Essential Strategies for a Student-Staffed Social Team

How does New York University, the largest private university in the world, keep itself relevant to its students and prospective students? By using student workers to build their brand on social media.

Caroline Osse and Nick Jensen of NYU’s Office of Interactive Media talked about their “Essential Strategies for a Student-Staffed Social Team” during a presentation at HighEdWeb14 Monday. They’ve built a remarkable brand by turning their “HashtagNYU” social brand over to a team of student interns.

“We want to communicate with students in their space on their level,” Jensen said.

That’s extended as far as having students write tips for Foursquare locations or producing a series of 60 second interviews with the university president.

The “HashtagNYU” brand has presences on 9 social platforms and sometimes the efforts to speak to students in an unique voice leads to some uncomfortable moments with university officials, Jensen said, but “we never want to be a mouth piece for the university.”

However NYU works closely to create dual messaging that covers a topic from all angles. For example, when reassessing sexual misconduct policies this fall the school sent two emails. One came from a university official that detailed changes in the policy. One was a shorter email from HashtagNYU that included a video produced by and starring students that discussed what consent means from a student perspective. It took 18 hours of interviews to produce, but it spoke to students on their level.

Placing your communications in your students hands to this degree has risks, but you’re also placing your communications in the hands of experts, Osse and Jensen said.

“Let students be creative agents. They know your campus community, “Osse said. “Let them teach you.”

NYU’s nine-student team is picked through a rigorous interview process, and given a well-defined set of expectations. They earn credit. They can be let go if they aren’t meeting expectations. They have meetings at 7 am.

And though it takes some getting used to, the NYU staff has also learned to let their students work like students. If they have an idea at 2 am and want to work, that’s what happens.

But they also spent time building an internal team community. The team takes field trips to NYC tech hotspots and plays mini-golf together.

The efforts are leading to a dramatic change in how NYU is perceived on social. Where as there used to be a lot of cynicism about NYU online, students and prospective students are welcoming the new voice.

That’s leading the NYU team to push on with its efforts. Jensen said they’ll continue to give their students the power to shape the NYU social voice, even if there can be risks.

“We are biased toward action—we ask our interns to start developing ideas and go with it,” he said.

Stay tuned.

  • Susan Funderlich

    This Essential Strategies for a Student-Staffed Social Team presentation must have run over the time limit! A great topic with so much truth. Students are the best way to portray life on campus to prospective students. If only more college administrators realized this instead of thinking it’s more important to protect the brand. Yes, let students be creative agents!