years ago, and it very well could not exist five years from now,” she said. “We need to find a way to make social less shiny; it’s not really that pet project on the side on the more … A tweet is just the new press release.”

Correction appended: A previous version of this article misstated Sunstrum's previous position title as the State of Michigan's social media analyst. She was the social communications coordinator for the state.