If KU students tweet their Foursquare check-in every time they enter Wescoe Hall in the next month using the #ku4sq hashtag, there’s a chance they may win a free iPad or a football autographed by Gayle Sayers.
If you are a student up on all things social media, you may have been able to decipher that last sentence. If not, the Kansas University is counting on you catching up soon. The promotion, with popular location-based application Foursquare is just one example of the creative ways in which KU is using social media to engage with new and incoming students.
In fact, KU ranked number eight overall among more than 270 colleges in a report from Web Strategy Research, a Washington D.C.-based independent research firm.
Justin Henning, Social Media Coordinator in the Office of University Relations, says that puts KU in a clear leadership position among colleges and universities in the field of social media.
“We really like that it allows us to engage with the student body and incoming students and with alumni and fans of KU,” Henning says. “It provides a real direct and active connection should they have questions or concerns or [if they] just want to tell us how much they love us during sports season.”
Although sports are certainly a major draw, KU’s Foursquare campaign is actually designed to get new students to explore the parts of the campus they would normally not discover on their own. Their phones lock in their location, and each notification sent to Twitter with the contest message will be entered into the contest. Under the guise of a game, it will force students to visit some less-traveled areas of the university grounds.
“We hope they use the Foursquare campaign to explore the campus in a new and creative way: Find resources that they can then re-use on a regular basis as they start up class in the weeks ahead,” Henning says. “Find dining services, find libraries, find study hall places, find athletic events and venues that are not football or basketball stadiums.”
Social media began in an official capacity at the University of Kansas in February of 2008, when KU’s official Facebook page was launched. It now boasts over 156,000 “likes,” but before it was a staple of online school life, it was something new that was created in response to growing requests from students and faculty alike. Department heads wanted to start Facebook pages for their classes, and in order for the university to approve anything like that, an official online presence had to be established.
The widespread use of the latest technological tools amongst college students propelled the Office of University Relations to go beyond publishing the usual helpful student fare like news releases, printed brochures, student directories and wall calendars. These tactics are still employed, but social media platforms allow important news to get out to more people faster. The primary Twitter account @KUNews has over 7,700 followers.
“What we’ll do sometimes with the Twitter feed is use it for emergency management or updates,” says Henning. “This winter when we had snow days, we used the Twitter account to let people know that campus was closed when it was too icy to drive.”
The Office of Admissions is using social media as well, and promotes pages for high school students who are looking to attend KU when they graduate. There is a page for the Class of 2015, 2016, and 2017, and all three are focused on building community among soon-to-be Jayhawks.
Whether they have questions about books, classes, residence halls, orientation, or enrollment, the Facebook pages are spaces where high school students are already comfortable communicating.
“We get more open conversation with students on Facebook sometimes than we do on the phone or via email,” says Lauren Erickson, Assistant Director of Communications for the Office of Admissions.
The goal is to connect students to the university and to encourage them to attend KU, but another reward comes when the page is taken over by the students and becomes more than a place for brand messaging.
“I knew we were doing something right when the posts on our KU Class of 2015 wall went from being mostly KU Class of 2015 posts to mostly posts from students. I love checking in on the page to see what they’re talking about with each other,” Erickson says. “‘Hey, Jayhawk,’ they’ll say. I love when they talk about how excited they are to be part of the Jayhawk family. I love that this community helps them feel like Jayhawks even before they set foot on campus.”
Ideas for social media campaigns are mostly born out of student needs and come from feedback or trends that are received through the various social media channels, but sometimes a social media campaign is just for fun. Last year, a Facebook “Hawku” contest encouraged students to write their own haikus about the university.
“We got back some really clever little rhymes about the university at large,” says Henning, “and we took our favorite six and turned them into advertisements for the university which were then featured and promoted on buses around campus.”
Even though people have been empowered within their university organizations to use social media outlets to spread their message, somebody still has to make sure that message stays on target. In his job as KU’s Social Media Coordinator, Henning manages or oversees 157 different KU-related Facebook pages alone.
The accounts themselves are approved by Henning, but the maintenance and upkeep of those accounts are handled by people within the specific school or organization, and are in line with their goals and objectives. He describes his role as “active but passive,” meaning that he still monitors all engagement on KU pages, and if direction or assistance is needed, he can step in at any time and help.
“On any given day, my Facebook feed is just full of upcoming calendar events or program reminders, or ‘Fall classes are starting — don’t forget to buy your books’-type content,” Henning says.
So has Henning sacrificed his personal Facebook account to the university?
“I wouldn’t say sacrificed,” he says. “I’d say ‘enhanced.’”
Clearly the man loves his job.