The education world is constantly evolving to meet the changing strategies and technologies in the digital space. Social media adds a new marketing medium for educators, recruiters, and students to use. The digital space is often confused with being an easy marketing tool and strategies are not thought out within the college space. Problems with social media have plagued colleges during the digital era. Educators and college departments have made attempts at grabbing the students attention with whatever platform they currently are on, but a lot of campaigns lack one huge component: the student voice.
Educators often lack the understanding of how students talk, communicate, get engaged with different things. What are the secrets behind student engagement? For the past year I have been working at Rochester Institute of Technology on the social media marketing campaign for our new Student Information System with ITS and the more recently (since July 2012) on the Semester Conversion campaign. The SIS campaign began as my six-month co-op and turned into a part-time job when I returned to classes in the Fall. I became part of the semester conversion campaign during the end of my co-op when I was approached for ideas regarding creating awareness to the student population about the major transition that RIT was entering (the transition from quarters to semesters).
To give some metrics from my campaigns:
- We had over 1,300 likes for our SIS page when the transition was happening and 259 followers on Twitter (and growing)
- Both pages have given out prizes including: gift cards and iPads
- We have over 328 likes on our Facebook page and growing for Semester Conversion and 45 followers on Twitter (and growing as the conversion approaches)
- The SIS blog has received over 13000 views in under a year, while the Semester Conversion blog has received over 1000 views.
- We monitored Reddit and watched to make sure that student’s were giving out correct information online and put the correct information out there when there was a problem.
So what did I learn? How should my knowledge help people in higher education trying to reach students with the power of social media?
Here is a short list that I learned that can help other schools trying find their way with Student Engagement Online.
If I learned one thing, it was the power of blogging. If you are going to have a social media campaign, you better have a blog and use it. If you are unsure about blogging, the proof comes from my campaign, 13000 views, retweets on Facebook and Twitter. A blog can be the ultimate bank for canned responses in higher education. A blog allows you to give the correct information and then post it on Facebook and Twitter to create a dialogue with your users.
2. Create Content that Students Want to Read
Social Media is not about just giving information and promoting yourself. You want to engage your users to ask questions and give you feedback, especially if you are targeting a student population. They already get spammed by college emails that are sent out to the massive population. Students want to feel connected to something more than an auto-reply. I tried to create content that was original, yet informative at the same time. When you stop feeding students facts and give them something that makes them want to “like” a post and say that is cute, it can be the difference between maintaining the like and the student “un-liking” your page especially for a specific campaign. It can also be the difference between the student remember the information in the post and just glancing over it.
3. Never Delete
The only reason to ever delete any feedback or comments is if they are spammed links. If you delete something off of social media it can create an even bigger fall-out. Positive or negative feedback all deserves a response. There is a fine line between ignoring someone because they are being annoying and asking useless questions and addressing serious concerns or negative feedback. The new SIS system at RIT received a lot of negative press and we had to address student, staff and faculty concerns. We had “trollers” (excessive posters) and we found that when you monitor what you say to them, answer the necessary questions and do not give them any reason to post further, they will start to go away or in our case other students will start to call them out on their trolling and unnecessary commenting.
4. Not Everything Is Going to Be Liked By Everyone
It is extremely important to stand by what you post, if you make a mistake than you can correct yourself; however, you should not delete the mistake.
I know for me on Twitter, I just recently made a mistake regarding when final grades were due. Unfortunately, I confused a staff member and they tweeted back to me. Before this campaign I would have deleted the original tweet and tweeted out the correct information. However, I personally apologized for the error and tweeted the correct date.
5. Never Assume
Assuming can lead to negative comments by students. When you make a mistake, students will find it and they will call you out on it.
The same mistake I made on Twitter, came from assuming. I did not check the academic calendar because after 7 previous finals weeks and grades, I assumed that grades were due by Sunday night at midnight as it had always been or as I had always received my .
Working in social media is about creating engagement. If you are creating a buzz and creating awareness than you are doing your job as a campaign manager in higher education. Most campaigns that will be run in higher education will be awareness campaigns, you want students to learn or get to know something know something. My two campaigns created the awareness that the Student Information System was changing and that RIT was converting to semesters for the 2013-14 academic year. We did not have any students complain that they did not know that the SIS was changing nor say that we were unaware we were converting to semesters. The semester conversion campaign was more about getting the information out while the SIS campaign was about making sure that students were informed and understood how to use the system.
In higher education the powers of a university often forget how to utilize your students. Releasing power is often hard but why not let students talk to students or come up with ideas about how to create awareness when it effects them.
I urge anyone to comment or contact me regarding their experience with using students to do work in higher education or create engagement through a social media campaign.