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Anton Muscatelli: the University of Glasgow’s tweeting Vice-Chancellor

Estimated read time: 19 minutes

It’s no secret that not enough Higher Ed leaders in the UK are active on social media. Thankfully, among the few that are we’re blessed with some folk who really get it. One of those is the University of Glasgow’s Vice-Chancellor Anton Muscatelli and we were very fortunate enough to interview him about his adventures on Twitter.

Here’s what we came back with…

Are your University’s senior officers active on social media? If you’re based in the UK, the answer is probably a ‘no’ – almost certainly followed by a loud laugh.

However, there are some exceptions and one of the most high-profile can be found at the University of Glasgow.

In Glasgow, a University already renowned for being brilliant on social, they’re setting the trend again – they’ve got tweeters right at the top.

Their Vice-Chancellor, Anton Muscatelli – or, Sir Vito Antonio Muscatelli FRSA FRSE FAcSS if Wikipedia is accurate – has been tweeting publicly for over a year now, and loves it.

Not only that, he’s pretty great at it too.

Anyone following @UofGVC won’t just see tweets promoting the University of Glasgow. You get a fantastic insight into what makes up Anton as a person.

Obviously, he’s the top dog at Glasgow, so there is plenty of stuff celebrating and championing the University – but that’s not it. Being an economist, you won’t be surprised to find commentary on Brexit, while there are also posts relevant to his current role as Chair of the Russell Group.

But, all work and no play makes Anton a dull boy. He isn’t all about work – and neither is his Twitter feed, evidenced by the regular posts about his beloved Inter Milan or his love of Italian cooking.

In short, Anton’s feed has personality – bags of it. In fact, it’s a nigh-on perfect way for a University leader to approach this medium.

“It was important before we set up my account to have a clear idea about the topics I was going to talk about so we did have a vision from the outset,” said Anton, “From the start I knew that I wasn’t going to tweet solely about ‘university business’. As well as UofG news, I will talk about topics that genuinely interest me like economics and Brexit.

“Twitter is also a useful way to understand people’s personal interests so I am happy to share lighter elements of my life too. My tweets allow me to show more of my personality, including my love for Inter Milan and Italian cooking! But overall it does come naturally to me to blend the professional with the personal.”

Despite @UofGVC being live for over a year now, Anton has actually been active on Twitter for much longer – albeit under a somewhat incognito account.

“I have always had an interest in social media, particularly Twitter,” he explained, “However, before we launched @UofGVC I was more of an observer. I had an account but I wasn’t visible or engaging with people.

“I tweeted occasionally but the account wasn’t open and not many people knew it was me. I mainly used it to see what was going on at the University and follow conversations I was interested in. But I’ve certainly always seen Twitter as an interesting platform to disseminate news and communicate.”

This undercover approach was never wholly satisfying for Anton though, who soon realised that he’d prefer a more official presence – not to mention realising that his tweets would get more traction with a proper account.

Handily, his communications colleagues were also keen for him to create an open presence, so they put their heads together and started plotting, as Anton puts it, ‘the right time to make the leap’.

Part of that plotting involved sitting down with Glasgow social media team and hammering out all the fine details.

“I sat down with the social media team to talk about what our approach was going to be,” Anton said, “we worked together to decide on the handle, to write the bio, pick the profile and cover photos, and to agree the overall brand and vision for my account.

“Our meeting also included discussions around what audiences I wanted to be talking to and subjects or conversations I would engage with. The team supported me a lot in the early days to strike the right tone and be on brand with UofG hashtags.

“They also gave me constructive feedback – things like when they felt I was retweeting too much!”

And that was pretty much that – branding done, a plan of action scribbled out and @UofGVC was live.

Given that Anton was already familiar with the workings of Twitter, he didn’t really suffer with any nerves when the account was unleashed on the world.

He explained: “I am always quite careful with the tone I strike and know when I will, or will not, engage in a conversation. I also knew my Communications / social media colleagues were there to help if I needed any advice or guidance.”

Now, just over a year on, Anton is still tweeting and still getting plenty from it.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said, “It’s been an incredibly powerful tool to discuss issues in Higher Education or clearly set out the position of the University of Glasgow.

“Talking as an economist, it’s also been an important platform to establish what my position is when I’ve published an article or delivered a speech. It has also had impact with me being able to talk about Brexit and the implications this will have not only for the sector but for the UK economy too.”

Perhaps even more encouraging is the fact that he’s never wished he stayed incognito.

“No genuinely not,” he affirmed, “I don’t tend to comment on everything that comes up and I am careful what conversations I engage with.”

There are a couple of practicalities around having a Vice-Chancellor who is also an active tweeter – some of which you can hear about in our recent podcast with Glasgow’s social media team.

First of all, account ownership and access; while the vast majority of @UofGVC’s content does come from Anton himself, the social media also has a set of keys cut in case they need to post anything.

“They aren’t required to get sign off or permission from me as I trust they wouldn’t tweet anything I wasn’t happy with,” Anton explained, “However, I would say that 99% of my tweets are written by me. Now I’ve established my presence and style on Twitter, the social team will only tweet if I’m not around to tweet myself or if they’ve seen something go out from the main channel they know should be shared on mine, and perhaps I haven’t seen it yet.”

The other practicality is to do with simply finding the time to tweet – after all, Vice-Chancellors are busy people.

“I am generally able to find some time during the day,” Anton said, “I just have to be efficient at it, like moments in between meetings. What I would say though, is that you do have to make time to do it properly. You can’t simply broadcast, you need to listen and engage too.”

There are a great number of reasons why Anton’s use of Twitter is worth writing this lengthy piece about. Number one is simply his being there – there aren’t anywhere near enough Vice-Chancellors and senior officials from the sector taking an active role on social media right now.

Second is that Anton’s presence isn’t simply a token one; he actually uses his account to put stuff out there and to engage. At the recent #SocialUofG event, he admitted that he will often tweet things he disagrees with.

“I believe in the importance of open debate especially on big issues,” he explained, “I feel that Twitter is sometimes used by some for crowding out debates. That is a pity because diversity of debate is so important and I feel it should be encouraged.

“Therefore if it’s an interesting point of view, even if I may not agree with it, if it’s properly argued and interesting point of view, I will retweet it. My retweets can be a way of adding different opinions to the debate – particularly around policy.”

Third is that simply being active on Twitter has made Anton more visible to his colleagues inside the University and his peers outside of it – just by following @UofGVC you get a sense of what his is up to and what makes him tick.

“It’s allowed my followers to see other areas I am interested in – on HE policies, as well as more personal hobbies. Perhaps it has given people insights into my personal interests which is good when you help to run a very large organisation.”

Perhaps most interesting, though, is the knock-on effect Anton being on social media has had on his colleagues in Glasgow’s senior management team…they want in too!

“Three senior UofG leaders have recently joined Twitter,” Anton said, “Vice-Principals Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak and Professor Roibeard O Maolalaigh, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor & Senior Vice Principal Professor Neal Juster – each have their own individual approaches to it but still under the umbrella UofG brand.

“I think that’s key: empowering people to use the platform how they feel comfortable to do so. 

“I should note here that I would only encourage colleagues to have a social presence if they want to be online – it has to be their choice and they have to be happy to make the time for it. I have some other members of the management group who don’t have a passion or interest in being on Twitter, and that is absolutely fine too.”

With that in mind, it seems appropriate to pick Anton’s brains for some tips on how to make Twitter work for other academics or even other Vice-Chancellors who might stumble across this interview (hello if that’s you!).

First of all, Anton’s business case for being active on social media…

“I would tell them the many benefits it can have; having a voice and being a thought leader in your areas of expertise and having more visibility; being a brand ambassador for your university; the connections you can make with your peers and multiple stakeholders; and, giving the opportunity for others to see the human rather than the institutional side of yourself.”

As for how to actually make it work…

“You have to make time to do it well – including engaging in conversations; know what you want to achieve from the account before you begin – what you want to engage with and what you don’t; from the start – establish who your audiences are and the types of conversations you want to join (and ones you want to avoid); make sure you work collaboratively with your social media/communications teams. They will help guide you or advise when you experience challenges.”

That isn’t it for Anton’s Twitter tips – he also has some advice for social media and communications professionals reading this who might want to encourage their senior leaders online.

“Don’t force them into it! It may not suit their style of communication and it could be counterproductive. Also, try and make it as simple as possible for leaders to do it and de-mythologise it so they know the advantages and disadvantages.

“Lastly, be aware that partially curated accounts might suit some Vice-Chancellors’ characters better – or at least when you first start out and they are finding their feet.”

Anton isn’t just a fan of using social media himself, he’s also very on the value it can add to a University as a whole – from explaining your strategic plan through to building communities, along with plenty of other things in between.

“I am a strong advocate for using Social Media to help support the many strategic aims and vision of the University,” he explained, “I’ve seen how powerful it can be to build community (#TeamUofG) as well as communicating with our various stakeholders (media, current and prospective students and staff, alumni, partners and funding bodies), highlight our world-leading research, to support staff and student recruitment, build our local and international profile and bring the student and campus experience to life.

“Social Media has had a very positive impact on the University’s reputation and brand.”

Of course, the combination of Anton being one of Twitter’s early adopters – when it comes to Vice Chancellors of UK universities – and him being really great at using the platform means he’s seen by many as a leader in this space.

Let’s face it, most social media teams up and down the country – heck, all over the world – would kill to have their leaders be the kind of advocate for social that Anton is. It’s something he’s acutely aware of and pleased by.

“Well if that is true, that’s very flattering,” he said “However I think it’s partly because the medium is not used actively by many HE leaders (yet!). I’m pleased if people think I’m making a contribution of interest to HE and other policy areas.

“I see the huge impact and value social media has had, and will continue to have, for Glasgow and other HEIs.”

Anton’s favourite Twitter accounts to follow:

David Allen Green – lawyer, writer and contributing editor to the Financial Times

Jonathan Portes – Professor of Economics King’s College London who talks a lot about public policy

Paul Johnson – Director of Institute for Fiscal Studies

My favourite team Inter Milan FC

Follow Anton yourself