Getting It Right: What REALLY Matters To Students in Social Communities

Corie Martin from Western Kentucky shared her study on what mattered to the students in her incoming class in their social communities. She found that surprisingly, academics, finances, and outcomes DON’T MATTER to her students. So she set out find out what DOES matter to them.

Over the course of a year, she interviewed higher ed social media administrators from across the country, to find out what they were doing, and reached out to students over the summer at schools from a variety of schools (public/private, large/small, from all regions of the country). She utilized some of the private communities, including the Schools App, and followed hundreds of threads and thousands of comments. Her findings were amazingly consistent across all communities, no matter gender, race, or any other identifier.

Her goal was to discover whether students who engage with HESM admins during the yield period were more likely to enroll (Vincent Tinto states: an engaged student is a retained student).

HESM admins are using social media groups: to offer customer service, for personal engagement, to provide a student-friendly space, and to generate excitement about their institution and their decision to enroll. She found that most HESM admins are dedicated, caring, 24/7/365 employees, who are trying our best to understand student behavior. Corie referenced some of the resources available to us, including the E-Expectations report and Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated.

She found that students do follow brands, but only brands they trust; they expect that the information they’re getting is legitimate. They’re using social media themselves to establish their own identity. During their search phase, students are connecting with us online, reaching out and contacting the Admissions Office, perhaps visiting campus and taking a tour. They also begin to engage with us on social media; Corie looked at students during the yield period in the winter and spring of 2014-15. She found that the top conversation topics shared by dozens of students through hundreds of interactions, were:

* roommate – Who will it be?
* orientation – I’m going to Orientation. Will you be there?
* selfies – “look at me, like me, be my friend!”
* friends – “let’s all be friends”
* res life – Where will I live?
* “follow me” – GroupMe, anyone?
* interests – What I like to do?
* major – “Are you in my major?”
* frustration with broken processes
* transportation – How are you getting to campus?
* excitement – Yay!

NOTHING about finances our outcomes, however! We need to get into the things that matter.

Social acceptance matters. How will we let students know that “you will be yourself” on our campus? That “you’ll be a part of our family” on our campus? “Here’s what kind of job you can get?” isn’t it.

Their interests matter. Help them see how they can stretch their wings and be the best version of themselves at your school.

Support matters. Answer their questions, and do it on THEIR schedule, not yours.

Functional processes matter. If a link’s not working, you’re not going to hear about anything else, and they’re going to be mad about it. We have the ability to make our websites mobile — why aren’t you doing it?

Excitement matters. They’re thrilled. PLAY UP THAT EXCITEMENT.

Missed opportunities abound; if we’re giving them the space, we need to be there to help. All. The. Time. If you don’t have the time, find people in housing, parking, or dining and admissions and bring them on board. Our job is to provide a safe, supportive space, and to be available. And we need to convince the suits upstairs that we need the money and people on the front lines to make that happen.

Here are some things Corie recommended:
* Provide a space for students to gather. Facebook is still a thing!
* Stay out of the way… until you’re needed. They may not think they want us there — until it’s 2am and they’re panicked about something.
* Post relevant, helpful information. Get ahead of the questions you know are coming.
* Engage! Answer questions, welcome them.
* Give opportunities for them to share what matters to them. They like taking selfies — so feed that! ASU did a #ForksUpFriday and encouraged students to share… and they did.
* Be the conduit. DON’T PASS THE BUCK and don’t let them fall. Get them where they need to be. We open the door; we pave the way; and we build the future.