This morning Rey sent out a tweet seeking examples of how University Auxiliary Services staff used social media. I responded in way more than 140 characters, and he suggested I write a blog post.
At the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Auxiliary Services consists of University Housing, Neighborhood Housing, Restaurant Operations, the Student Union, and the Bookstore. I oversee marketing and communication for University Housing and work closely with the Union Marketing Services department. I’m not a Director; I’m actually 2 tiers below the Director of University Housing. Consider this the perspective of an “insider.”
University Housing didn’t have a social media presence until July 2009, when my supervisor suggested I “start doing something with that.” I created a Facebook page and Twitter account. I started playing with YouTube videos, but have since migrated all of those videos to our facebook page. Things were slow going at first; I didn’t know what to post, or if I should link our Twitter and facebook accounts (I did, and decided against that later). I didn’t know how to get fans and followers. It took me awhile to get to the heart of social media—two-way communication rather than a one-way broadcast. Here’s what I learned:
1. Develop your content before you advertise your presence.
It was actually great that we started in July, because I didn’t start promoting our page until August/September. By then, there was something for students/staff to look at, even if it was just one-way communication. No one is going to come back if your content isn’t interesting.
How do you advertise? Other than what’s listed in #4 (below), find students! Ask students and staff at your institution to suggest your page to all their friends. If an office has an established page, have them suggest your page to all their fans. Search Twitter for relevant terms and find people tweeting about your institution or office. You can RSS these searches to keep that task simple. Think of other creative ways to advertise your presence—we display an RSS feed of our facebook page on the computer kiosks in our lobby where guests register.
2. Talk about what students are interested in.
The most popular updates on our Facebook page are about jobs, blog posts, or photos. We have seen a huge increase in job applications since I started advertising them on Facebook. Students don’t see them as spam because they all need a paycheck! It’s ok to be silly as well. A last-minute update about a showing of Jurassic Park in our building had three fan interactions—from fans that don’t normally interact with our page.
3. Reach out to students personally
I added every single RA as a friend on facebook and told them why—I wanted to make sure I could contact them about our department’s events. Now I can tag them in posts, and they’ll interact with me or the department’s page. This is showing up in their friends’ newsfeeds and giving us free exposure.
4. Invest in advertisements
Not only should you add you social media contact information to your website and print publications, but it’s also beneficial to purchase Facebook advertising. You can gear specific ads to a particular target audience, and it’s very affordable—we spend $12 per week.
5. Commit to this method of communication
If you’re on Facebook and Twitter, students (and possibly their families) are going to engage you via that media. Get used to answering questions via facebook comment or message or Twitter reply. This may be the best way for you to contact a student, rather than his/her parents.
Other areas of Auxiliaries are using social media as well. We have a Neighborhood Housing Office that helps students find off-campus housing. They’re on Facebook and Twitter (the accounts are linked). The Union has three accounts right now – they were all created by a student who understood social media, but now that they’ve been turned over to Marketing Services it’s a bit more slow going while they “figure out how to use this stuff.” I’m not aware of any social media use by Restaurant Operations or the Bookstore.
So, we’re a bit disjointed. I think a savvy Auxiliary Services Director should get everyone in the department with an interest in social media together and brainstorm a unified strategy. Students notice if the units are playing nicely together, especially when those interactions play out online. A solid strategy can increase departmental communication, promote student engagement, and possibly improve profitability (that’s what Auxiliaries are for, right?)
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