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?

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  1. Great post, Meg! Hate I couldn't work out getting to Atlanta for your presentation. I'll definitely be using this for @VStateExperience. All the best, -Keith.

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