Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Giving Back to the Community Generating Content for You

User-generated content is about as authentic as it gets and it’s what our audience craves, especially in higher education. I use it as often as I can because our community captures the essence of who we are far better than I typically can and their perspectives are valuable to us and the audiences we hope to reach. In doing so I interact with a lot of great people, most often students, and one of the parts I most enjoy about the work I do is finding ways to provide just as much value back to those people sharing their content and work as we get out of sharing it.

This has become somewhat of a mantra for me. And as much as I hate to admit it, it has plagued me since launching our student-run Instagram account @herewegosaints, arguably our most successful social media endeavor yet. As an institution, we get so much out of having an this account, but after the students had completed their week, I had nothing to give them except a big thank you. I really struggled with this. They had done a lot of work (whether they realized it or not). It never felt like enough and I knew it wasn't enough, but I had no money to do anything special for them. So what could I do?

In October, I found a decent answer. A recent graduate who ran the account as a student visited and mentioned he had talked about his work with @herewegosaints during job interviews but he didn't know how to really talk about it beyond "taking over Instagram for a week."

I reminded him about the meeting we had before he took it over and how he spent 25-30 minutes visualizing and planning his week with me. What did he have going on? What were some cool ways to capture his life that would fit on Instagram? We had talked about Instagram as a platform and the kinds of content he liked and didn’t like on there and that had inspired some ideas on what to do and what not to do (I like when they realize these things on their own, rather than me telling them). We had done a lot of what I do as a social media manager in my head every day in terms of content creation and planning. I thought to myself there’s a lot of value in helping students run through those same questions and exercises.

After our visit, he left my office with a much better sense of how he could talk about @herewegosaints in a meaningful way. I was left knowing that a big value for the students who had run the account was giving them the ability to discuss @herewegosaints with potential employers.  

So, I went back and created a @herewegosaints Storify account that catalogs each individual week. Now when a student takes over the account (“Fun! Exciting! I’m #SLUfamous!”), I follow up their week with an email and their Storify link and briefly outline all the cool things they can do with it, along with some insights on how they can share and discuss their takeover experience:
  • Share with family and friends
  • Add the Storify link to LinkedIn (This has proven to be rather difficult – does anyone know why LinkedIn doesn’t play nice with Storify links? I currently advise students to add it as a project.)
  • Tell employers about being trusted with the University’s brand and reputation
  • Tell employers about the planning it required and the reasons for capturing what you did the way you did (PS: All that planning you did before the week started? That’s called a strategy and employers want to hear you did that so they know you have a deeper understanding of using social media beyond personal use)
  • For students studying the sciences or fields that may appear unrelated to communications: the power of the liberal arts, yo! Creative and thoughtful communications are important in any field
  • Tips on how to include it on a resume
  • Some data about their specific week 
  •  “Did you know? This link will be a positive component to your digital identity!”
  • Fun @herewegosaints facts (mission behind it, the targeted audiences, the awards it has won, etc.) to add context for employers
Yes, surprised student. Running @herewegosaints doesn’t just benefit St. Lawrence; it could benefit you well beyond those seven days. No, really. It can!

Our students need experiences they can include on their resumes and in discussions with potential employers. More importantly, we need to help students see the value in every opportunity they have, no matter the size of a project because it's not always as apparent to them as it is to us. We understand the broader context of what they're doing - many of them won't realize it until much, much later.

As I said in my presentation at Confab Higher Ed in Atlanta:
By doing small things like this (and it is small - it takes less than five minutes a week to do this!), students know I'm not just interested in them as content creators. I'm interested in them as humans, too.

Side note/Bonus: Thanks to the Storify account, I can now offer my Admissions and Development colleagues access to specific weeks that may help them in recruiting students or showcasing a specific aspect of campus life that an interested donor prospect might enjoy. Don’t you just love when one simple and FREE project gives you multiple ways to share content with varied audiences all at once?

Image via

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Alumni Engagement: One Student's Successful Idea

"What advice do you have for the Class of 20XX?"

This is one of those questions I see a lot of colleges and universities asking their social communities in the days and weeks leading up to students moving in. Alumni jump at the chance to reminisce and offer tips on classes, places to eat and things students must do during their years on campus. Even current students and parents jump into the mix and offer their own. It's a natural question to ask, but what do you do with the answers?

I've always wanted to do make sure the responses made their way to our new students, but also find a way to make sure those responded knew we valued their time and engagement and somehow make them feel included in the move-in festivities. Last year, we compiled a bucket list after we received over 100 responses which was wildly popular, but this year one of my students took it to another level.

Kelly Appenzeller, a member of our Class of 2015 and president of our student government, came to me a few weeks before students arrived on campus. She had the privilege of giving a speech to the Class of 2018 and their parents at Matriculation. She knew it wasn't going to be easy trying to keep hundreds of people engaged with her speech for 10 minutes, especially during such an emotional moment as parents and students prepared to say goodbye to one another. She wanted to find a way to bring our community into her speech and had a great idea on how to do it: crowd-source her speech.

She needed to get in touch with our alumni, parents and students so she could ask what advice they had for the newest members of our community. We posted the question on our main university channels, and Kelly interacted with those responding in the comments in order to make sure she got all of their pertinent information, including class year.

Kelly Appenzeller '15 (Photo by Tara Freeman, St. Lawrence University Photographer)
Her speech featured advice from 20 alumni and students. She included their names and class years as she read aloud their words of wisdom to an audience eager to listen.

Kelly's idea gave us a destination for some of the social content shared and it was a very direct way of making sure it ended up in front of the intended audience. A big bonus: people who were there not only listen, but absolutely loved it, which is evident not only in the comments when we shared the speech on Facebook, but also in our analytics - it was the fourth-most read story last week. An even bigger bonus? How excited our alumni were to find out their advice made it into the speech! It was a great way to bring our alumni into the fabric of one of the biggest events of the year.

Crowdsourcing speeches is nothing new, but I was really impressed with Kelly's enthusiasm and creativity for finding a meaningful way to include alumni and students during such a special occasion. In a moment where she could have shined all on her own, she wanted to include as many people as she could in the spotlight. It was a fantastic way to bring our community together to start the new year.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Make Social Media Part of a Strategy, Not the Only Strategy: A Case Study

"Can you post this on social media?"

This is a question I get asked a lot (and sometimes it's more of a statement than a question). A lot of people ask me to do this because they are trying to accomplish something and have people take some kind of action like attend an an event or read an article. It's in these moments that I enjoy my job most because I now have the chance to educate someone else on how social media and content work (read: not alone) and how they can work for them.

Posting to social media isn't the answer to achieving goals; social content needs to work in tandem with every other piece of communication as part of an overall strategy.  That's why I was excited when our research office reached out and wanted to use social media to connect with the Class of 2008 to complete an outcomes survey.

We met and developed a three-week content calendar that included various components that weren't limited to social media including an email campaign and utilizing individual members of the class to further our reach. The results from spending just 25 minutes crafting a strategy surprised all of us.

What We Did
  • We sent 4-5 emails to the class over the course of the three-week period.
  • Twitter: We focused on Twitter because we have a younger audience there and we have interacted with several members of this class in this space. I posted the link on Twitter three times, on different days and at different times compared to our email campaign.
  • We established three waves of 'digital ambassadors.' We only had about 80 percent of the class' email addresses and needed to find a way to reach the other 20 percent. The first week, "we" (the university) did our social media push; the second week we enlisted the help of our Class of 2008 Committee, who volunteer to contact classmates about giving and volunteer opportunities, and finally we reached out to other class leaders not in the previous group to connect with their friends.
The Outcomes
  • A 50 percent overall response rate (252 responses). Average response rates for this type of survey in years' past has ranged between 15% and 32% of only valid email addresses. This year's equivalent of just valid email addresses alone would have been 68%.
  • Email campaign: In case you need an example that email isn't dead, we had a 40 percent response rate after the first week alone, which only included our emails and Twitter posts.
  • According to our analytics, the three Twitter posts garnered just over 80 click-throughs. That's not very high, but it was such a small portion of our audience so we felt that was appropriate.
  • Our ambassadors came through big for us, too. I saw a couple post the link on their Facebook pages and others said they personally emailed the link to their friends. 
What Else You Need to Know
  • The survey format changed this year from a much longer one that required an individual personalized password to a shorter version without the need for a password. I imagine this helped get many more completed.
  • Our director recalled an alumni survey from three years ago with a very different topic but that they had a 35% response rate - that was the highest she could recall for a survey before this one.
  • Of course, there was something enticing alumni to complete the survey - a $100 Amazon gift card. But to be fair, that was also an incentive last year.
It might be a very small success story, but a powerful one that I have already used a few times to illustrate to others the power social media can have when it isn't viewed as a silted communications method. 

How have you educated people about integrating social media into their plans in order to accomplish goals?

Monday, April 14, 2014

What I've Learned Thanks to Our Student-Run Instagram Account

As I was flipping through my calendar a couple of weeks ago and realizing that yes, it is actually April (where did this year go?!), I started thinking back to all of the projects my student social media team and I have taken on since last August. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: 28 students later, we’re more than six months in to @herewegosaints, our student-run Instagram account, arguably our biggest initiative that we took on this year.

I can still remember exactly how I felt as we geared up to launch this account and what itwas like those first few weeks. It was nerve-wracking and scary, but also exhilarating. We had a lot of questions: Would students love it? Would we get enough students interested? Would it be appealing to prospective students? Would it be different enough to warrant a separate account from the main university account? Six months later, the answer is the same to each of these questions: YES.

In the first month, we had more than 800 followers. Since, we’ve continued to grow our fan base and are closing in on 1,500 followers (it took our main account nearly 10 months to reach that number) and engagement per post remains steady. Interest hasn’t dropped off – in fact, I think it’s only increased over time. I still get emails every week from students who want to take it over and our students and followers are always looking forward to Mondays when we reveal who is running it next.

I could write a book about all we’ve learned and how it’s changed what we do and how we do it here at St. Lawrence, but in the interest of time – mine and yours! – I thought I’d share some of the biggest takeaways and lessons learned here from creating @herewegosaints.

The Need for Content Strategy
At first when I met with students interested in running the account, it was about filling weeks. Then as we got deeper into the fall semester and had more than enough interest, I was able to shift the tone of those initial meetings from “Thanks for being interested – we’ve signed you up!” to getting them to think strategically.

Here are some of the questions I ask when students inquire about running the account:
  • What are you involved with on campus? 
  • What week(s) are you busiest? How would you show off your busy week on Instagram? 
  • How will your week be different than other weeks? 
  • What is your St. Lawrence story and how will you plan on sharing that on Instagram?
  • What do you love about Instagram? 
  • Tell me about a recent post you saw that you liked and tell me why you liked it; then tell me about a recent post you didn’t like and why.
"A lot of my friends from home say that we are abnormally committed to St. Lawrence. I don't understand what they're talking about..." One of our most popular posts by senior John Balderston. John developed a comprehensive content calendar for his week (his own idea!) and the time he spent putting it together paid off - it was by far one of our most popular weeks.
I spend a lot of time on St. Lawrence’s social content strategy and I know from experience that planning posts and content out serves us extremely well. In asking these questions, I got students to think ahead. Treating them like the content strategists they were going to be for the week was critical and has helped tremendously in constantly providing our followers with engaging content and our students with an amazing experience.  In these conversations with students, they seem to really enjoy the fact that we're trying to make sure they're being thoughtful and be purposeful with what they are doing. 

Creating a Second Account

Only a small group of students knew that Matt Burr, a St. Lawrence graduate & drummer for Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, was visiting campus to give our student-run music venue a custom drum kit. Amy Yao, the student running @herewegosaints that week, happened to be one of them (an absolute coincidence - I had no idea!). She was able to capture an amazing moment because she had the keys to this account.
When we launched @herewegosaints, I talked with several people who wondered why we created a separate account. Internally, we had briefly discussed the pros and cons to this and decided a separate account could be something we share with prospective students and say it’s completely student-owned. Looking back, I don’t think this would have been nearly as successful had we done it through the main university account. Here’s why:
  • It wonderfully complements the main university account. One thing that was missing from our Instagram content overall was content from inside the St. Lawrence experience - the day-to-day action on campus. This is difficult for me to capture because I'm not living it. @herewegosaints  is able to do that for us. The account focuses much more on taking people behind the scenes of life at St. Lawrence, whereas our main account focuses on highlights and showing off our campus.  We know we have a good amount of overlap in terms of followers between the two accounts (but we've found prospective students oftentimes engage with @herewegosaints first), so when a student is showing the @herewegosaints fans an event they are actively taking part in, we can be showing another so we don’t miss anything – for a one-person show like myself, this has actually helped me a lot. 
  • Students trust the account. Now that we’re into our 28th week, students who have run the account have told their friends about their experience. The word is out: it’s unfiltered, students have direct access and it’s a lot of fun. Because of this, students share the account with friends at other schools or high school students. It's real. It's theirs. They like that.
  • Students understand – and love - the responsibility. At first, one of our concerns was giving students the password, but this is what has led to such buy-in from them. Every student I talk with about their week appreciates that we trust them with the account and that we’re letting them tell their own story in their own way.
What We Didn’t See Coming  
  • Students are learning about opportunities they have at St. Lawrence through this account. I’m not sure why, but I never considered this account to be a resource. But in my many meetings with students, they’ve told me that they’ve learned about this class, or that research fellowship, or this club or that favorite meal through following this account. Students enjoy the different perspectives because they are learning something new about St. Lawrence, along with the rest of us. 
  • Running the account is real-world experience. We have a lot of students interested in PR/communications/marketing and for them, running the account is something they can talk about in an interview. I've had students mention this to me and it reinforces why it's so critical to make sure I help them think strategically about what they are doing.
  • It has shifted how our students think about their own content. This blew me away a little: I met with a student earlier this winter about running the account. After talking through the logistics, she casually said, “You know, every time I post to my personal account now I ask myself, ‘Would I post this if I were running @herewegosaints? Or how would I change this post if I were running @herewegosaints?’” She’s not the only one who has mentioned this either – I’ve spoken to four or five students who have echoed those same thoughts. And while this is anecdotal, I think the quality of the photos I see being posted by our community have gotten better and certainly the amount of content shared has increased dramatically. Our community is much more engaged.
  • Students are proud to go to St. Lawrence, just because we have this account. When I meet with students, they tell me how great it is that we give them the chance to do something like this. They truly feel ownership over this account, which is exactly what I was hoping for. 
What Have I Learned?

I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about who our current students are, what they care about and what experiences are offered at St. Lawrence today. This account has given me the chance to see what our students are talking about and care about in real time. This helps me with the other parts of my job in creating content for publications and the web.

As the main social media manager on campus, I find I have limited time to test the waters and try different types of content to see what resonates. While running this account, students have done a little bit of this for me without realizing they are doing so! In a lot of ways, it has helped reshape our overall approach on Instagram.

Other Fun Awesomeness

Since we launched our account in September, I’ve spoken with several colleagues at different institutions who have thought about launching similar accounts or initiatives. Take a look at the great things they are doing!

Valdosta State University (@vstateexperience)
Humboldt State University (@livefromhsu)
Webster University (@mywebsteru)
Southwestern University (The Captain at the Helm)

Have you created a similar account or initiative? What have you learned?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Behind the Scenes: A Social Media Manager's Experience

My phone started buzzing at about 9:10 p.m. on Monday night. One notification, then two, then three... I checked in on Twitter and discovered that Rich Peverley, a St. Lawrence alumnus, had collapsed during the Dallas Stars game.

The messages began pouring in. Being St. Lawrence's social media manager is an absolute privilege, and of course I sent out a tweet from @StLawrenceU to show our support. But it's what everyone else was posting and sharing that meant the most - and more often than not, no one sees all of those posts except me.

One of my goals this year has been to find ways to let people into my little social media world when I could and share what I experience because sometimes, I feel a little selfish that I'm the only one that sees it and is able to feel the sentiments in real time. I knew I couldn't retweet everything from last night; but even if I could, those tweets on their own don't tell the same story as all of these posts put together.

So, here it is - an illustration of Laurentian pride and our spirit, all compiled into one place thanks to Storify and social media. Get better, Rich!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What One Prospective Parent Wants to See from Colleges on Facebook

You know that feeling you get when you get a long private message on your university’s Facebook page? For me, it’s mixed – is it going to be a request to post something? Did I do something wrong? Did I do something great? Is it some kind of emergency?

Last week, it was a message from a prospective student’s mother who had some questions about our university and wanted to know about our arts programs and hadn't found much on Facebook. I messaged her back, answered her questions and thanked her for her feedback. Then I asked if there was anything else I could help her with. She asked why some colleges post certain types of content and others don’t. I looked at this as a fantastic opportunity to pick her brain a little bit, and after telling her a little bit about what I try to do with our Facebook page, I asked her what she, a prospective parent, is looking at and for when she is researching a college on Facebook (because yes, this proved to me they are researching colleges on Facebook).

These are some of the highlights (in the order she mentioned them):
  • What’s NOT in the glossy handouts: Like students, parents want a real-feel for our campuses, and that perspective often comes from anyone but the colleges themselves (even though we try!). She spends time reading comments to get a sense of how authentic a college is being based on their community’s reactions to their posts (and also noted how we, as a university, respond to those reactions and comments). She also looks at what other people post to the page – not just posts by the university.
  • How a community responds to tragedy. How quickly do you post during an emergency or following a tragedy affecting your campus? She noted that some schools she’s looked at try to shy away from sharing tragic news and she took note of this in a negative way, but applauded others that did post - and did so in a timely manner. She also said she could get a sense of the college and its community by how people commented and responded to such news. Did a lot of people comment? How did they comment? Were they reacting negatively to the timing of the news being shared (was it posted too late)?
  • Show me the student experience. This parent wanted to know more about what Orientation is like, the community service opportunities, the town (or city) the college is located in and where students could study abroad. Are sports popular? I read this as: Will my child fit in? 
  • Current campus news. Who are your professors and what are they doing? What are your students up to? Is there construction? What does that look like? When will it be completed? I got the sense she’s looking for a college moving forward and that the college regularly showcases that through news and photos. (No mention of rankings.) 
  • What are the hot issues? She mentioned she enjoys reading articles from the college’s student newspaper so she could get a real sense of what the college and students are like without the marketing/PR filters on them. (Do you see a pattern? Authentic content is critical.)
  • Campus photos. We know this one. (No girls under trees, please.)
  • Photos and videos taken by students. Again with the authenticity!
There aren’t many surprises here, but it was refreshing to get an outside perspective from a constituent I don’t often hear feedback from. It reaffirms our work in trying to be as authentic as we can be but was also a good reminder that it’s often what people are saying to us and about us - and how we respond to those comments - that tells people outside our community who we really are. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Thank You & 12 Cents Go a Long Way

A while ago, I blogged about some frustrations with Instagram and how it's not as social as I'd like it to be. I want to "retweet" a community member's photo so they can experience ALL THE LIKES instead of me! But alas, Instagram hasn't built this feature in yet.

So the question for me became, "How can we share these likes and this awesomeness with the people whose content we're sharing so they know they're appreciated?"

I started by sending emails to people thanking them, but that only goes so far. After all, how many emails do we get a day? When I expressed my frustrations with my student social media team, one member came up with a great idea: thank you postcards, featuring that student's Instagram post.

Um. Brilliant.

When I share a community member's photo on the main St. Lawrence account, I wait a few days until the vast majority of the likes have come in, then take a screenshot of the post as it appears on our account and open it in Photoshop on my PC.

I built a high-resolution 4" x 6" template in Photoshop that looks like the university's flag (shown), then take the screenshot and place it on top. (Note: I am no whiz in Photoshop, as you can see. Just think how much better you can do!)

I upload the finished product to my phone and head to the local drugstore, which has a wonderful Kodak kiosk that prints these for 12 cents a pop and has them all printed for me in under five minutes. They look fantastic, too!

Cards moments before being sent!

Once printed, I hand write notes on the back, thanking the user for letting us repost the photo. I always make sure I find something that makes the post unique - was it in the Top 5 liked photos ever? Top 10? Did someone leave a great comment on it? I share those tidbits in my note. I always sign it "@StLawrenceU" (word on the street is they love that!). I then send them via campus mail (we're a small residential campus) to their on-campus mailboxes.

This is typically the reaction I see when a student finds one of these in his or her mailbox:

We don't just do this for students - I've done this for faculty and staff, too. When the day comes and we share an alum's photo, they'll get one in the snail mail, too. Who doesn't enjoy getting a random love note in the mail from their alma mater?!

In terms of social media currency, I learned early on that "liking" a student's photo got us some great street credit (and helped us earn trust on the platform and elsewhere, too). When we started asking to repost, it upped the social ante and we found a lot more students using the hashtag and directly tagging us in their posts, hoping we'd share. Now students are posting these cards when they get them. They can hold in their hands how much we value them. This goes so much deeper than a mention or a repost - it's on a whole different level.

I know; doing this is just a little thing, a very, very small part of what I do. There are no analytics to measure here, no way to assign any "tangible" value or ROI. My only takeaway is that this little thing could be making someone's day. And I'm perfectly content with that being the only outcome.

A huge shout out to Lexi Williams, a student here at St. Lawrence University; I may be able to write this post and share it with you all, but she's the one who had this idea. I refuse to take any of the credit as it all needs to go to her and my student team (and in case you were wondering about the value of getting students involved with your work, here's a great example of why. They have the best ideas!).

What ways do you thank your community members for sharing content?