Q&A with Sergio Tovar, social media specialist at Duke University

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Sergio Tovar is social media specialist at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He previously worked as a sportswriter and online producer at The Charlotte Observer. In this interview, conducted by email, Tovar discusses his job, the transition to higher education from news and life as a Tar Heels fan in Blue Devils country.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. I’m in charge of social media for Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. That means I spend a large part of my day promoting our content, monitoring our different channels and covering school events. I also look at analytics to figure out long-term strategy to help us recruit prospective students and reach the overall community.

Aside from social media, I’m responsible for writing stories, press releases and other internal communication highlighting our students, faculty and research while also editing our student blogs. I also help with digital marketing and advertising as well as video and multimedia production.

I pretty much do a little bit of everything, and no two days are the same, which is something I really like.

Q. Before working at Duke, you were a reporter and online producer at The Charlotte Observer. What was that transition like?

A. I like to tell people that being a journalist today requires you to wear so many different hats that it makes changing jobs – and picking up new skills as you go – a little easier.

I already had experience with a lot of what I do now while working in the newsroom, so that made it a pretty easy transition. I had no experience in higher ed, so I did have to learn about how the school operates, how recruitment works as well as other aspects of the field.

Honestly, the biggest transition was learning to take my time to work on projects. Working for an online-first publication, you pretty much have an ongoing deadline and are constantly trying not to get beat by a competitor. That’s a hard mentality to break away from.

Q. You’re a 2009 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What have you learned on the job?

A. I became a much better writer as a student there, and no matter what my job is, I’ll continue to use that every single day.

Knowing how to condense a big idea and communicate it to a specific audience is very important to my job. If you ever have to translate a scientific paper into everyday English, you’ll know what I mean. Everything from knowing how to interview people to some of what I learned in media law is still applicable to what I do.

Dating back to my Daily Tar Heel days, I learned the importance of knowing how to multitask, especially when you’re working under deadline. I’m constantly working on a few projects on top of my day-to-day responsibilities, so I can’t even begin to describe how important having that skill is in the real world. Other than that, I’ve learned to be flexible, to always take time to learn from my co-workers and to never stop looking for new skills.

Q. So you work at Duke but went to UNC. What’s your life like on Carolina-Duke game days?

A. I’m a huge Carolina fan, so I try to be as obnoxious about it as possible. If you take one look at my desk, there’s no question about where I went to school, and on game day I’m more than likely wearing Carolina blue to reinforce the point.

I don’t really work directly with people who care all that much about the rivalry, so I don’t catch as much flak as you would imagine. We also have several other Tar Heels in the building, so I have some backup.

Aside from a little bit of friendly trash talk, the worst thing has been having a co-worker hand deliver a copy of The (Duke) Chronicle after losses. When UNC wins, I don’t return the favor. I just show up in Carolina blue again.

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