With the much anticipated Shorty Awards now just weeks away, the excitement created by the event is also creating wider discussions about social media itself and the increasingly important role it is now playing on campus. Natan Edelsburg, Supervising Producer of the Shorty Awards, hosted a Shorty Hangout discussion on their Google+ Blog last week, inviting a forum of Barnes & Noble College Shorty finalists to share their views on social media and explore the ways it’s being used on their universities.
As an introduction to the discussion, Edelburg pointed out that social media is now essential for colleges and universities, a point confirmed by many of the participants. Finalist Jenna Withrow, Social Media Coordinator and Graduate Assistant at the University of South Florida maintains the university’s representation has grown from just Facebook four years ago, and Twitter more recently, to now include seven official sites. “We revamped our LinkedIn, totally redid our YouTube channel, launched Tumblr and partnered with Foursquare – and we’ve just launched Pinterest last year,” she explained.
Universities are adopting more than one social media platform – an approach designed to use channels where their wide audience of students, faculty and alums already have a high level of engagement. “We’ve been on social media for quite some time,” agrees Micha Sabovik, Assistant Dean at Boston University, “Our students are a very social bunch,” she adds, “and we try to emulate that population.”
Just as exciting is how the finalists are using their social media talents. “Pinterest has given us great success,” explained Ryan Whittington, Communications Specialist at University of Mississippi, “In an Ole Miss ‘Pin it to Win it’ contest, the offer of free tailgating for a football game delivered a ton of entries,” he said. USF’s Withrow describes a scavenger hunt which combined the use of Twitter with a new Foursquare presence. ”Throughout the week of homecoming, we tweeted clues for different locations on campus that students could then check on Foursquare,” she explained. “We offered prizes of a USF T-shirt or hat, but the great thing was that the campaign really combined a digital and in-person interaction.”
Another component of university social media usage is campaign videos. Rebecca Murtha, Social Media Specialist at Liberty University and her Barnes & Noble representative, Natalie Walther, described a ‘Gangnam style’ dance video, which included in its cast of characters University co-founder, Dr. Elmer Towns. The university also produces a Liberty version of the Harlem Shake, along with Sparky the mascot. “That really generated a lot of student involvement and a lot of votes,” Walther says.
Although many college promotions are based on fun themes, it doesn’t detract from the academic importance or the role social media plays as part of the connectivity of college life. “We have a lot of professors who use social media for test reviews or to tweet articles of interest,” says Boston University’s Sabovik. “We also have specific hash tags for particular courses so students and professor’s tweet back and forth, which is awesome,” she adds. Driven by new social media platforms such as Snapchat, Vine and Vimeo, the Barnes & Noble finalists are also discovering new ways to reach their campus audiences as Withrow explains. “Tumblr is a comparatively small audience, but it’s a dedicated audience and an invested audience, so our USFLife Tumblr is providing a platform to showcase the things our students are already sharing,” she says.
Regardless of the profusion of social media platform choices now available to universities, the Barnes & Noble Shorty finalists are highly focused on the significance of their roles, “It’s really all about meeting your community where they are, and supporting that community,” maintains Social Media Strategist Thom Atkinson, of Indiana University. “I think we’re going to see a lot more use of social media as a student service for things like book rental, housing sign-ups, roommate mashing and orientation. Once you’re serving your student population that way, then you’re utilizing social media tools for their real value.”
The Shorty Awards celebrate the innovative use of social media in all its forms with eligible participants including corporations, media personalities, governments, schools and universities. The Shorty Awards will take place on April 8 in New York City. For updates on the #BNCollege Shorty Award, visit www.shortyawards.com/bncollege. For a full version of the Barnes & Noble Finalists Google+ Hangout on the Official Shorty Awards Blog, please visit blog.shortyawards.com.