Beyond Blogging: Create an Integrated Online Student Ambassador Program #heweb11

View Session Details and Presenter’s Bio.

Photo by linh.ngân, Flickr.

In her presentation, Mallory Wood discussed the need for institutions to have a robust student ambassador program to meet the changing needs of both students and parents in making their decisions about the institution they would like to submit applications to.

For about $4,000, Mallory built an online ambassador program at St. Michael’s that eventually connected with 9 out of 10 incoming students.

An online ambassador has to be passionate about your institution and in talking with others.  They have to be comfortable with technology – but not someone who is closeted away with a computer. They need to be INVOLVED and CONNECTED on campus – student leaders, student government representatives, and club presidents. Content needs to be aware – authentic, well-connected, and avant-garde.

Targeting Audiences

Noel Levitz’s latest studies show that only a quarter of students and parents read ambassador blogs. Mallory argues that this is still significant enough to be in the mix – think about how many engagement tools on your campus do not even reach a quarter of potential students. For St. Michael’s, her student ambassador programs had 70,000 unique visits in a year, which was a significant amount of traffic for an institution of that size.

Tim Nekritz at SUNY Oswego is using a niche marketing campaign this year, where individual students will focus on certain aspects of Oswego – campus activities, the social scene of the town, etc. – in order to create niche blogs for students looking for specific content.

Mallory’s Student Ambassador blogs at St. Michael’s were made available from a landing page that included name, class of, and indications of if the student was an international or transfer students. Photos were provided by students, giving the page a personal, organic feel and allowing the audience to make a connections to the students’ personality.

Mallory found that traffic to the blogs came more from Facebook or Twitter than direct traffic to the website. This traffic was primarily from the student ambassadors tweeting or posting their blog entries to their social networks.

Formspring

Formspring was also a powerful tool for the ambassador program. Students on campus tours rarely ask questions of the tour guides, especially if it perceived to be an embarrassing question they’d rather not share in a crowd. Formspring, however, gives an anonymous forum where the answers are collected in a crowd-sourced set of relevant frequently asked questions for incoming or prospective students.

Twitter

Mallory also questions Noel-Levitz’ statistic that less than 10% of students or parents use Twitter to make a decision. It gives insight into the student’s personality and gives additional content to feed into a blog. 3 in 10 users access the service daily, making it an active audience.  Social Media hubs that consolidate the information help to combine the strength of individual Twitter accounts into a centralized resource.

Video

60% of students and parents said they want to see video both from the institution and from students about campus life. Consider having video bloggers to meet this need.

Facebook

15% of students and 25% of parents have visited an institution web site to ask a question. While a good experience via Facebook might not make the difference in deciding to go to you school, a single bad experience certainly can take you out of the running.

Class Of… Pages

Find a student ambassador to take charge of being the point for these groups.  If we are the primary point of contact in the group, it is a little…creepy. Be involved to answer the tough questions, but let the ambassadors handle the rest.

How to Put it Into Practice

Let Your Bloggers Blogs and Your Tweeters Tweet

Let them be authentic and let them go.  You cannot micromanage and approve every message. It diminishes the power and the personality of the messages.

Ask Interested Students to Apply

It is far more important for your ambassador to write well than to speak well.  Put them through a rigorous testing pattern – have them do content for a month, and see if they would be able to sustainably do it for a full year.

Train

Holding a training session is essential.  Communicate the goals and reasons for the program so they are fully invested.

Contracts

Using contracts defines the responsibilities of the ambassadors. It allows to specify the benefits they will receive, and it gives you protection in case an ambassador does not meet the specified requirements and has to be let go from the program.

Takeaway

Find passionate students on your campus than can engage and inform, give them the tools, and give them the freedom to express themselves. Potential students, their parent, and your institution will thank you for it.