Engaging Ambassadors

Incorporating students in your social media presence

The number of social media platforms, user communities and interactive opportunities continues to grow. Budgets don’t. So how can communicators deal with this evolving landscape? One way is to use the most rich and robust resource available: students. Students understand social media and bring an authentic voice to the medium.

Students will need guidance in terms of voice and content. SUNY Oswego asks student interns to project friendly tone, to promote the diversity of experiences available at SUNY Oswego and to show future possibilities for those considering the college. A student social media team of three generalists works across several platforms. Meanwhile, a web video intern produces content for YouTube and oswego.edu. Additionally, SUNY Oswego has a student blogging project with 15 participants producing a “behind-the-scenes” view of the college.

What they do

Facebook: It’s one of the the biggest social media points of contact for universities to reach stakeholders. Student interns can answer questions and post items of interest (links, photo galleries, video, etc.) on the institution’s main Facebook page and key subpages for incoming students.

Twitter: Despite the “teens don’t tweet” perception, SUNY Oswego sees a pretty healthy community among prospective students, especially in urban areas. Students do live event coverage (with photos), engage users (via search), answer questions and post items of interest.

Video: A web video intern produces a variety of content, generally aimed at prospective students (but drawing interest from all audiences). Things are done on a fairly simple level; quick turnaround of helpful content is preferred over gloss and glitz.

Photo galleries: Would incoming students rather read about “more than 150 student organizations” or see images of students in action? Consider creating a slideshow by soliciting images from student organizations. Or create slideshows of everything from residence halls to dining halls to performing arts facilities via Flickr and/or Photobucket. Slideshows can be embedded onto the website and shared via other social media outlets.

Geosocial media: Location-based media is a hot field, even if current figures remain modest. SUNY Oswego’s primary platform is Foursquare, where an intern helped create and populate new venues.

Blogs: At SUNY Oswego, students from a variety of majors are sought. Students are encouraged to populate their blogs with videos and photo galleries.

Team-building tips

Assembling social media teams involves networking with faculty, staff and students; looking at desired the skillsets; and observing the social media ecosystem.

Recruiting: Look at current campus ambassadors, such as admissions tour guides and orientation leaders. Another great asset is the communication studies department. That said, any student with an interest in social media could be an asset. Students seeking careers in just about any area can benefit from social media experience in their resumes.

When recruiting bloggers with specific traits, such as involvement in clubs, talk to staff members. Faculty can provide the names of students in specific majors. Within three years of launching the blogging project at SUNY Oswego, recruitment was no longer a problem. Students wanted the experience!. Finding good freshmen or sophomores can ensure a lasting core whose blogging skills will continue to flourish.

Social media inventory: Compiling a social media inventory helps stakeholders learn how to connect, allows for assignments to be created for team members, highlights missed opportunities, and provides a map to outsiders curious about what the institution is doing with social media.

Backstage wiki: With a rotation of students answering questions in various social media outlets, compiling a wiki of frequently asked questions provides great support. Break it down by category for quicker reference. If someone asks a question not already in the wiki, add it to the knowledge base.

Beyond basics

St. Michael’s College makes outstanding cross-platform public use of its students in social media. Student bloggers also post on Twitter and have embedded Formspring boxes where they welcome questions from prospective students.

“We are fortunate at SMC to have a great student ambassador program called the Founder’s Society that provides constant training and education to students about the latest on campus and in the admission world,” said Mallory Wood, assistant director of marketing at St. Michael’s College. “We brand them across multiple social networking platforms and continually educate them on best practices in social media.”

Some entities go with a more specialized approach. Adam Craig, a master’s in library and information science student at the University of Western Ontario, has a co-op position as social media strategist at the University at Toronto-Mississauga Library. His four-month temporary position is a project-based pilot toward increased activities for the library. In addition to publishing”breaking news,” such as closings via Facebook and Twitter, he is exploring QR codes and multimedia.

Projects include a YouTube video series “aimed at ‘putting a student face on the library … filming, editing, scoring and promoting short interviews with students who study here and work at the library,” Craig said. “The first student was an IT support assistant that helps other students with their tech issues. In a sense, this is becoming a marketing campaign for ‘humanizing’ the library, and making us more approachable.”

Students can do just that: put a human face on the institution and make audiences more willing to approach and interact with it.

 


Illustration by Tom Klimek, Graphic Designer at The Pennsylvania State University

 

  • I love how the topic of using students as online ambassadors has come up over and over again this semester.

    Tim, I’m wondering how you’ve incorporated geosocial media into your ambassador’s presence. I’m encouraging the SMC Bloggers to use location-based platforms but to be perfectly honest, I am not sure it’s the best use of their time. While I love foursquare, SCVNGR, etc – it doesn’t seem like the tools are contributing to the achievement of the goals I have laid out for the program.

  • I think thats pretty much a best practice hitting the nail on the head.