Higher education and student affairs professionals generally prefer the predictable. And yet, when it comes to engagement with students online, social media is the antithesis of control. For this reason, developing an effective digital engagement strategy in residence life, and in student affairs and higher education in general, requires a great degree of trust and a leap of faith.
Online engagement can be unpredictable at times. A rogue tweet can go viral, a post can be misinterpreted, and the lines between personal and professional are blurred. Effectively engaging with students on social media requires one to take risks. Are you up for the task?
A great example of effective risk-taking social media engagement in student housing is the Twitter account of the University of North Carolina’s Department of Housing and Residential Education (@UNChousing). Over this past summer, Vdara Fernando, a rising Junior at UNC, was managing the Department’s Twitter account and gave a Master class in how to do social media in an effective way. As @AbdulAbad points out…
— Abdul Abad (@AbdulAbad) July 22, 2016
Upon further research, you’ll come across this now-infamous twitter exchange that lead to @UNChousing getting a lot more attention than usual…
Thinking about bringing candles, a waterbed, or your dog to your new room?
— Carolina Housing (@HousingCarolina) July 20, 2016
To which a sassy resident replied…
Not skipping a beat, @UNChousing responded…
How bout we delete your housing assignment https://t.co/9qmF8JzZaP
— Carolina Housing (@HousingCarolina) July 21, 2016
The reaction from the Twittersphere was swift. The tweet racked up over 1000 retweets and 2000 favorites. Others chimed in with responses like the following:
GIVE WHOEVER IS RUNNING THIS ACCOUNT A RAISE 😂😂😂😂
— morgs✨ (@hotbeansmorgan) July 21, 2016
— beep (@realgoose365) July 21, 2016
Teach us your ways, @unchousing! pic.twitter.com/c69rmg2RZQ
— Carolina Homecoming (@UNC_Homecoming) July 21, 2016
Read through @unchousing's timeline & Im obsessed. The interns behind the account are 🔥🔥🔥. Hopefully the halls are equipped w 🔥extinguishers
— Kyle Fowler (@Fowlerthanyou) July 21, 2016
Gonzaga’s Office of Housing and Residence Life even got in on the game…
— Gonzaga Housing& Residence Life (@gonzagauhrl) July 22, 2016
I'm torn. I want us to be homies & for you to come & visit, but our no dogs policy includes bulldogs. 😕😢😭 https://t.co/gmbdGE5iDD
— Carolina Housing (@HousingCarolina) July 22, 2016
UNC Housing’s approach to social media teaches us that, when engaging on social media, it is important to understand your platform and your audience. The above exchange is a perfect fit for Twitter. The audience is most likely students, and the responses are funny and engaging while still providing the information students need. The account is also managed by a fellow student. This is an excellent strategy to create relevant content and interactions for residents while also providing a leadership opportunity through student employment.
The department blog is also in the mix. Unlike the Twitter account, however, the blog is more formal and straightforward. The post that started this Twitter exchange, The Uncheck List: 10 Things Not to Bring, still uses a personal and approachable tone, but is much less irreverent than its Twitter companion. Again, this makes sense because the audience is likely to skew more towards parents. Long-form web content is also searched for when one is trying to find quick answers to questions. The blog is therefore more informative and clear in its direction.
What the @UNChousing Twitter account teaches us is that it is okay to use different voices for different mediums and audiences. Pick a medium that fits your audience. Send that audience a message in a way that fits with the medium. You will likely be rewarded greatly for taking the risk.