Integrating Social Media from the Outset

Too often on my campus, social media are an afterthought when it comes to marketing campaigns—and I have no one to blame but myself. Big campus event coming up? Let’s promote it on Facebook. College visit season in progress? Let’s retweet students when they talk about a good experience. Great conversation happening? Let’s capture it with Storify. Valuable practices, sure. But what could we accomplish if we made social media a part of every campaign from the very beginning?

More than anything, this investigation is a personal one. As the designated social media person at my university, I am frequently asked to promote things on Facebook or Twitter. I am Reminder Central for upcoming events, deadlines, and programs. I am the sharer of web addresses where students can find official university information. Lately, though, I can’t escape the feeling that I’m missing the boat. I want to be involved sooner. I want to know more. I want to involve our online communities in more of the process.

With a season of campus visit events on the horizon, the resolutions that follow were born with a specific “visit campus” campaign in mind—but the concepts could be applied to nearly any campaign.

Set Goals and Measure Progress

The time to discuss social media’s role in a campaign is at the outset. Let’s not use our social networks as broadcast channels, leaving little time to make an impact. Instead, an examination of a campaign’s goals should guide us, and social-specific goals should be set that are tied to those campaign goals.

For example, a campus visit event aims to bring prospective students to campus and, in turn, boost applications and enrollment. To support these efforts, the content I share through social media should work to increase attendance to these events.

Considering goals at the start will guide content. Processes to measure success can also be put in place. Maybe the registration form for the campus visit asks how respondents learned about the event (Facebook? Twitter? Postcard?). With the right data, the impact of social media on event attendance should be easier to identify.

Make a Personal Connection

As invitations arrive in mailboxes urging prospective students to come to campus, I envision personal invitations also hitting our social networks. How about videos from Admissions counselors or student tour guides? Just 30 seconds is plenty of time for a real, live person to say, “I’m looking forward to meeting you this fall!” These videos could be posted to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. They might be part of a series that includes a whole cast of people that prospective students will meet when they arrive on campus.

Research shows that students rank personal attention among the top factors in a college choice. A note from Julie Bryant of Neol-Levitz:

Delivering personalized attention at every point of contact—in the mail, online, over the phone, and on campus—can make a big difference in persuading a student to enroll and to persist. It’s also an area where your campus has a unique opportunity to differentiate itself from other institutions. (Julie Bryant, Noel-Levitz)

If personal attention can’t be delivered in person, let’s use our resources to make communication feel as personal as possible. Let’s do all we can to help prospective students feel comfortable and see themselves as part of our community.

Let the Community Shape the Experience

Is there a way to let guests help build an event? I say, “yes!” As an experiment, I’d love to leave an event program entirely up to an online audience. Success would depend on participation, sure, but let’s assume we have that. Then we can post questions like: What would you like to see while you’re on campus? Who would you like to hear from? What do you want for lunch? Do you want to stay overnight? Would you rather get a t-shirt or a hat?

In the real world, I know we can’t leave event planning to the masses (Past-life Events Manager Alaina is appalled at what I’m saying right now). We can let the masses have some input, though. Let’s get them invested early on! If they know the event is tailored to them, they just might be more likely to attend. If we want them to visit campus, attendance is a necessary part of the goal.

I’m excited to jump in. First on the agenda: talk with our Admissions office to get some tracking in place. Next: create or gather some great content, involve our community, and measure. I hereby commence my push to better integrate social media as a thoughtful part of new campaigns—from the beginning.

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