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Higher Ed Marketing Memos by Angi Roberts

Wanted: student ambassadors for… Social Media

Sometimes the best ideas are borne out of necessity.

Who said that? I know it was someone important, someone who made great contributions to this world, but I don’t remember.

And in the moment when necessity hits, we in higher ed, don’t ask, who said that? We in higher ed say, we need to up our game! How can we make this or that happen?

Two years ago, the idea hit me during our Fall semester tour guide and ambassador training.
I need the equivalent of an ambassador for social media, I thought.

And there it began; our Social Media Ambassador program. A 100% volunteer-based, student-generated social media success story in student recruitment.

When did my necessity hit?

Got time?

I knew we had a problem when I realized that not only was finding authentic content a challenge, but almost nothing compared to the challenge of finding the time to find authentic content.

We’d created a social media monster; the time required to manage our accounts – let alone create content – was beyond our capacity.

We knew there were events going on around campus that we were missing because, well, we were in meetings, or creating reports, or working on strategy! We knew our prospective students wanted insight into the real life of University of Guelph Gryphons (the Gryphon is our mascot)

Enter 7 social media ambassadors for 7 days

My ambassadors are my soldiers; they are my feet on the ground, my eyes and ears on campus events.

At 46, I’m too old, too old to know what’s cool. And I’m OK with that.

My ambassadors are current students, they are passionate about their university, they embody what it means to be a Gryphon, in most cases they’re trained tour guides or ambassadors, and most importantly, they’re savvy.

A perfect ambassador has a mobile device in their hands 24/7, they post on their personal accounts at least once a day, and they do so on the run; they’re spontaneous, they’re active, and they’re connected.

My ambassadors post about epic snowball fights on Johnston Green.
snowball fight post

My ambassadors post pics of the incredible food they eat on campus like this burger with pea shoots and mango chutney they just had.
burger post

Ambassadors have access to events that I do not.

For example, one of my social media ambassadors was a Gryphon cheerleader.

Guess what? She had up close and personal backstage access to Homecoming. The content she could create is far superior to what I could do.

cheerleader post

Ground rules for Social Media Ambassadors

There are ground rules, such as keeping it clean, checking their spelling, and no selfies (this isn’t a student take over, they post the accounts of the University of Guelph).

For their first month, our social media student ambassadors have to text me each time they post, just a quick text: “posted.”

This allows me to check out the post, give them immediate feedback, or remove it if needed.

I have never removed a post published by an ambassador. Never.

Why does YOUR school need a team of social media ambassadors?

Here are the top 3 reasons:

  1. you don’t have time to scope out all the cool things happening on your campus.
  2. your social media student ambassadors live the life. They are always up close and personal when things happen.
  3. you don’t know what you’re talking about. You might be “old” like me, you might not, but unless you are between the ages of 18 and 22, you don’t have a clue of what’s cool – or not.

But, do Social Media Ambassador Programs really work?

When I came to grips with the fact that I didn’t know what I was talking about, we started to see social media success like we’d never seen before.

In the first semester of our social media ambassador program, Twitter engagement increased by 45%, Instagram saw a 560% increase in likes, and Tumblr saw a rise in submitted questions – more than double of the total from the previous semester.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was that student-generated content resulted in a far greater uptake.

Sure, our vanity metrics are important to us – it’s always nice to see an increase in the number of likes and retweets, but we wanted to measure what really matters to the success of our office.

We wanted to see if the targets we established were met.

So, wherever possible, we link our social media content back to a web page. From there we can track page views, the duration a user stayed on the page, and where they went from there.

Tracking these metrics not only shows us that what we’re doing is working and catering to our prospects, but it also shows us the type of content the prospect is seeking more of.

For example, according to Google Analytics, almost 40% of our users who visited a site linked from a social media post went to Student Housing’s site.

This information made us realize we should create social media posts about student housing. Without our newly implemented social media measurement practice, this is something we wouldn’t have ever realized.

Our students are our biggest champions. They are our storytellers. And most importantly, they make the content believable. That’s why social media ambassadors programs can be game changers in your communications with your prospective students.

Meet the Author: Angi Roberts

Angi Roberts is the Print and Digital Communications Manager for undergraduate student recruitment and admission at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. She is the chair of the University’s Social Media Committee. She is also a graduate of 3 Higher Ed Experts’ professional certificate programs in Social Media Measurement for Higher Ed, Social Media Marketing for Higher Ed and Social Media and Web Writing for Higher Ed.

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