Toward a More Meaningful Use of Social Media

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How does one go about communicating promise and possibility to its students?  How does one motivate donors to give generously in order to support these students?  How is diversity not only welcomed, but celebrated?  It took a website redesign to answer these questions more effectively.  The newer, better College of Lake County (CLC) website was launched in July 2014 in time for its 45th birthday last Thursday, September 25th.  It has come a long way since its start in 1967 when it opened its doors to 2,360 students paying tuition of seven dollars per credit hour.  Forty-five years later, it now welcomes over 16,000 students from across the Chicagoland area and has an even wider reach through its online classes.

Responsiveness to students has always been a goal of CLC, and in 2014 it continues to be a priority.  This effort to connect with the school community has taken on new approaches with the expansion of social media opportunities. It demonstrates what Helene Solomon (2014) encourages organizations to do:  “to look at the big picture”.   Solomon emphasizes “social media strategy should be carefully integrated” into an organization’s overall communication plan. So, in addition to its website, CLC maintains a presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Linkedin, and Instagram as part of this unified approach to using social media to reach out to the community. Like many other organizations, this cluster of social media venues creates connections in its messaging, with some content gaining depth and elaboration across outlets.

Website Home

Its main website http://www.clcillinois.edu/aboutclc provides the “mountaintop view” of the institution—the big picture.  It seeks to answer the questions most asked by those new to the community:  who we are and what we offer.  It emphasizes why the institution matters and how its work is supported by the CLC Foundation.  By visiting this one page, a reader gets a feel for what it means to become part of CLC, and central to the page is a video accompanied by the text “Welcoming Everyone”. This is especially relevant because it is what CLC does.

Information about the CLC Foundation makes a case for supporting its efforts.  Being the main fundraising arm of the community college, it tries to reach out to potential donors by conveying how effectively the college allocates its resources.  Student testimonials throughout the website add interest to statements that explain why financial support is vital to the school community. A “Donate” button is prominently displayed at the top of the page.

The YouTube Channel

Made up of a series of 2-5 minute videos of students, faculty, or staff speaking about their CLC experience, this social media venue creates excellent promo material https://www.youtube.com/user/clcpublicrelations . They are quick, to the point, and have good production value.  Its appeal to a more “text averse” audience is easily understood.  By way of imagery and narration, these videos communicate the “who we are” and “what we offer” aspects explained on the website. Being able to see and hear about these aspects instead of simply reading them off the website highlights the power of video.

These allow potential students or visitors to “step inside” the campus and its classes, providing a glimpse of student life and potentially lessening the apprehension to register.  Many of the videos show faculty who are friendly, welcoming, and supportive.  They also cover campus tours, scholarship information, food options, honors programs, and the financial aid process.  Because the YouTube channel addresses several basic concerns, and it does so in an engaging manner, it easily builds connection and resonance among its audience.

On Facebook and Twitter

These social media venues receive the most updates from the PR office—almost hourly.  It creates overlaps in its content, with Facebook https://www.facebook.com/CollegeofLakeCounty allowing for photos, thus, elaborating on what might be only a 140 character tweet on Twitter https://twitter.com/clcnewsroom.  Both venues present the “latest and greatest” happenings on campus:  athletic and cultural events, institutional success stories—like the current transfer agreement with University of Wisconsin-Parkside, as well as useful pieces like the new on-campus device charging station by the library.

CLC tries to initiate interaction on Facebook by posting questions like:  How is your fall semester going?  What is your favorite class?  However, student comments were few, so the strategy needs some reworking.

On LinkedIn and Instagram

These receive the least updates of all media venues, and because they do, it is not clear how they support the social media strategy of the institution.  Perhaps this will become more clearly defined as a more unified PR and Marketing approach is constructed by the college as it hopes to respond more effectively to the demands of today’s educational and technological environment.

My Takeaways

In his article about social media basics, James Howe (2014) asserts the need to make “social media a behavior” as opposed to simply using it to “push out information” or employing it to abide by “a set of how-to social media instructions”.  He claims that to use social media more effectively means being able to integrate it in meaningful ways—to make it “part of how you behave in your day-to-day life as much as you interact with people around you”.

This meaningful integration is probably what every institution hopes to achieve, and CLC is on that trajectory as well.  It aims to create a social media approach and a presence that students, staff, and faculty will want to incorporate into their day.  Perhaps one that might even find its way into instructional, cultural, and athletic events as they happen, in order to bring the campus out to the public, and the public into the classroom, the stage, the art gallery, the soccer field, or the basketball court. It is a lofty goal, one not easily achieved.  Yet, Solomon (2014) reminds communication professionals that  “…success…doesn’t happen overnight” and to “…look at your social media process in two or three phases and apply appropriate goals and metrics for each”.  Clearly, it will require time and monitoring of progress being made.

When social media becomes another layer of conversation within the active, energetic buzz of the campus, then at that point, it might be said that it is no longer just a strategy or an approach.  At that point, it may have evolved into what Howe might consider “behavior”—a behavior that opens up possibilities for even greater responsiveness to its community.

Reference

Howe, J. (2014). 10 Social media basics every nonprofit needs to know. International Association of Business Communication. Retrieved from http://www.iabc.com/cwb/archive/2011/1111/Howe.htm

Solomon, H. (2014). Social Media for Nonprofits. International Association of Business Communication.  Retrieved from http://www.iabc.com/cwb/archive/2011/1111/Solomon.htm

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6 thoughts on “Toward a More Meaningful Use of Social Media”

  1. Hi Tessa,

    Your structure for this blog is really impressive! I had never considered dividing my interview into the several social media categories. Instead, I had only provided the standard question and answer format. However, after seeing how you structured yours, I’m fairly tempted to retype my content to make my blog a little more structured, but still simple enough for audiences to find information quickly. Providing links within the appropriate section was also a good idea. Putting links at the bottom in the form of a works cited would have looked odd and difficult to navigate.

    If I had any suggestions, Tessa, I would argue that some additional outside sources from our last module would be incredibly helpful for your argument – not that you’re necessarily making one. I simply mean that it would help establish your ethos and give your audience the opportunity to seek additional research materials. Even just one more source would give your audience an extra area to strengthen their roles in professional communication.

    Kendal

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    1. Kendal,

      Absolutely! Thanks for reminding me about referencing our readings. I lost track of that and was so focused on plowing interview results into the piece. Thanks so much for bringing that up. I will revise to include sources.

      Best,
      Tessa

      Like

  2. Great post. It was highly informative and you had a clear position at stake. I might reconsider the way in which you integrated How’s scholarship — is it used to strengthen your position or as an aside? I’d assume the former, but you might make your stance with the scholarship a bit more clear. Also, the examples you used were quite effective. If you discussed what particular moments of the videos this strategy would be even more fruitful in terms of appealing to your audience.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Hi Tessa,

    I really liked how you showed the ways one institution like CLC can reach out and communicate through all avenues of technology and social media. I enjoyed the organization of the blog and how you began with the basics of CLC and demonstrated each way they have advertised through the media. Very well done!

    Suzanne

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    1. Hi Suzanne,

      Thanks so much! As I prepared for this blog, I have to admit that I found the whole process of looking back to the start very interesting. Its beginnings—how many students CLC welcomed and how tuition was $7 per credit hour. That’s an amazing number to hold on to! And how timely was it that CLC happened to be celebrating its 45th “birthday” at the time of this blog?

      So, overall, I’d have to say that I had more fun than usual putting it together 🙂 Too much, in fact, that I overlooked references to readings—as Kendal was kind enough to remind me!

      Again, thanks for “visiting” and for sharing your thoughts!
      Tessa

      Like

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