The B.U.I.L.D.E.R. Strategy for Enriching Campus Community with Social Media—#HESM Workshop RecapNovember 14, 2016
In our everyday lives, social media bridges the gaps of communication historically caused by physical distance, and challenges the old maxim: “Out of sight, out of mind.”
The same can be said about social media’s effect in higher education. Students and faculty can now connect easier than ever, and sew together a community that endures a lifetime.
Social media practitioners Joel Renner (of George Washington University) and Chris Barrows (of New York University) joined our team to discuss the BUILDER strategy dedicated to higher ed professionals who want to leverage social media for building a strong community.
Watch the full workshop below, or read on for a recap.
Introduction to B.U.I.L.D.E.R.
Friends Joel and Chris came together to create the BUILDER strategy for professionals who were missing the mark in building all-inclusive, sustainable communities. With nearly a decade of experience in higher ed, the pair can attest to the positive impact that social technology has had on college campuses.
Joel and Chris initially presented this strategy at eduWeb Digital Summit 2016, and have since continued to offer workshops around community building. BUILDER is a specially crafted acronym centered on the steps for setting up, retaining, and evolving your social community.
Joel and Chris decoded each step for us in their thoughtful presentation.
“The big thing with BUILDER is that it’s a cycle…You shouldn’t just think of community as stopping when someone graduates. You have so many different ways that you’re going to create community because you have pre-college admissions [whereby] you’re trying to target specific students who match with your brand; you have current students…they’ve said, ‘We’re a part of you’; and you have alums…they’ve had all the experiences…and so you have to make sure that there’s an active community and there are touchpoints that really mean something to people.” -Joel
While your university may not prefer to call itself a “brand,” your brand is why most prospective students and parents gravitate to your school. They seek answers to questions like:
- Who are you?
- What do you represent?
- What is your institution’s mission?
- What is your purpose?
- What is your story?
Branding is therefore a key component to building up your school’s presence online. Who you are is what attracts students to your school, and is, in many cases, why prospective students end up on your social channels.
The first step to good branding, though, is knowing your current community and the community coming in.
Chris warns that most schools jump ahead on deciding who they want their audience to be, rather than understanding their current audience and their current identity.
He challenges universities to evaluate who’s in their audience now and what differentiates their schools. Are you known for your sports teams, or your research? Do you emphasize community service?
When asked how branding changes depending on which stage of the BUILDER cycle you’re in, Joel suggested looking at this step from an admission’s standpoint first. You want to highlight the biggest and best part of your community, which might require you to research what incoming students and parents are connecting with most with regards to your brand.
Secondly, remember that you’re a research institution, and you don’t want to build a school where the students you receive don’t align with the curriculum or the teachers you employ.
Lastly, consider your alumni, and what your brand means to them.
Each level of understanding is important to your overall branding framework, which serves as the foundation for your success on social media.
It’s tempting to assume why your students are at your school based on the touchpoints they made with your school previously.
But understanding your audience requires looking at secondary motivations.
Are students here because their parents attended the school? Are they excited by your sports teams? Are they here on scholarship? Do they care about your school’s research or political activism?
This extra level of understanding is where you get all the interaction. These interests, while secondary, inspire school pride and the affinity groups that characterize your student body.
In return, you’ll be able to better craft one-to-one engagements as opposed to one-to-many engagements when building relationships with your students.
Chris adds that understanding seems simple, but it’s not. Higher education professionals must weigh who they want to be against how they’re actually perceived and what their present audience cares about right now. Bringing forth that data is important.
This next encourages you to take what you understand about your audience to create social conversations that are meaningful.
Interactions happen in various ways. Among them:
- Between your school and students
- Between current students and current students
- Between current students and prospective students
- Between current students and alumni
- Between current students and faculty
In all instances, the one-on-one interaction is everything. This type of engagement lets you highlight each person’s value to your community and create personal connections that fortify the bond between a brand and its people.
Though you’re taking a step forward with Interaction, this step also brings you back to the last (Understanding) by letting you gather key data about your audience.
When interacting with your community on social media, it’s important to congratulate their achievements and express your appreciation for the work that they’re doing. Lauding should include everyone from your students to staff to alumni.
By showcasing how much you care for your community members, you enhance your brand and add to what students (prospective or otherwise) see when they research your school online. You also inspire genuine sharing around the work that your community is doing.
At NYU, the community participates in #CongrataGradNYU each graduation season. Students, parents, and faculty post pictures and messages to their social channels using the hashtag #CongrataGradNYU to spotlight their loved ones, and to recognize how they’ve contributed to the school.
Last year, the #CongrataGradNYU campaign earned 3.2 million social impressions. Every year, the NYU social team leverages this campaign to fuel an in-stadium jumbotron—which effectively demonstrates the next step of the BUILDER strategy.
— NYU XC / T&F (@NYU_XC) May 18, 2016
While Laud is personal, Display is more public. Often, the two are confused or co-mingled. However, when you separate the two stages, the congratulations is no longer an afterthought.
With Display, you can then focus on getting the word out about what people are doing. NYU chose to do this by displaying #CongrataGradNYU posts on a screen that all graduates and parents could view during commencement.
“[Laud] is getting information out there. This is sharing a post congratulating someone on their accomplishments. This is saying, ‘Did you know so-and-so did this? This is your friend who graduated with you,'” said Chris.
Other strategies include displaying user generated content (UGC) on your social media page, or sending targeted emails or messages that connect two members/groups together. Social Media Director of Harvard Business School Robert Bochnak, for example, reaches out to alumni with information on the achievements of current students.
This method preserves the personal touch of social outreach while accomplishing the very purpose of Display. It also brings two groups together to create mentorship opportunities and truly blend the community.
When you see good content coming in from social media, you need to establish a way to repeat those results. Exercise means strengthening the social channels and strategies that are producing great content.
This will require you to bake in social listening to your daily habits. The data you collect will help determine which platforms are attracting which audience segments, while keeping track of your performance over time.
Chris encourages schools to perform a content audit. Take two weeks and look at every piece of content. See what performed best and what didn’t. Analyze why something worked well—was it because of the topic, or the time of publishing? Get a baseline of how your content is working and define a realistic consistency for how you’re going to maintain and optimize your social activity.
“When you look at what you’re congratulating or lauding people on…when you look at what you’re displaying…If you don’t know what’s working and what’s not working, then you could be exercising something the wrong way,” added Joel. “Like if you’re alienating a certain student group or alumni group because of the way you’re saying something and you’re not looking for that feedback, you’re not building community because you’re not speaking their language…This exercise piece is really important to get right [because if not,] you’ll pull muscles and you could hurt yourself.”
This step will hit home with anyone who’s involved with alumni work and seeks to remind alumni of the experiences they had while on campus.
“Here’s the cool thing: as you’re coming to understand your current student audience, you’re learning things. You’re discovering new stories–all things that you can use to remind them,” said Chris. “When you’re displaying this information out about these cool things that people are doing on campus, you’re reminding them…Everything we’ve been talking about going through feeds directly into this.”
Reminding is all about putting the right stories in front of the right people.
Meanwhile, as you remind alumni of the things happening on campus, or of their favorite college memories, you concurrently impact your current students who are watching the dialogue unfold online. This fuels a heritage of people who inspire and learn from each other.
It creates an emotional engagement with your school, encouraging alumni to remain invested in their alma mater and current students to pursue the experiences that their older classmates treasure.
While an essential strategy for universities that are building their communities from the ground up, BUILDER also goes to show that even universities with a strong sense of community always have an opportunity to grow.
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