May 15, 2012
Part of my challenge as the manager of Creative Web Services at Western Kentucky University (WKU) is to keep our web presences interactive and fun. I like to use the tools our students use for direct communication, and I like to let them drive the conversation.
So when we got to thinking about cool, new, free (because we are a state university, after all) things we could do on campus for our students, Foursquare made a lot of sense.
WKU is a mid-sized four-year public with over 21,000 students, but on our campus we have determined that smaller is better. We don’t have a retail-heavy campus and we are not surrounded by much commerce, so generally campus check-in specials and incentives offer limited benefits to our students. We decided to try something different and shift our focus to using Foursquare as a tool to create a buzz around specific events rather than to focus on offering widespread, high-frequency specials or badges.
We began in the spring of 2011 with a simple email to email@example.com that opened our dialogue with the staff at Foursquare. We worked with them to claim our campus venues in bulk (“Bulk Claim Venues”), set the geo-coordinates of each location and they helped us build out our page (http://www.foursquare.com/wku). The set-up process for us involved a lot of back and forth correspondence. Today, 4sqonCampus has expanded and campus administrators have the ability to do much of this on their own, as well as add their own venue managers, check-in specials and more.
Once we were all set up and ready to go it was summertime, so with no students on campus we had to decide the best way to encourage students to use the tool. We put the word out on our various social media channels, created some marketing materials, web and digital signage ads and placed flyers in summer orientation packets. Little did we know at the time that the incoming freshmen class held the key to the success of the Foursquare program on WKU’s campus!
Like many colleges and universities, WKU holds a special orientation week for incoming freshmen called M.A.S.T.E.R. Plan. New students have the opportunity to come to campus before the rest of the student body to move in, attend informational sessions and social events and to get acquainted with our large hilltop campus.
For the past several years, we have hosted WKU “Class of” groups on Facebook for these incoming students. Typically the students are very active in the late spring and throughout the summer, but when they arrive on campus in the fall for M.A.S.T.E.R. Plan, we never hear from them again. This was not the case with the Class of 2015. No, this year’s freshmen class joined and stuck around. They connected as a unit and identified themselves as a class, often referring to themselves as “WKU2K15,” and they actually engaged – daily! Their sense of community is what inspired us to release Foursquare at WKU to them first.
The camaraderie within the Class of 2015 was neat to witness from an administrator’s perspective. At its peak, our Class of 2015 Facebook group grew to over 1,400 students before Facebook freaked out and stopped counting them. This was over a third of our freshmen class! We decided to try something we had never tried before – we created the first ever official “Class of” t-shirts and scored some great sponsors from various student service offices to help pay for them. We printed a thousand of them with nice Foursquare at WKU QR codes on the back and set up a tent in our highest campus traffic area during three days of M.A.S.T.E.R. Plan week.
In order to get the free shirt, students had to sign up to follow WKU on Foursquare and check in to our tent. Pretty simple. We set up eight laptops and invited our t-shirt sponsors to join us at the tent to hand out swag and to help us explain to students what Foursquare is (hint: No, it is not the old schoolyard ball game). It was a brilliant move because the students started seeing the shirts walking around campus and wanted to know where to get them. In all, we handed out every last shirt that week and scored 800 new followers on our WKU Foursquare page.
The greatest thing about this project is that even today, months later, we still see our Class of 2015 shirts all over campus. Our president sported one at the freshmen convocation and one of our WKU Men’s Basketball players had his on the day our team returned from winning the conference championship game that landed WKU in the 2012 NCAA tournament!
With the help of our friends at Foursquare, we have used the tool to promote athletic and orientation events, and we recently hosted a check-in tent at the WKU Earth Day Festival. We are working on integrating Foursquare check-ins into our new Virtual Tour, and we are currently planning another release to the Class of 2016 when they come to campus for M.A.S.T.E.R. Plan 2012. We are also looking into creating fun events using the tool like scavenger hunts and Mayorship programs in our residence hall communities.
By offering a fully supported Campus Ambassador program and tools to help schools succeed, the 4sqonCampus division has grown and now enables institutions to do much more for themselves. Still to set up a specific event under a venue in Foursquare, an online request must be submitted and you are at the mercy of the Foursquare folks to set it up for you, a fact I hope will change in the future.
The best advice I can give institutions looking to get involved is that if you are in a smaller community like we are, don’t expect Foursquare to be an instant hit. Schools in major metropolitan areas with a lot of retail and dining venues surrounding their campuses might expect thousands of followers and tons of check-ins and custom badges but, in our smaller community, most of our students are just now embracing mobile technology. By keeping realistic expectations and by using Foursquare for event promotion and starting with incoming cohorts of students, we’ve insured that, a couple of years from now, our whole campus will be following WKU on Foursquare and telling their friends about it!
Why would I recommend Foursquare over other similar services? Well, for starters, it’s free. They also offer incredible, personal support from real people who offer so much more than lip service – they really understand the higher ed industry and work with schools of all sizes to help their programs succeed.