Ma'ayan Plaut is the social media coordinator at Oberlin College.
Within the past month, I have transitioned into my new position as social media coordinator. With a year's worth of hands-on social media experience under my belt, plus ever-important audience observation, I've been a part of several conversations in the past few weeks about best practices and using social media around campus. In some cases, I was a consultant and brainstormer, in others, a mediator for conversations. But overall, I was a happy sponge: absorbing as much information to learn what is working and what we can improve around campus.
As a campus, we have been subscribing to the megaphone theory of social media: We use most of our platforms as the soapbox we stand upon to broadcast our messages. The next step, for many of our offices and departments, is engagement toward online conversation.
Using what we have
Bonner Center for Service and Learning. An incredibly dedicated summer intern set the Bonner Center up with a dream combination of social media platforms, way ahead of the current social media curve. The accompanying guide to new media strategy did an excellent job in delivering a comprehensive crash course on the different platforms. Slowly but surely, the Bonner Center has been embracing social media. After several individual and team meetings, the center will be regularly updating its Tumblr with photographs, videos and profiles of different community service sites and its Facebook page with service opportunities in Oberlin and Lorain County.
Allen Memorial Art Museum. A past intern at the museum set up a Tumblr blog and Facebook page two years ago and began populating with event updates, podcasts and collection features, making the museum one of the media-savviest places on campus at the time. The Allen has been undergoing renovations for the past year and a half, and its online presence has been an incredible asset while the museum was closed: video updates of the renovations, podcasts by docents and professors on pieces from the collection and photos from the increased outreach efforts were posted several times a month.
With only weeks before the museum reopens, there are sneak previews of the installations going up and of the new sustainable features in the renovated galleries. There will be a soft opening during orientation, and the grand opening the first day of classes. In gearing up for the big day, the museum is planning for a huge social media kickoff the week before everyone arrives back on campus.
Timing: How do we get things out there?
The Conservatory of Music. Conservatory communications, a subset of the office of communications in charge of the Conservatory of Music's internal and external communications, is new to the social media sphere with fledging Facebook and Twitter presences. Together, we created a schedule to keep the conservatory's online presence constantly updated with new and compelling media and worked on ways to make each entry engaging with more user contributions. Brainstorming with some student workers and the director and assistant director of communications led to strategizing special features for its Facebook page, including a weekend concert schedule and related polls, discussion questions and photo features.
Day of Service. An enormous service kickoff event for incoming first years, the Day of Service usually manages to enroll more than half of our incoming class in a day of civic engagement and community service in Oberlin and around Lorain County. After a few hiccups, the coordinator managed to effectively recruit students via our Oberlin 2015 Facebook group, and to date, we have enrolled more than 400 students to lend a hand at my favorite orientation activity. Additionally, this year's coordinator had set up a wiki to collect yearly contact information, service site progress and post-service reflection, to better explain the goals and products of service in the community from year to year.
Taking the next step
College Lanes. Our campus bowling alley, College Lanes, began leaping and bounding through the social media world midway through the summer. I responded to one of its tweets regarding its location on Foursquare, and promptly ended up setting up a meeting with the assistant manager. In addition to daily updates to its Twitter and Facebook accounts, College Lanes has added daily blogging to its regime, with topics ranging from visual content to updates as the bowling team goes to tournaments. It is planning on recruiting student lane attendants to post updates from behind the desk and on the lanes once the school year begins.
Summer has a good time for me to catch up with social media efforts and progress around campus at a time that people have to meet, talk, discuss and strategize for the upcoming academic year, and our returning students, faculty and staff will be pleasantly surprised.
Cassie Dull is the online communications specialist at Park Tudor School, an independent school in Indianapolis, Indiana.
School is starting! Independent schools, colleges and universities in the United States are gearing up for another year of classes, another round of applicants and another experiment in marketing to millenials online.
If summer slipped by and you didn't have the time or budget to redesign your website, you still have time to implement a few small changes that can make a big impact for the next crop of incoming students, and prospective students and parents.
Review the admissions and academics sections of your website. Look for dead-ends and find opportunities for calls to action. The recent Noel-Levitz study on e-expectations of prospective college students and their parents tells us that prospectives are most interested in looking at your school's academic offerings, so make it a top priority to ensure that section is up to par.
Add social media buttons. Don't let your website be a silo; make it into a hub. Show off your social media accounts on your website and encourage visitors to interact with you.
Add social media widgets. With one click of the Twitter follow button, your site visitor can become your new follower. With one click of a Facebook like button, your site visitor can share your content with their friends.
Promote your Facebook page(s) in multiple channels of communication. Talk about it on your website, in your email marketing, in print advertisements, etc. If you have a Facebook page for incoming freshmen, make sure they know that is a good place to go to get information about move-in week and to get to know their new classmates.
Make your Facebook content engaging for current students and prospective students. According to the Noel-Levitz report, two-thirds of students surveyed said that visiting a school's Facebook page had no influence on their attitude toward the school. Make it a positive experience and stand out from the crowd.
Add videos and photo galleries. A video doesn't have to be professional to make a difference in the mind of a prospective student. Short clips of real activities happening on campus, even if shot on the go with a mobile phone, can have a big impact. Don't forget photo galleries; some people prefer flipping through a set of pictures to watching a video.
Hire a professional photographer. When it comes to images on your website, you want big, bold pictures that make a statement about your school.
Revamp email marketing templates. Try to match the scheme of your website - colors, fonts, pictures, headers, etc. Spend an hour or two creating a new header banner graphic for your newsletter.
I hope these suggestions are helpful to you as we begin another school year and another admissions season. If you have more suggestions for spicing up your website or online communications, leave a comment.
Susan Evans is the director of creative services for the senior strategic communication team at the College of William & Mary.
When I google "William & Mary Class of 2015," the top result is the Facebook page we created for incoming students. In just a few days, these bright and hopeful new students will show up on campus for orientation. They've been active members of our community for months.
William & Mary Class of 2015 on Facebook launched on December 1, 2010, first as a community for early decision admits. As William & Mary Dean of Admission Henry Broaddus states, "early decision students already bleed green and gold." So we intentionally allow the enthusiasm about William & Mary to simmer away on Facebook for a few months while the rest of the class is admitted. In late March, another 4,000+ were notified about the Class of 2015 Facebook page.
The Undergraduate Admission team hosts the Facebook party while students are deciding. Admission selects a group of current students (Tribe Ambassadors!) to field questions and generate discussion within the online community. Don't misunderstand the intent, a primary goal is to convince the best students to attend William & Mary.
By May 1, some percentage of admitted students become enrolling students and the wildly enthusiastic orientation team takes over the management of the Facebook page. Throughout the summer months, orientation staff post reminders and instructions, but the bulk of the conversation is, as it should be, among the enrolling students.
As of August 11, 2011, the page had 1,610 "Likes." (Note: William & Mary typically enrolls a freshman class of 1,450.) Photos, videos, and the personalities of incoming students fill the space as connections are made, fears are allayed and information is shared. In a recent seven-day period, the vibrant community produced:
Comments and posts run the gammet; everything from "Who else is in love with Harry Potter?" to "Where can I find a move-in schedule?" to "Does anyone know if there's a limitation on how many posters you can hang up in your dorm?" to "So who else is in the 7 person Caribbean Identities class?"
Since December 1, this enthusiastic crew of incoming students also started (and continued) 81 discussion topics covering everything from "Rock Climbers??" to "Favorite Books" to "Need a cheap minifridge?"!
Like many colleges and universities, William & Mary first used a custom spot within our campus portal as the online community for admitted and new students. The portal solution worked for a while but about five years ago, we abandoned it and moved to Facebook. For those who are thinking about creating an official Facebook presence for new students or wondering how to turn it up a notch on an already established page, consider this:
Convenience matters. Facebook is pervasive and 18-year-olds are there in abundance. Splashy microsites aside, prospectives are influenced by what their friends are saying about your school. And, enrolling students are more likely to stick around when they regularly and easily see your content. If it's convenient for me, I'm more likely to...
This is how they do it. Raised with online communities, using social media as a support system for one of life's biggest transitions (leaving home and going to college!), is the way it's done. Connecting with potential roommates, remembering to sign up for classes during a particular time slot and beginning to see yourself as a put-your-college-name-here student are just a smattering of the possibilities on Facebook.
Lurk. Yes, the official staff sponsors should be part of a Facebook community for admitted and enrolling students. But think of your role as a mostly silent partner. Offer concrete instructions and reminders about deadlines and, of course, step in to correct the facts. Otherwise, appoint current students you trust, and let the conversation go on without you.
These are paying customers. Student-centered. Period. (Well, actually, a bit more.) Don't underestimate the time it takes to read and respond to Facebook content. Be certain that current students who are employed to participate in the community understand the ongoing commitment. Giving your customers what you promise requires follow through.
Hey, what about me? Your grandmother is on Facebook, so assume parents of your prospective and incoming students are part of the equation. (To the relief of my 20-year-old daughter and her 23-year-old brother, I learned to clip my helicopter tendencies because of my responsibilities for communication related to admission and new students.) The Class of X Facebook page is for the students, but anticipate parent participation and decide early on how to handle their posts and comments.
All in all, I think Facebook is a flexible and powerful way to start a community that effectively recruits and orients students. Luckily, move-in day comes around annually and practice makes perfect.
Last week, Kyle James reminded us that the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachussets Dartmouth had just published the results of its latest study on social media use in higher ed.
With 456 interviews performed from November 2010 to May 2011 among a representative sample of 4-year institutions in the United States, the findings of this study are valid within a +/- 4 percent range.
While they confirm some widely-shared assumptions on the state of social media in higher education, these results also reveal some surprising trends.
Is success in the eyes of the admissions officer?
When asked how successful institutions are with the different types of social media channels they use, more than three-quarters of the respondents reported all channels (with the exception of the dying MySpace platform) as successful.
So, all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds when it comes to social media in higher education?
Not so fast.
A closer look at the results of two other recent studies, namely the 2011 E-expectations Study from Noel-Levitz and the State of Web and Social Media Analytics in Higher Education I conducted for Higher Ed Experts, raises several questions about the very rosy picture painted by the study of social media use in admissions offices.
Obviously, I don't have the answers to these questions, but I believe there's a real need to go beyond the "social media checklist" tactic and adopt a more strategic and measurable approach in higher education.
Now that everybody is on board, it's time to find out what works for the institution and stop what doesn't.
Don't YOU think so?
Matthew Herek currently serves as the associate director of young alumni engagement in the office of alumni relations and development at Northwestern University.
Over the past year, I have sat in many meetings as my colleagues and I try to find the right places to be in social media. Then we spend time trying to figure out the right way to utilize virtual embassies on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Sometimes we end up right on the money, other times we miss the mark.
There is a certain amount of soothsaying that goes into a social media strategy. Predicting the behaviors and reactions of the alumni who interact with us in these forums is often based on a best guess rather than hard data (now that there is more surveying being done on social media behavior, we hope to become more fully grounded in fact rather than cheery optimism).
Rather than continue to peer into my crystal ball, I thought it might be interesting to ask for the perspective of two Northwestern alumni who work with social media daily.
Now, the thing you all hoped to learn about from this post….what do alumni want?
1. What are your expectations of us in social media? What sites should we be on? How should we be using them?
Rob: I think sharing information on the university and what alums are doing is key on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Google+ could be a viable option, too, depending on the brand roll-out (Q3 for brands). YouTube interviews could be cool content.
Noah: Safeguard the university's brand on all platforms. If a new network launches, I expect NU to survey it, see if people can use it to discuss Northwestern and make sure to stake a claim with an official Northwestern account. For example, Northwestern may not be active on Quora, but I would like NU to register and have an official account.
Stay in touch with distance. I want my school to keep me updated, but I do not expect to have a daily relationship with my school. I am probably in the minority on this, but I prefer to get two to three messages a week at most. I am more likely to take the time to read them and engage when there is less content. As a student, I would expect a daily engagement.
Be honest and personable. I want to feel like I am speaking with a person, not a PR feed for NU or a development associate. Hit me up for money, but do so in a way that is respectful of our overall relationship.
I think NU should experiment with all social media sites so they can see how students/alums use them. Should Willie the Wildcat have a Tumblr? Give it a shot during football season. Should Northwestern be active on Instagram and share pictures of the campus during the school year? Try it out. I am a fan of letting your alumni market determine where you should invest resources. There is an expectation to be active on FB/Twitter, so you should meet those. But I think the real success will come in targeted experiments and campaigns.
2. What’s something Northwestern has done in social that really appealed to you?
Rob: I really like something as simple as seeing re-tweets from Northwestern on what alums or the university are doing in my news feed (keep up the good work!). It definitely makes me feel closer to what I experienced and what is going on at Northwestern.
Noah: I really like the NU daily news (via paper.li) with featured alums as the source for news. That is a great way to use a service that I usually find annoying. It actually turned me onto the NU Alums twitter account.
3. What kind of behaviors in social media do you see as turn offs? What makes you want to unfollow, hide and unfriend us?
Rob: I think trying to inject too much personality is a turn-off. I think alums all have positive connotations with the school and social media communications need not be overtly positive or edgy.
Noah: Too much content. Be respectful of my time. Not listening. Ignoring questions from alums. Common sense stuff really.
4. Name a way that you have used social media in the "real world" that could be applied to a university successfully?
Rob: Hashtag chats with alumni for specific disciplines at set times (tap key social media users to participate), Twitter lists of alumni users in specific cities for networking (potentially host on web, too), conduct a small figure social media donation push and allow for donations to be shared via social media, triggering a small incremental match (i.e.percent of donation or small set dollar figure), alum of the week with possibly a short profile on Facebook or just a username on Twitter.
Speaking with alumni like Rob and Noah has been incredibly helpful to me. First, it’s always a good thing when alumni share their expertise with you. Second, I’m finding more and more alumni are working in roles that are social media specific. As many development operations move slowly but surely towards establishing their own staff persons in social media, the knowledge alumni share can help bridge the knowledge gap between the university conference room and main street.