From Yik Yak to Snapchat, GW turns to social media to connect with students

Sometimes it just takes a hashtag to catch the eye of GW’s top administrators.

As officials lean on social media to interact with students and court potential applicants, experts say GW’s online presence mirrors a trend across higher education as schools look to bring a wider community to campus.

The Office of Marketing and Creative Services, which oversees all of GW’s social media accounts and determines its marketing strategy, won two Emmys over the summer for video marketing campaigns. In the past year, the office has expanded to new outlets like Snapchat and regularly relies on Twitter and Instagram to communicate with its college audience.

This upcoming fall, officials are considering launching a GW Periscope account to live stream videos, and the office will roll out a series of videos spotlighting the “#OnlyAtGW” moments of alumni and administrators, in addition to the ones featuring current students.

Last week, GW promoted National Dog Day on Twitter by encouraging students to tweet out pictures of their canine companions before they left for campus with the hashtag “#GWU.” And during GW’s First Night on Saturday, the Center for Student Engagement held a selfie contest, where students could win tickets to see Jon Stewart perform on campus in October by submitting pictures of themselves during the event on the Mount Vernon estate.

Jon Hussey, GW’s director of digital marketing strategy who joined GW in 2012 after working on American University’s social media and web communications team, said the office knows that “people respond much more to short videos, GIFs and students” — a mantra that informs all their decisions as they create social media campaigns.

“The focus has always been to use social media to create a sense of community,” Hussey said in an email, adding that the office’s budget has “remained consistent” since the office was created five years ago.

GW’s expansion on social media
Hussey said the office has started using project management software, which allows them to dedicate more time to interacting with students daily. He said staff members monitor any social media platform that the GW community uses “on a regular basis,” including Yik Yak, a platform where people are able to post anonymous musings.

“We want to understand what our community is talking about,” Hussey said. “Often, it’s Netflix.”

But that reach has limits. Hussey said there are no plans to create GW Vine or Tumblr accounts.

Students can also add “buff-and-blue” filters or tricorn Colonials hats when they post on Snapchat. The University’s Instagram features a collection of photos students have taken across campus, from Commencement to time-lapse videos of campus.

But while GW’s social media presence may seem to be ahead of many other colleges in the country, the University is on track with many other institutions. The University of Houston and Liberty University have official Snapchat accounts, and Boston and Duke universities use Instagram accounts to post pictures of campus. The University of Miami will post “throwback Thursday” photos from its archives on social media each week.

Three staff members operating GW’s official Twitter account interact directly with the community nearly every day, retweeting students’ tweets about move-in day and frequently answering questions about University programs and offices.

GW’s peer school, American University, has about 26,000 followers on its official Twitter account. Officials running that account have not replied to a student’s tweet since May. Staff running GW’s Twitter account have responded to students’ or incoming students’ tweets more than 100 times since June 1.

Why social media matters
Experts said that as schools are becoming increasingly competitive and as students are applying to more institutions, officials have to use social media to get attention — and coveted high enrollment figures.

“They really have no choice other than to compete in this space,” said Mark Schaefer, the founder and executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, which creates social media strategies for businesses. He added that the use of social media by colleges “surpasses” that of many large companies and nonprofits.

Jason Falls, the senior vice president for digital strategy at Elasticity, a digital public relations and marketing firm, said that students may explore a college’s social media outlets before choosing which one to attend and are generally more attracted to schools with an active online presence.

He added that schools have “greatly increased” the amount of money they put into social media campaigns over the past few years.

Karen Smith, the assistant director of new and emerging media at Rutgers University, said the No. 1 rule her office follows when sending out content through the college’s social media accounts is to engage and interact “as much as possible.”

“Rutgers is a very big place,” she said. “I think social media serves a strong role in making individual connections not only between us and current students or parents, but helping to build those connections between parents and between students.”

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