Meeting Them Where They Are: Social Media Engagement for Student Affairs Professionals

(As originally posted on the NASPA Technology Knowledge Community blog.)

By Christina Ferrari
It’s 1:00pm on a Tuesday. I log into my hall’s Twitter feed. Five new notifications: the meme about homecoming I made yesterday was retweeted. Two new followers. A resident tweets to our account asking about his room change request. A resident posts a picture with her roommate and includes the hall’s hashtag.

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, YikYak, and the list goes on and on… it’s no secret that our students are online all the time and spend just as much energy posing and posting, liking and tagging as they do building relationships with their friends, professors, and staff offline. Social media has seamlessly become part of their daily lives and, in effect, the college experience.

In fact, according to a recent Pew study almost 90% of traditionally aged college students (adults 18-24) regularly use social networking sites to build and maintain relationships. So, the question for administrators becomes how can we “meet them where they are” and engage with college students online in meaningful ways?

Create and utilize campus accounts

As a residential life professional, I have expanded the level of activity on our hall’s Twitter account and created additional social media accounts in order to broaden our student outreach.

The primary manager of these accounts, I utilize the hall’s posts to supplement my weekly student interactions around the community. I roam the halls, attend programs, and meet with students on a daily basis but I also live tweet campus events, reply to students’ posts, and host Twitter Tuesdays—a weekly program I created where students can go to our Twitter page and participate in contests and win prizes. Just like companies and celebrities have integrated social media into their marketing and promotional marketing, student affairs professionals and departments can develop an active online presence to develop a different and complementary type of relationship with students.

Design a catchy, student-driven brand
An alliteration addict, I wanted to form an exclusive hashtag that the students in my hall could utilize and embrace. Thus, #LankLove for Lankenau Hall was born. Since its inception, #LankLove has been painted onto the building’s windows by my RA staff as a signal to the rest of campus that our community is filled with love—and is found online. Students have embraced the slogan, adding it to their room’s whiteboards, House Council events using the hashtag in their program titles, and when students snap a picture or post a status about campus living #LankLove often gets tagged. The use of a personalized hashtag for a hall community, program, or campus resource allows for students to connect in a literal way their campus experiences with your department’s initiatives and resources.

Make it personal

Tweet deck, Hootsuite, and other social media management tools are certainly useful when it comes to managing content and getting stats on who views your posts but the planning features of these tools can sometimes create an artificial connection with students. For example, pre-planning tweets and scheduling them in advance may make it so when the tweet goes live a student replies asking a question and, unless you check the account frequently, it may be hours before you respond. I’m a big fan of live-tweeting where students can post a question and I respond online in real time. I also make memes and use emoticons just like students do with their posts. Keeping abreast of the social media trends and then integrating them into your online approach will help your content be relatable to students.

In short, social media is a platform and a toolkit for student affairs professionals to engage online with students. Although it cannot be the only form of connection, but when used appropriately it can certainly be a powerful one.

Student Affairs - the First Years

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