Humans are social creatures but with everything moving online, how do we maintain normalcy?
The pandemic has upended familiar social connections between students and the school; typical interactions like consultations, in-class discussions, networking events and school wide events have taken a back seat. Pre-pandemic, the focus of these physical interactions were to develop students and engage them. As the focus continually shifts towards the online sphere, we must consider how to replicate these social interactions online to maintain connections.
Here are 5 ways to engage your student community.
1. Share Student Successes
The ecstatic feeling of success is universal and is amplified further when it is recognised. People want to see human stories, to cheer on their friends and see real student-school engagement, and there is no better way than for schools to share student successes.
Student successes need not only be stereotypically big achievements like winning awards and publishing a journal. Emphasise regular students doing incredible things and show how the school can help others get there. Is this student the first person in their family to complete a degree? Shout it out! Has a student taken the leap and ventured into their own small business? Celebrate that! Your social media account should be a way to celebrate student achievements and remind others of what is possible.
2. Highlight Community Involvement
If community involvement is not already a priority for your school, you should start to plan for it. Community service has many advantages besides giving back to society. It can develop important habits like leadership, problem solving and time-management in participants, and help them make connections with businesses, organisations and change-makers.
More importantly, social currency is a growing concept and how your school interacts with the community is vital to your students as it affects how your institution is perceived.
Everyone has causes that they support and your students and faculty are no exception. Regularly highlight student volunteerism with local charities, their work with homeless or disadvantaged persons, environmental causes or humanitarian efforts.
Besides showcasing the strength and vision of the people who make up your school, you'll inspire others to get involved in their community as well.
3. Develop Educational Entertainment Content
As we transition away from physical spaces, we are awarded the opportunity to cross boundaries. This leads to co-education and cross-discipline research to engage across courses and schools. Students and faculty can now connect with peers and colleagues outside of their discipline, repost their material and highlight where potential cross collaboration can occur in future. It is imperative that schools create content to invite these interactions.
Examples of content
- Educational memes
- Research highlights in video format
- 'Ask Me Anything' Instagram stories relating to different disciplines
- Instagram stories showing a professor's work from home station
- Polls to discover what everyone's favourite pandemic comfort food is
4. Repost Community Created Content
No man is an island, and this applies to schools as well. You don't have to wait for the administration to push content out. Why not make use of content that has already been created by students and faculty! What better way to showcase your institution and engage your community by sharing organic content; share their videos, memes and pictures.
If there is time and resources, take it a step further and invite them to co-create content with your school, focusing on why they love your institution and how it is an essential part of their lives.
5. Promote Transparency
Many schools make the mistake of providing information on a "need to know" basis but a lot forget that students in higher education are mature enough to voice opinions, provide contributory criticism and give suggestions.
From leadership changes to vision direction, your students want to know about decisions that impact student life, and the people behind them. Social media is a great way to engage with your student community through transparent communication. However, this is a big responsibility and before launching this, you should prepare your social media team with the tools to address potentially sensitive topics.
This will all pay off in the long run by keeping your community happy with their involvement and representation to allow them to feel that they are involved with the decision-making.
The people are what make a university
As digital engagement increases and our society becomes more connected, there is a plethora of platforms to build community through generating discussion, highlighting endeavours, communicating with stakeholders and sharing successes. The school does not stand alone and now has an opportunity to foster a virtual community that emulates that traits of in-person experiences.