Three Simple Rules to Ramp Up Your Student Affairs Department’s Social Media Presence

On occasion I’m asked to sit down with student affairs professionals and departments to consult on their social media presence. What always strikes me about these conversations is that many view social media as merely a new form of advertising. Social media is actually far more complex and possesses a different set of rules in order to be successful. Rather than just posting about your events and deadlines, departments need to think about social media as a program itself. You have to ENGAGE your users just as you would through a compelling program.

One of my trusted colleagues, Leah Kreimer, always used to advise her students groups that every program needed to have three elements:

1. Something to get them there
2. Something to keep them there
3. Something to take away

These simple rules are a great way of understanding how a department should approach their social media presence. To put them in social media terms, you could re-conceptualize these elements as:

1. Something to get them to follow you
2. Something to keep them coming back to check, read and engage with
3. Something that they can share with others to promote you further

Concept 1: Something to get them there / Something to get them to follow you

When starting their social media presence, many departments struggle with how to collect “likes” and “followers.” Students need a reason to follow you. Of course, you could use the traditional student affairs tricks such as new student orientation or beginning of the year events to leverage a time when students are more likely to follow directions and advice. Another way to think about it, however, is utilizing the same tactics you use to get students to your programs. You need to create a buzz. Consider offering them an incentive to follow you, such as through a promotional item or contest.


  • Follow us on twitter and show your phone to the receptionist in the office to get your Residence Life carabineer!
  • Check in on foursquare with three of your friends and get a free 16oz. beverage!
  • For the lead-in to a student organization fair, have your student groups post photos (or videos) to your Facebook page that best represents who they are and what they do. The “best” submissions will receive some departmental benefit or relaxed rules (sometimes those are even MORE valuable than something monetary!).

Concept 2: Something to keep them there / Something to keep them coming back to check, read and engage with

Once you have students following you, you need to figure out how to keep them engaged in your content. From personal experience, I know that I follow or like many individuals, groups, events and products, but I don’t always go out of my way to hang on their every update. In engaging in social media, you need to create a reason for students to pay attention to your updates and information.

To address this, you need to post to social media on a regular (daily) basis. For routine posts about upcoming events and deadlines, many departments schedule these updates in advance to automatically post at the appropriate time (programs like TweetDeck and HootSuite, amongst others, provide this functionality). Social media, however, is also about two-way engagement. Just pushing out your updates isn’t enough. You need to regularly check your accounts and respond to your followers to answer questions, or just to make a comment.

You can also run contests as a means of engagement. In the previous section, I suggested running a contest with your student organizations to post pictures or photos. You can turn this into a means of engagement by encouraging them to have their friends and members vote for their submissions (either by “liking” them or through a curated poll you set up later). You’re giving your followers a reason to come back to find out how they are doing in the contest. If you can create other compelling content alongside the contest, you’ll only promote yourself further. You’re creating a need for students to keep coming back.

Concept 3: Something to take away / Something that they can share with others and promote you further

Now that you have followers and you’re engaging them, you need to give them something to take away and share. One of the most interesting phenomena of the web is the ability for once obscure things to “go viral” and to become “memes.” If you can create this kind of buzz, you will have others doing your promotion for you. You can leverage the power of “viral” marketing.

Continuing with our example of engaging student organizations, once you have your followers generating content and sharing it with others, you’re starting to go viral. Students will repost the pictures and content from your accounts, spreading it more widely across the web. You’ve made the contest “social.” Don’t stop there, though, keep thinking about ways you can post content that people will want to share (hint: the most viewed and liked posts on Facebook tend to be photos). You might consider having someone post pictures and videos from your events in real time. Have a speaker or band coming to campus? Post a brief interview with them hours before the event.

Bottom Line
In order to be successful in social media, you need to stop thinking about it as just a replacement for the bulletin board. Instead, social media functions much more like an interactive program. The three simple rules and examples I shared above are just a start. How can you creatively engage your followers? What would you add to this list?

3 thoughts on “Three Simple Rules to Ramp Up Your Student Affairs Department’s Social Media Presence

  1. Any suggestions for gaining followers as a judicial office? I have a giveaway planned, but keeping students engaged might be difficult with just quotes and “did you knows.”

    1. Good question! Judicial affairs and student conduct is a harder sell than a concert or comedian, isn’t it? lol
      I haven’t seen any specific implementations in that setting, but I’m wondering if you could use social media to turn the perception of judicial affairs on its head. I would imagine most students view interactions with judicial affairs occurring when something goes wrong, or they violate a policy. I wonder if you could run a campaign through your social media presence to promote “good” behavior? Maybe drawing from the ideas of “pay it forward” and “random acts of kindness?” Maybe your students (and faculty, staff, other community members, etc.) could submit “thank you” nominations to your accounts. Think of it as a repository for all the good actions people take in the community. This might help you recast the judicial code as not just something punitive, but as guidelines to live by in a civil community. If you wanted to get more complex, you could recognize the thank yous on your website, on on-campus monitors, or (gasp!) go old school and send out “random acts of kindness” paper certificates on behalf of your office…

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