In today’s technology driven world, having a strong presence on social media has become a vital marketing tool in the realm of higher education.
“You have to have yourself visible out in the marketplace,” web specialist Joyce Parmenter said. “You have to remain relevant.”
In order to achieve these goals, the College of Business has made a concerted effort to connect more effectively online with students. Originally, staff members operated its social media platforms, but about four years ago, the college adopted a new approach.
“We wanted to do a good job and create content that the students were actually looking at,” said Steve Vandiver, executive director of marketing and communication for the college. “We wanted to make sure we were creating content that was valuable for them to use. We decided instead of just pushing for numbers and getting likes and getting followers, we wanted to make sure we were engaging our followers more so they found value (in the content). We believed the best way of doing that was bringing people onto the team we were trying to serve.”
“We thought that if we had a student team, they could give it that voice we needed,” Parmenter said.
Now, a social media team of six business students and four staff members works together to create and plan posts for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The team gathers for weekly brainstorming meetings on Monday mornings and throughout the week develop a wide range of content, including student spotlights, Five Question Thursday videos, Facebook Live events, and humorous photos following the adventures of Baby Bird. The group even organized an ugly sweater day in the fall and occasionally hosts T-shirt and glove giveaways in the atrium.
“You don’t really realize how much goes into it until you do it yourself,” student intern Bryce Pietrowiak said. “(You have to make) sure you’re posting things at the right time and you’re posting the right types of things for the right students and the right audience. You don’t just post whenever you want to post.”
“It’s a lot more planning then I thought it would be,” agreed fellow team member Carrie Happel, who particularly enjoys the process of sharing ideas and seeing what develops from the team’s brainstorming sessions. “We can all come together and throw our ideas out on the table and see what we like and see what sticks and then … we can rearrange it and make some order of it and make a plan.”
Senior Nic Roti added the group is “constantly collaborating.”
“Everyone has an important role, and you feel like you’re part of a team. There’s so much networking too because you have to meet with so many different organizations, so many different companies. It’s a fun job,” he said.
Incorporating undergraduate interns into the planning process has proven to be a successful strategy for the College of Business.
“Students know best what hits home with students,” said Megan Lapping, an office support specialist, who serves as one of the staff members on the team. She particularly enjoys seeing the students take initiative on projects and learn in a hands-on environment. “To see these kids that are just taking charge and rolling with things is pretty awesome. They do a good job.”
During his two years serving on the social media team, Roti has seen tremendous growth in the College of Business’ online reach.
“We went from having none to almost 1,000 followers on Instagram, well over a thousand on Twitter, almost 4,000 on Facebook,” he said. “It’s just absolutely exploded in the last year. We’ve been recognized as one of the best business schools in the country. It felt great helping to build our social media over a two year span. When I’m sitting in (the team meetings), that’s why I’m so interactive and I appreciate it so much.”
Marketing major Michael Wang keeps an eye on the analytics for the Business ISU Facebook page and reported the student spotlight posts always tend to receive the most attention. He enjoys seeing how students celebrate the success of their peers.
The College of Business Facebook profile also performs well when compared with the larger Illinois State campus.
“For the past several months, the (college) has the most engagement out of all the Facebook profiles in all of Illinois State University,” Wang said. “That’s something we’re really proud of as a team. Even though we’re not the page that has the most likes—that’s obviously ISU’s actual Facebook page—but we’re the one that gets the most engagement, so that shows all of our work that we’re putting in is actually having an impact.”
“Being able to contribute to that is gratifying,” said Happel. While student Aubrey Henson added she will be able to use that information when interviewing with a potential employer.
In addition to these statistics, the actual social media posts serve as a portfolio of the students’ efforts and skills.
“You have something tangible to prove that it worked and reached people,” Lapping said.
While the College’s social media outlets provide a way to connect with alumni, parents, prospective students, and company partners, the main focus is reaching current students and informing them about upcoming events and opportunities.
“You need to be involved, and you need to know what is going on in this building,” Ginny Smith, marketing advisor, tells the students she assists. Pointing them to such resources as the Business ISU Facebook page, she said: “You can go to this place and get so much information. You can find out anything that’s going on in this building, you can win free stuff and you can make connections.”
Not only are the student team members disseminating information to their peers about upcoming events, but being involved in the group has gotten them more plugged in with activities as well.
“It’s helped me get involved in the College of Business and work with different groups of people, which I enjoy because I like meeting new faces and always working with different types of people,” Pietrowiak said. “It makes me appreciate everything that goes into the College of Business and all of the events that people put on.”
Smith spoke highly of the other benefits the student interns receive from their involvement on the social media team. She said, “It has turned from us just getting information out there to a really collaborative space where our students I feel like are getting some really good resume building skills off of it.”
The students themselves also praised the experience and shared serving on the team has equipped them with valuable skills, such as thinking more analytically and learning how to conduct interviews.
“This just teaches you so much. It’s like another classroom for free,” Roti said as he described how the process provides real world experience about how a creative marketing team works.
Henson said being on the team has helped her to learn about collaboration and time management skills. She has also enjoyed the opportunity to bounce ideas off her teammates.
“It’s just a really positive experience. It’s very eye-opening. I know I feel I’ve gained a ton of experience with it. I’ve always grown up in a team environment, but being able to apply those team skills outside of sports or the classroom is really beneficial,” she said.
Luke Hoerr, a finance and insurance student, agreed the teamwork mindset has been valuable and has helped him to better appreciate the process of “letting your idea be pliable and having others (provide) input on it.”
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that your voice matters. You can be creative. You can be progressive and push ideas that you think needs to be changed,” he said.
The experience also has given them a fresh perspective. “One of the skills is being able to see outside of just the student point of view,” Wang said. “Being able to understand, yeah, this is what students want, but this is what faculty and constituents want and kind of merging the two together to have a new point of view and being able to produce that voice is definitely a skill, being able to think of both sides and communicate for both parties.”
The students highly recommend the experience to their peers who are considering applying for next year’s social media team. While marketing is a foundational part of what the team does, it is open to students pursuing other business majors as well.
“Social media and relationship marketing and understanding how to market to people is something that you can use across the board in any part of business,” Smith said. “I think students need to know you don’t always have to go off campus to get a good experience.”