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A 4-Step Guide to Build Community with Social Media

Everyone loves a good love story—and, as Dartmouth College found, sharing the love can lead to social "likes."

Last year, ahead of Valentine's Day, the college rounded up more than two dozen stories of couples who met on campus or connected after graduation. It shared these tales on social media with the hashtag #dartmouthlovestories.

"It was so fun to gather these," shared Kristin Maffei of Dartmouth College during a #casesmc chat on using social media to build community.

Creating online interactions that translate into positive, real-life bonds between an institution and its many stakeholders (students, alumni, faculty, parents) is no small task. Love stories like Dartmouth's, personalized welcome messages for accepted students, crowdsourced music playlists, scavenger hunts—these are all ways educational institutions use digital tools to build relations.

During the #casesmc chat on building community, participants shared their tips for keeping the "social" in social media. Here's their road map.

Make conversation the nucleus of your social strategy.

Educational institutions have myriad tools to communicate with stakeholders. But social media offer opportunities for two-way conversations-so make sure to have them, says Chris Barrows of New York University. He and fellow chat moderator Joel Renner of George Washington University presented on community-building at the 2017 CASE Social Media & Community conference.

"Literally focus on engagement as part of your strategy," tweeted Barrows. "Those one-on-one conversations open doors to group conversations and spread word-of-mouth value about your school/brand."

Celebrate experiences.

To build ties between students, alumni and your institution, put stories front and center across your platforms, several chat participants stressed. This accomplishes two key community-centric goals: First, it builds a culture of support and celebration.

"Our student stories and outstanding grad features do super well on Facebook. Students like seeing their friends and congratulating them," shared Marissa Isgreen of Colorado State University.

Second, highlighting experiences online amplifies and extends the reach of campus happenings to your remote alumni or stakeholders.

Joel Renner put it like this: "Share events live on social to your community and join the conversation! Make the experiences and events shareable!"

Give your audience simple social ways to share.

Student and alumni stories are your story, Barrows pointed out. Give your audience a reason to share and an easy, interactive way to do it, and they'll join in, he said.

The best example of this: a branded hashtag to collect user-generated photos and experiences. Here are few examples from chat participants:

  • #InstaNYU, created for New York University students to share their photos.
  • #OnlyatGW, which showcases unique experiences at George Washington University.
  • #EagleToWatch, which gives Boston University alumni a chance to share their post-graduation happenings.

Showcase what makes your institution unique.

Whether it's that legendary sports rivalry, an iconic campus nook or a beloved tradition, highlight what makes your institution special. Sharing, for instance, archival photos of campus buildings can connect your past and present and draw on nostalgia to reconnect alumni to campus.

"Give the people what they want," tweeted Maffei. "We find that Instagram photos of our two most iconic buildings are twice as popular as others."

Ultimately, social media can offer daily digital reminders of and new ways to revisit the unique, real-life experiences educational institutions create.

This article is from the November 2017 BriefCASE issue of BriefCASE.