With 250 million active users and over one billion pieces of content being shared weekly on Twitter, the reality is the realty can be rather crammed. When I started my first advising job back in January, I was unofficially given the reins to the office’s Twitter account. No one else wanted the responsibility. Here I was, first job and already steering the office leftovers. I was rather intimidated at first, because up until that point I had only used Twitter to acquire information- never to create it. So I played it safe. I sent out lifeless Tweets. Guilty as charged!
Job Fair Tomorrow!…Oh to those poor students who were currently following my drab, dust collecting, antique-Tweets!
Boring right? Never had I paid any attention to strategy or even looked into what others were doing. Over the summer I was finally fed up with getting steam-rolled by the newsfeed. It was time to create some elbowroom.
I now see the utility in social platforms as a means to student engagement. When I first started I was merely pushing out information with no real direction. As I explored what others were doing and really got into social listening, I started to conceptualize how our account could be used as an engagement mechanism.
Through trail and error and the use of simple analytics, I have found a set of guidelines that I feel work for our academic advising office (and perhaps others). While I am still developing my mode of operations I am confident that my guidelines will create the framework for a much more interactive account and will meet my expectations for creating engagement opportunities for our students.
Find common ground:
According to Forrester Research Group students fall under the category of creators and conversationalists. This means not only are students highly connected, they operate on a higher level of social activity. While they may not create as much content, they are about sharing content. It took me awhile to figure this out, but I believe the key to engaging students has come from finding common ground or unique ways to identify with my student population. While it has been difficult with the 140-character limit, I try to tie in the relevant info with a colorful anecdote. I have found that the bulk of retweets occur when I used something they can identify either personally or experientially.
Know your network:
I know that not every one of our students follows our account. That does not mean we cannot reach them. Informal networks of offices on campus can be a huge benefit. This is something that I have learned early on. So create ecosystems of campus partners to help provide information that you may not have access to at all time, along with a great way to increase your potential impressions. For example, I have a great relationship with our student run production office. I know a lot of our students follow their account, because they are involved in some capacity. Through conversations with their account manager, I now have a larger outlet for information, because we constantly retweet or reference what the other is doing. This nearly doubled my reach. I think the ability to nurture our network with students is just as important as this informal network of organizations and offices.
Influence through action words:
Like many others, I too have seen the studies that suggest word choice can influence actions HERE HERE HERE . What the data will tell you is the use of verbs and action phrases like ‘via,’ ‘RT,’ ‘PLEASE RT!’ will increase the likelihood of retweets or students clicking on your links. It also has been shown that overusing #hashtags and ‘@’ will decrease the likelihood of link clicks. I initially set out to utilize these principles. If I have a clear outcome for what I am sending out, the last thing I want to do is muddle it with #hashtags. If I use a #hashtag it is to file things that will continually that I hope will be beneficial for students (club happenings, involvement opportunities, seminars).
Lesson learned along the way:
I have gained a lot of insight and base my decisions through the use of Crowdbooster and bit.ly. Both platforms provide free analytics to users. I use Crowdbooster as a visual guide to examine the effects of each tweet. I can see the reach it has and how students interact with it. Two good features that are available are the recommendations tab and the ability to time tweets. The recommendations tab highlights positive interactions others have had with you and how you can best address it. You can also set up timed tweets. I know through my data, that our students respond more in the afternoon hours. I can set up a complete timeline for the dissemination of tweets for an entire week based on this data. Secondly, if I find out something is occurring next week, but I do not want to forget about it, I can go ahead and create the content and set it for a more appropriate day. This makes things much easier when I am in a time crunch.
I use bit.ly to see what is happening off of Twitter per se. You can track how students are getting to and from the links you are sending out and how often they are being clicked. Bit.ly integrates nicely with Twitter and you can tweet directly from their site. The bonus is that while students may not be engaged in your Tweet directly (i.e. retweeting or responding), you can examine traffic to and from the links you provide.
I firmly believe that without the use of these tools, I would be running on pure speculation. These platforms have really shaped not only what I am doing, but creating a better experience for those who follow.
The one thing I must remember is that building a platform that students are engaged with takes time. This is a slow process. For an account that has lain dormant for a semester and has little advertising, I am happy with the growth that has occurred.
I hope this post sparks some ideas in others who are struggling with their account and even creates some conversations on best practices. I would welcome the chance to explore further avenues through additional comments.
Chris Huebner is an academic advisor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina