Sunday, March 31, 2013

On Jellybeans: A Personal Post

I buy (a lot of) jellybeans at Easter. Some people love Cadbury Cream Eggs, others love Peeps and some just chocolate - but my soft spot is for jellybeans. If I'm being honest, it’s more like an obsession because of the lengths I go to get them. I don’t just run to the store and buy what they have in stock. Oh no, I don’t settle for just any kind - they have to be a certain kind, a special kind - and they remind me of a special woman.

Deciding to go to college in Northern New York meant I was 1,100 miles away from my home in Atlanta and that I would never be able to make it home for Easter like many of my friends could. But I had my Nana, who lived just over an hour away, who welcomed me and my sister with open arms and a huge smile each year for the holiday when our schedules allowed.

Nana was a wonderfully cheerful woman who couldn’t hide her excitement about having us there even if she tried. She loved being a host and having visitors, her house always more than ready for us to come through, even if it was for a few hours or days. No matter how long we were stopping in for, there was one thing we always knew for certain would be waiting for us - a bowl of some yummy, colorful candy on a table in the family room. 

At Easter, the bowl was filled with a certain kind of jellybeans, and they were always gone (refilled then gone, refilled then gone) by the time we left. They were the best I ever had and almost every year since then I’ve made sure to find my own bag to enjoy - even though it now requires me to hunt them down online (yes, they're worth it).

This Easter has been particularly hard for me because it’s my first without Nana, who passed away unexpectedly in October. I remember how much she cherished our visits and us spending the time catching her up on all the happenings of our college lives. For this weekend each spring, we were hers to laugh with and share stories well into the night. 

When it came to ordering the jellybeans this year, I hesitated and put it off for a while. They remind me so much of her; I thought they would only make me think of her even more often than I already do, and sometimes the pain of losing her is still too hard to fight through.  

I finally ordered them this week and they arrived on Wednesday, but I waited to open the package until today. Instead of ripping into the bag and eating them by the handful per usual, I found the prettiest glass bowl I could find in our house and I filled it to the top. I brought the bowl into the family room and set it on one of the tables by the couch - just like she would have done for us.

So tonight I settled for reliving the moments those colorful candies helped me recall a bit more clearly and I had to be okay with that. They aren’t as good this year and I know it’s because I’m missing something and someone. All I could do was eat them one by one, thinking of a story, an experience, or just a smile I miss so much. 

Want to share a bowl of my favorite jellybeans with me? You can find them here (and make sure to get the fruit flavored ones)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Why I Invest Time in Instagram (And Why You Should, Too)

I've been responsible for our university's main social media channels for just over six months and I have had (and continue) to do a lot of listening and learning. One of the biggest lessons I've learned has been that our audience wants to know how we want them to use social media - and they're looking for us to guide them. One of the places I've been most successful in implementing this is on a smaller platform with big opportunities: Instagram.

I knew our students were using Instagram but before jumping on the platform, I wanted to look around and see what and how they were posting and figure out how we might use the platform to reach this particular audience. What I learned was:

  • Their stuff wasn't terrible. In fact, a lot of what they posted was really awesome content I wish I had known existed.  (I'm sure the less awesome stuff is out there, just mostly on private accounts or not using any university-specific tags.)
  • When they were trying to tag us, they used multiple hashtags: #slu, #stlawrence, #stlawrenceuniversity, #stlawu, etc. The list went on, and these were often hashtags used for a variety of other purposes, so they weren't strictly St. Lawrence.
Instagram is about more than posting really sweet filtered photos and getting a lot of likes; it's about building a community. I knew if we were going to be on the platform, we needed to find a way to create that. 

That's why when we launched our account, we created one hashtag we wanted people to use and actively started promoting it in our Instagram bio and on each of our photos. I didn't want our audience just adding the hashtags to their content; I wanted them to use it for what it's true purpose- to give people interested in St. Lawrence a feed they can follow for content collected from others, too.

I knew I couldn't just rely on people reading our bio and buying in to the hashtag; I was going to have to lay some serious groundwork if I wanted Instagram to work with and for us. I spent hours searching the hashtags they were using - liking and commenting on their (appropriate) photos. They LOVED us telling them we liked their stuff, which became evident as scores of them began following us... and they also started sharing more (and even better) content.

When They Bought In

During campus events (like this big snowfall), I actively promoted the hashtag across platforms like Twitter and Facebook, where I encouraged people to look at the hashtag feed - not our own - to see all the great things our contributors were posting, It helped that I went back into photos our account had liked, took a screenshot and posted that across all our platforms, like the one below:

When we did this, a lot of people figured out we didn't establish the hashtag just for us to follow along, but for everyone to enjoy. This specific post not only got more members of our audience to start using the hashtag on their photos, but they started browsing and some even went back through their own feeds and added the hashtag to older photos they had taken around campus. It was working! We had given our audience a little bit of help and they were really running with it.

What the "Other" Hashtags Gave Us: Prospective Student Engagement

When I was going through the hashtags our students were using, I noticed prospective students were using them when they got mail from us, visited campus or when they got accepted. Interacting with them opened up a lot of future engagement opportunities - they asked questions, followed us and sometimes went to Facebook and Twitter and followed us there, too. (Every so often they use our hashtag in later posts or add it to the one I've found and I simultaneously squeal with joy!)

Instagram is our fastest-growing platform and every minute I spend on there is giving me more information about our community and what it likes, but also what it needs from us. Instagram has illustrated how educating and guiding our audience on the ways we want them to use these platforms equals quality and meaningful engagement. 

If you've ever doubted Instagram's ROI for your college or university, I hope this shows you it can be - and is - worthwhile. What cool things are you doing on Instagram that are building your brand and resonating with your audience?