Engaging Students on Their Own Terms

To engage students, you’re going to have to think like a student. Simple, right? Many of the most shared videos in recent years have obviously resulted from meeting students on their own turf. For example, most of the lip dub videos that were all the rage in 2009 and 2010 featured students front and center:


This year, Facebook pages for university-specific memes have been making the rounds. Much like the lip dub videos, these memes are usually a bit crazy and occasionally inappropriate or offensive. Even so, they’re popular with students and easy to share.

UW-Madison-Facebook-meme

When these types of quirky, student-generated content gain traction, it’s time to pay attention. Universities and organizations often end up sounding stodgy. Students sound, well, like students. Consider adapting ideas that are already popular with students. Better yet, coach actual students through the process of making a piece that’s professional enough to represent the organization. It’s win-win: the organization gains a student perspective that will help to engage other students, and the students learn and gain experience.

Engaging Your Community Part One: Choosing Social Plaforms

I’ve been working in the social media space, building communities on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social platforms, since 2007. The tools and platforms have changed quite a bit during this time. When I first began wading into social media community management, I still had to consider whether Facebook or MySpace would be the better fit for our community of graduate students, faculty, alumni and friends of the institution. (Facebook was the obvious winner, by the way.)

Today, I’m thankful that the conversation has evolved from Facebook vs. MySpace to asking which platforms fit well with an organization’s audiences and strategic goals. For most organizations, the answer is an ever-evolving, carefully crafted network of social platforms. The obvious players today are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and blogs. For some organizations, other platforms also fill specific needs — Foursquare, Quora, Ning (or other social forum platforms), Delicious (or other social bookmarking platforms) and Flickr (or other social photo platforms) are definitely worthy of consideration. And don’t forget to consider emerging social platforms like Google Plus. You never know which platform will take off and which ones will go the way of MySpace.

After you consider which platforms fit well with your target audience(s), don’t forget another important step: a reality check. Be honest with yourself. Can you really commit the time to manage each presence well? Have you planned to spend a portion of your time each day engaging with your community on each platform? If you’re not able to muster an enthusiastic “Yes!” in response to each of these questions, then consider building your social media efforts over time. Remaining absent from a social platform reflects better upon your organization than a forgotten social media account. Consider starting with one platform and waiting until you’re able to adjust to the time commitment involved before adding other platforms.

Related posts:

Leveraging New Facebook Tools and Page Functionality

Katie Harbath, Facebook’s associate manager for policy and UW-Madison alumna, visited campus on Thursday to talk to campus social media leaders about social campaigns. A few highlights:

Facebook pages now show engagement as well as likes.
Historically,Facebook displayed the number of fans who had liked a page. However, Facebook News Feed algorithms value fans’ engagement with content over a page’s number of likes. Thus, the new emphasis on fan engagement (“# are talking about this”) should help steer new page admins in the right direction — toward fan engagement.

Facebook Insights will soon show shares by point of origin.
Have you ever wondered how a fan of your page initially became a fan? Fan page Insights will soon tell you whether users’ like originated from your page, your website, etc.

Customizable Open Graph tags will allow admins to customize the like button beyond “like” or “recommend.”
Fans will be able to interact with a brand or organization in more specific ways. Example: “John donated to Your Organization,” rather than “John likes Your Organization.”

Facebook Registration Plugin takes event registration functionality beyond the limitations of Facebook Events.
If you’re in any way involved in event planning, the Registration Plugin could become a viable alternative to custom event registration forms or Eventbrite-like products. Attendees can choose whether to use certain email addresses (e.g., Yahoo, Google) or their Facebook information to register. I’ll be interested to see whether any colleges or universities adopt this functionality for prospective student applications.

I’ll close with a quote from Harbath: “Each Facebook like drives 4 to 5 additional people to visit your page.” And that is exactly why we have to keep the innovation and customized content coming.