The Digital Campus

The Digital Campus

10 Ways to Engage Students During Back to School Season

The perfect (social media) storm

It’s that time of the year again when students come back to campus. Energy is high, there are no papers to write, and students are running around signing up for classes and settling in. Our experience helping several Swiss universities shows that September is the perfect month to get the attention of students. Social media engagement surges as students are eager to know the school and each other, and pick the rights spots to study, eat, and live.

Since the Fall semester has already started in the U.S., we did a little research and present below a list of 10 cool ways to engage students during the first weeks back in school. Pick what you like and implement away!

1. Ask alumni and current students for advice

This a great way to engage alumni and current students and remind them of the excitement of their first days on campus. See Stanford’s post asking alumni and current students to provide their  advice for the entering class.

2. Help new students discover campus through Foursquare

I don’t have to remind you about the heavy use of mobile devices by students. Foursquare is a simple way to engage users throughout campus. Simply put, Foursquare allows mobile users to check-in at specific locations and get access to deals and promotions, tips and recommendations by other users, and discover others that also frequent the venue. More recently, foursquare has allowed location owners to push messages to users who check-in. Although Foursquare might not be the first channel you think of when structuring your social media plan for the year, consider using it to engage students while they are out and about on campus. It is also a great project for a student intern, who can easily set up locations and create lists.

3. Create useful lists on Foursquare

Indiana University at Bloomington has very smartly created a series of lists on Foursquare leveraging special occasions (in their case “Welcome week”) to help new students find their way and participate in their “get to know campus” events.

You might have an event on campus involving several locations or buildings. Lists are a great way to help students discover event locations and encourage sharing with others. In fact, you don’t need an event to make a list. Many schools have created “Campus Tour” lists for visiting students. See how Syracuse University created a list with the favorite campus places of a famous alumnus.

4. Create your own Foursquare badge

Indiana University rewards anyone who has visited the list of locations in their lists with a special badge. Want to create your own badge? Complete this form.

5. Share landmarks in the community

If your campus is urban, it is a good idea to highlight places that students frequent or that are either historic or famous. New students will discover a new place and alumni will get a chance to reminisce and feel the emotional tug to the school and surrounding community. A great way to not always talk about your school!

For example, Tufts University shares landmarks around campus for new students: Davis Square. See the Facebook post below and notice how many comments come from alumni.

6. Offer advice to incoming students

I mentioned asking alumni and current students to share tips and advice. You can also leverage research done by some of your departments. For example, Tufts offers advice to incoming students on how to keep the move-in green.

7. Let Students Decide

It might be time to update that Timeline cover on your Facebook page. This is an easy way to let students choose from a final selection approved by your department.

Harvard University turned to students to choose a new Timeline cover. Particularly for back to school, you might want to choose an image that is landmark or hallmark easily associated with the school that hopefully elicits some emotional connection. The image for Harvard speaks for itself, don’t you think?

8. Let them tell their story

The first day on campus is an important milestone for first year students (and their parents). UC Berkeley (Cal) recently asked students about their move-in experience. Many responded and shared their impressions, fears, hopes, and more. The image below shows the final product of all the stories shared.

You can also just ask students to use a specific hashtag to follow and share their experience during the first week of campus (see University of Southern California‘s post). Just make sure you acknowledge and leverage the content. Cal’s use of storify to bring together all the tweets, photos, and comments is a great example.


9. Back to School giveaway

Students budgets are always tight. Don’t forget students love free stuff. How about putting together a small back to school package? Check out below Inhabitat’s back to school giveaway embracing green values. Think of vendors on campus that are popular with students. Ask them for some coupons or giveaway for students. Tickets to events on campus or conferences around the area are also good ideas that might not cost you a cent.

The below contest is somewhat complicated as it involves three steps: signing up for a newsletter, liking the page, and then submitting your plans for a greener back to school routine. My advice: Keep it simple. Ask for one thing only. These contests work well when users create content for you (submitting photos, comments, etc.)

10. Connect the offline with the online

Finally, remember that although students might be hyper-connected it does not mean that other means of communication are not necessary.

For example, Indiana University advertised its Foursquare lists with posters around campus to make sure students notice. Create top-of-mind awareness about your social media presence so when there is a call to action, students won’t be encountering these accounts for the first part. Posters, flyers, student newspapers, bus schedules, etc. are all great vehicles to let students know about your online presence. Using offline channels is also important if you are running a giveaway campaign.

I hope the above inspires to take action and engage your students and community. Don’t underestimate the potential of the back to school season to pave the way for the rest of the year. We at swissnex San Francisco will be looking forward to seeing your creativity during the coming weeks.

Author: Florencia Prada

Florencia Prada is the Head of Digital Marketing at swissnex San Francisco. While she loves all things tech, she tries hard not to get carried away by shiny objects and new ideas that are all too pervasive in Silicon Valley.