An Army of Students: Leveraging Student Talents to Create Stellar Content and Showcase Campus Community


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In 2011, Glendon launched its first-ever team of student brand ambassadors—or #TeamAwesome, as they like to call themselves—to assist our small staff team with authentically highlighting examples of campus engagement to current and prospective students.

Having just wrapped our sophomore year, our program is so much more than “just” blogs; the team has been using their unique talents and interests to connect through YouTube, Twitter, WordPress, Instagram, Storify, and, most recently, content curation with Tumblr.

This session reviews best practices for training, management, and editorial schedules; as well as lessons learned and unexpected community impacts.

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  • Hi everyone, I’m Courtney Mallam. I work in recruitment at the Glendon Campus of York University, which, for those of you who don’t know, is York’s tiny bilingual liberal arts College. I coordinate all of our print and digital media marketing materials, eRecruitment strategies, as well as manage our website for prospective students.
  • With a student body of 2700 students, Glendonhas a very a close-knit residence population … but nonetheless, we’re largely comprised of commuters. Not unlike most other institutions, we’ve found that students who are engaged in on-campus activities felt very connected to the campus --- while those who weren’t, didn’t.Back in 2011, this was a definite missed opportunity for a campus of our size.TELL ABOUT COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER. RETIRED, POSITION NOT FILLED.Cue the gap. We had virtually no online community to speak of; with our Communications Officer gone, the content gap was widening. Furthermore, nobody had been officially been charged with developing the social community, and so our official social channels were languishing or non-existent. The small new media team (me) was finding it hard maintain EXISTINGcontent, let alone generate anything new. In short, our campus story wasn’t getting told the way that it could (and should!) have been. This was a problem – not just because our prospective students had very little digital media content that could be used as a frame of reference for our campus, but also because our commuter populations – who we know from NSSE data spend very little time on campus outside of the classroom – have no way of discovering resources offered at Glendon because they were hardly in fact there.However! We had definite evidence of an abundance of proud Glendon students; it just wasn’t being showcased on our social channels. So we decided - why not engage them in a more official capacity? Why not have them become our online campus ambassadors?
  • Now, the concept of campus ambassadors in recruitment is nothing new. They’ve been providing prospects with a peer perspective of the university for years. What we decided to do was form a team of online student Ambassadors – eAmbassadors, or, as they refer to themselves, Team Awesome-- who are well-equipped to share their perspectives on campus life,university education, and support services – completely unfiltered by anyone in administration – online. Our primary goal with the programwas to fill the gap,showcasing the sense of closeness that most Glendonites enjoy in real life on the social web, in turn, strengthening our online presence. Essentially, we wanted to veer away from institutionally-generated marketing-speak, because the goal was to let the community speak for itself on their own terms. I based our initial program on the model from St Michael’s College in Vermont, where the current students shared their perspectives of their school via blogs and Twitter in an mostly unbranded environment. Not unlike SMC’s program, the eAmbassadors choose their own blog layouts and designs, and, with the exception of a small program logo located in the corner, the blog is theirs to develop. Not unlike SMC, we also set blogging and tweeting as a baseline for involvement in the program.We started off relatively small, with six paid eAmbassadors in the pilot year (and two volunteers, including one vlogger), and have expanded this year to a team of fifteen students; we now have six paid and nine volunteers. One of the eAmbassadors is a transfer student, five of which are commuters, and three are writing from overseas on their international exchange.
  • We opted for this format of sharing student narratives because, simply put, stories stick better. Stories produce “experiences’, which go deeper than facts or figures. It’s always been a challenge to explain to students about the value of the liberal arts or just how bilingualism works at Glendon, but with the help of our eAmbassadors, it’s re-framed in a more bite-sized, digestible way.Stories help to reveal what makes our campus community unique; even moreso when told from a multitude of different voices and perspectives. Innovative programs and opportunities can be duplicated elsewhere, but our quirky campus personality can’t. Finally, stories are the emotional glue that connects people to us; with that, they’re also more likely to be shared with others. When’s the last time you rhymed off a list of statistics and marketing-speak to a friend? NEXT SLIDE: Sarah Yu walks us through one of her Mondays at Glendon.
  • Our program is also based on its flexibility. Rather than centering it on any particular platform (ie, on Facebook), we’ve kept it versatile enough that it can adapt and publish content using a variety of different types of content. In other words – all of our eggs haven’t been put in one basket. Now -- blogging, in it’s original sense, is somewhere between 15-20 years old. That’s ancient in the social media world. The stigma that I’ve encountered from high school students (until they actually end up inadvertently reading the blogs) is that it’s so passé. The simple call-to-action isn’t effective. We need to give our readers a REASON to read what we have to say, rather than just promoting the fact that you’re out there and expecting them to flock to you. You can’t just start tweeting and expect something to happen. For the eAmbassador program, we’re mindful of this when we’re connecting the blog content with the rest of the website in a seamless way. For example, “Looking for information on our exchanges to France? Read about Kelly’s adventures while on exchange in Bordeaux."
  • Insert slide with publication flowchartWordpress -> TwitterInstagram -> TwitterInstagram -> BlogBlog, IG -> TumblrBlog, IG, Twitter -> StorifyInstead, the program uses the blogs as central information hub; content is repurposed from Wordpress or YouTube and cross-published across Tumblr, Instagram, Storify, and Twitter, taking advantage of the best features of each. When choosing which posts get published to our GlendonCampusTumblr account, we look for ones that would work well on that network (which tends to be images with animated GIFs, eye-catching photography, or simple, compelling quotes).
  • Class of XX FB dataThe eAmbassadors are also key to our “Class of” Facebook groups. They help give the group extra cool points than it would have if it was run by me alone, and help to stimulate conversation in those early months when admissions offers have gone out, and acceptances have started trickling in. The primary goal of Glendon’s Class of groups is to provide a safe space that offers firstly the opportunity for connection with other new students (or those of the same year cohort), and secondly, to provide them with quick access to campus support services. In both cases, the eAmbassador team helps to stimulate conversation within the group; because of the incoming students’ exposure to the eAmbassador content elsewhere, they provide a familiar face and personality in a situation that they may otherwise be intimidated by, and through answering questions on the Group wall, they help ease the demand on campus services by answering the simpler questions that are asked.While ROI is incredibly difficult to measure, one way that we’ve loosely defined success in the Class Of group is through Facebook network connections. While it’s true that these connections are often far from a real “friendship”, more connections are still a good indicator of a strongly networked community. To measure this, I use a data visualization tool called Gephi. [EXPLAIN GEPHI AND CHARTS]
  • In order to do this as effectively as possible, we needed to lay down a solid foundation for our new team of content creators. This meant that we needed to train the students on writing skills, content strategy, publication schedules, and establish a basis for ongoing coaching and development. Essentially, we needed to find the people with the right mix of community engagement and writing abilities/social media abilities.My approach was to look for applicants who were involved in campus activities as well as on the social web, and fine-tune and guide their abilities without affecting their content. Just as living life and enjoying new experiences is the best way for a writer to stay inspired, seeking out engaged student leaders is the best way to create compellingposts. Once we had found this team, training began.
  • Now -- the first pillar of the program is that we Approve the student, NOT the post. SUNY Oswego,St Michaels College, and Oberlin College all follow the same model. There were initially quite a few hesitations about this approach when I was first pitching the program. What if the student makes a misstep? What if the student doesn’t do a good job? What if the student says something that we don’t like? All of which were valid concerns, but could all be addressed through thorough proper hiring, training, and supervision. A key element of success on social media is timeliness; you can’t have timely posts published if you’re busy bottlenecking posts for approval. In order to ensure that each eAmbassador was as prepared for their position as possible, we put a lot of dedication and effort into front-loading their training and development. The approach to this varies slightly from institution to institution; while some teams take an experiential on-the-job approach to their student training, othersprovidebasic guidelines before setting their team on their way. SinceGlendon’s team is 60% volunteers, I wanted to build a little bit of extra contact into the program in order to manage them better without the incentive of a regular paycheque.Once we felt confident that we’d found the best applicants for the positions, we moved forward with the second critical pillar of the program: training and team-building.
  • It’s difficult to build a group as a team when they’re hardly in the same room together, and yet, there’s very little volunteer attrition in the team. I attribute this to a strong sense of connection with the program, and also with the team as a whole.Each September, we provide a foundational training day to establish a sense of of responsibility and co-ownership: the programs' success, I tell them, depends on the ”innovation, the participation and the dedication of everyone on the team”. In addition, we use bi-monthly In-services as a basis for continued conversation, development, and learning opportunities. No team building, of course, would be complete with the requisite social assets: even in this, the eAmbassadors found ways to foster connection as a team. In this shot, they decided to convert our holiday potluck party into an ugly sweater party, take a photo of us, and send it to their counterparts on exchange with a holiday card (with which the exchange eAmbassadors, upon having received the card and photo, subsquentlyinstagrammed and tweeted their thanks).
  • However, as with every team of humans, there’s no “set it and forget it” option with the eAmbassadors. In order to manage a team of developing writers who mostly work remotely, a firm sense of connection needs to be established, and to be maintained relatively consistently over the course of the year.
  • However, as with every team, there’s no “set it and forget it” option with the eAmbassadors. In order to manage a team of developing content creators who mostly work remotely, a firm sense of connection needs to be established, and to be maintained relatively consistently over the course of the year in order to help the content coming as frequently –and in as high quality– as possible.
  • I encourage my team to maintain a regular posting schedule; for them, that means they’re required to write a blog post once a week, and tweet once a day at the very minimum. While we initially started out with the St Michaels College model of blogging and tweeting, as the program grew, the ways in which the student team got involved expanded along with it. We now rely more on seasoned ambassadors for publishing to a wider variety of social media channels, including the officialGlendon Campus Facebook Page, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Storify.UP NEXT:Impacts. More organizations represented on campus; more demand for training
  • This program was initially established as a method to build community to showcase with prospects, but as it’s grown, it’s demonstrated some impacts that are completely unrelated to our original goal. As a matter of fact, early feedback has also indicated that it’s been a great way to foster connections with current students – commuter and otherwise – with elements of campus life.
  • Since the launch of the program in 2011, there’s been a significant increase in the presence of student clubs and organizations online. Part of this can be attributed to increased adoption of Twitter by increasingly younger cohorts of Canadians, but part can certainly be attributed to the fact that our trained ambassadors are also involved in campus leadership positions, and have transferred their expertise over to these organizations. This degree of growth is particularly visible in such a small campus community, and continues to grow yearly. Additionally, a workshop for strategic social media community-building has been included in the yearly training conference for student organizations in 2012 and 2013, allowing a compacted version of our ambassador training to be accessible by a wider group of student leaders. While not all organizations make it stick, there’s definitely been an increased interest in sharing successes and information in more media-rich ways online than there was in the past; this can be documented by the number of student-written submissions to feature club achievements such as award-winning trips, conferences, and competitions.
  • Another impact that’s not unique to GL is the “rockstar” effect, which has also been observed by colleagues at smaller campuses with similar programs. Personally, I think this is a key factor to our success; as prospects, students start to read the eAmbassador blogs, and, having connected with them elsewhere online over the course of their transition, quite often feel a sense of connection with them when they finally wind up meeting in real life during a campus visit, orientation week, or in classes. As you can see in the screenshot, it’s not unusual in the least for an eAmbassador to report having been told “omg! You’re THE Drew?!” when they realize that the person they’re interacting is actually the same person as they’ve been reading online, or, as in the case above, having been featured in our recruitment viewbook a few years ago, as well.
  • Outside of the eAmbassador program (and as a result of our presence at student training conference), I’ve also received one-off submissions from students who have heard that we’re looking for Glendon News stories. The above photo is one that was submitted a few months ago, highlighting Glendon NATO’s award-winning trip to Washington, DC.
  • Because we’ve encouraged our students to get creative (and honest) with their posts, we’ve seen some deep connections forged between prospective and current students and ambassadors that may not have otherwise been established prior to the connection over social media. In short, while many of the ambassadors write basics about campus, clubs, and everyday activities, it’s become no surprise to come across a post that’s soulfully honest and raw. Not unlike the It Gets Better campaign, these students have bared parts of their souls to the world in a way that really seems to have been missing in everyday life. Krista’s post on her struggles with mental health was (and still is) one of the singly most-visited posts in the program’s history; same goes for Nick’s post on body image and how it’s affected him. Oberlin College has students who have written about the recent campus issues with the KKK; their student writers rallied around each other in solidarity of their campus community and mutual concern for safety.Still others write frankly about the challenges they’ve encountered as a student; one Oberlin student wrote about his need to take a semester off of school in order to re-align his values and stress levels, while Glendon student Esther wrote a post about how changing your mind – and changing your plans – is okay, and that it’s good to be analytical of one’s direction in life.They’re telling their stories in a real, brave way that, while they sometimes may make a marketer uncomfortable because of the honesty … they’ve made themselves more real to their audiences in a way that we could never do as effectively from an institutional standpoint.
  • All in all, what started out as
  • An Army of Students: Leveraging Student Talents to Create Stellar Content and Showcase Campus Community

    1. 1. Leveraging Student Talents to Create Stellar Content and Showcase Campus Community Courtney Mallam @courtneymallam Print & New Media Specialist Glendon Campus, York University AN ARMY OF STUDENTS:
    2. 2. Our best resources are our students
    3. 3. Define the terms So we leveraged our best resources to help us tell our story.
    4. 4. @SarahYuGL
    5. 5. beyond BLOGGING
    6. 6. GL2017: March 2013
    7. 7. GL2017: May 2013
    8. 8. GL2017: June 2013
    9. 9. GL2016: June 2013
    10. 10. Form a connection
    11. 11. “My role is to encourage good people to do what they do best. I’m an editor, cheerleader, and an agent.” – Ma’ayan Plaut, Oberlin College
    12. 12. Keeping the train on the track • Editorial & publication schedules Keep the train on the tracks
    13. 13. Impacts 1: More student orgs on social Strategic trainingMore club representation
    14. 14. Impact 4: Increased quality & usable content More story submissions
    15. 15. More honest discussion
    16. 16. Questions?