If you’re considering using social media to communicate with students and you haven’t yet read Andrew Watts’ post on Medium titled “A Teenager’s View on Social Media,” stop what you’re doing and go read it. Right now. It’s OK, I’ll wait. Take your time. No, really. Go read it.
OK, now we can talk.
The SCC Transfer Success Center has been very active on social media for several years now. We launched our Facebook and Twitter pages 6 years ago, about as long as Facebook has had its now-ubiquitous “Like” button. Over the past year or so, we’ve expanded our efforts to Instagram, Google+, and our YouTube channel, where we post our own content—the “Two Minutes to Transfer” video series. Of course, I also write this blog, and you’ll find me on LinkedIn as well. Our department has also considered Pinterest, explored Medium, and contemplated the Tao of Snapchat. Heck, I even looked into Yik Yak, but it’s pretty icky and left me feeling like I should disinfect my phone.
We generally post at least once a day on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Of course, Google+ never really caught on much, but its “Hangouts” video chat function is used by some of our university reps for remote presentations. More importantly, having both a G+ page and a YouTube channel has a special benefit: search engine optimization. It used to be harder to find our web page, but now a Google search for “SCC Transfer” brings up our website ahead of most of those from other “SCC” colleges. We’ve also done our best to make sure that a search for “@SCCTransfer” within any of the social sites will also take you right to our pages.
Occasionally, we might go a day or two without posting, but some days there is so much to share that we put up ten posts or more, and as an admin for the SCC Facebook page, I also cross-post some items there. Instagram still doesn’t let you post from a desktop, so we don’t use it nearly as often as we’d like, but since it’s growing very quickly we’re trying to use it more. We’ve also made a point to post more easily digestible visual content, whether that means creating memes or infographics, sharing photos, posting Hyperlapse videos, or creating our YouTube vids. Of course, a lot of our posts are also links to articles, university information, scholarship announcements, etc. Any way you do it though, posting regularly is critical. Nothing will turn someone away from your social site faster than seeing that it hasn’t been updated for days, weeks, or months.
Posting daily with limited resources and multiple channels can be tough, so a social management app like Hootsuite or Buffer is essential. I use the free version of Hootsuite, which allows me to post an item to multiple social channels with a single click. These apps also allow users to schedule posts in advance. This eases the pressure to monitor and post all day every day, yet our sites still have a steady stream of new content throughout the week, without bunching too many posts together.
Does this all sound like a handful? I won’t kid you; social media can be a lot of work. But in my opinion, the alternative—not having a presence on social media—is not an option in 2015. I’m amazed when I talk with other transfer directors who say their departments—or sometimes even their schools—still don’t use social media.
When we hear about a cool restaurant or a trendy new shop, the first thing most of us do is browse their website. An appealing website provides a confirmation bias, bringing us that much closer to buying whatever they’re selling. But a poorly made site creates the expectation that the in-person user experience will be even worse than their online presence. And having no website? Well, that’s just creepy. They might as well ask you to immediately wire $10,000 to their uncle, the Nigerian prince, for all the credibility you’ll give them if they don’t have a website.
A good social media presence now provides that same fundamental credibility. Quoting Andrew Watts’ article linked above (Wait… You did stop and read it, right?), “Facebook is something we all got in middle school because it was cool but now is seen as an awkward family dinner party we can’t really leave… That being said, if you don’t have Facebook, that’s even more weird and annoying.” And he’s writing about Facebook, a.k.a. the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel of social media. In the ever-evolving world of social, other channels may soon provide even more digital street cred, with some experts predicting that 2015 will be the year that companies move to Snapchat in force.
Our students use social media, so we use social media, and we keep exploring new sites and ways to improve engagement (Tip: Beware the bots). I’ll admit that I sometimes suspect that our posts are sort of like street art: Some people really appreciate them, a few might be annoyed by them, and others just pass on by without noticing. We will never have Kardashian/Jenner levels of Instagram followers, but it’s common for us to post something and get immediate replies from students. We’ve used social posts to fill appointments and generate attendance at our workshops and campus tours. Even better is when students ask great questions or thank us for content that helped them. Sometimes something we posted gets shared or retweeted so hundreds or even thousands of people have access to it. And I enjoy the pleasantly surprised looks we sometimes get during class presentations when we tell students that they can keep up with the transfer process through Twitter or Instagram. Sure it takes time and effort for us, and sometimes it’s hard to tell whether it’s all working the way we hope. But we can’t not be there, because to 19-year-olds, that would be weird.
By Robert Waldren