When Micha Sabovik graduated from Boston University College of Communication (COM), the term social media didn’t even exist. Fast forward a few short years later and the now Assistant Dean of Student Services at the college and her team have won the much coveted prize for Most Social Campus at this year’s Shorty Awards. Honoring the best and brightest on social media, the 2014 Shorty Awards were handed out to over 100 individuals and companies in seven different categories, including luminaries as diverse as actors Aaron Paul and Sir Ian McKellen, musician and record producer Questlove, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and the LA Dodgers.
In the category sponsored by Barnes & Noble College, the award celebrates the most effective user of social media to drive campus engagement with students, faculty and the wider campus community. “The Shorty Award recognizes the best in social media,” says Sandra Webb, Social Media Specialist for Barnes & Noble College. “The Barnes & Noble College Shorty Award is open to all 700 of our campuses across the nation. It’s not just getting the most nominations. You really have to have a great social campaign. BU isn’t just on Facebook — they’re on Twitter, they’re on Instagram, they’re on YouTube — and they’re really using all of those platforms to connect in different ways.”
For Boston University COM, the win validated several previous attempts at the prize, placing as a finalist for two consecutive years. “We’re so excited to have won, and so honored,” Sabovik says. “It’s really a great victory for our students.” If she felt particularly optimistic at this year’s bid for the Shorty’s, it’s a result of an impressive list of social accomplishments Sabovik and her team have developed to engage their campus. From a #myCOM campaign, designed to generate a high level of student involvement, to a campus-wide initiative where students shot Vine videos, Tweeted and took Instagram pics to describe the many aspects of life at COM over the course of one specific day. Sabovik attributes the success of these kinds of social initiatives to the enduring loyalty of the student body at COM. “I was amazed to see how many people were just so engaged and excited about it,” said Aaron Bland, Graduate Assistant, Dean’s Office, Boston University College of Communication. “During the World’s Series, we actually did our COM in a Day campaign and we trended over the Boston Red Sox – while they were playing – so it was just amazing.”
For an institution dedicated to producing communicators, creativity also played a strong role in assuring the Shorty’s victory. When they learned they had reached the finalists stage, the students created a campaign to generate even more support with posters proclaiming, ‘Don’t hesitate, nominate,’ and ‘Don’t abdicate, nominate’ sprung up across the campus. “We have really amazing and talented students and alums,” Sabovik says. “We’re continually developing really creative and fun content, and thinking up ways we can keep the campus engaged,’ she adds.
Managing that creativity can be challenging, particularly over such a wide variety of platforms. Currently the College uses three separate Twitter feeds; a Facebook platform; COMlife, which is a web series podcast; a YouTube channel; and Vine and Instagram accounts. But those social media performs can adapt to create very different functions on the campus. “Social media is just a great way to put out information. One of our professors is using it almost as an exam review, Tweeting out questions or concepts and having students be able to engage with her that way,” she says. It’s also used as a way for the campus to raise awareness for social and charity causes such as raising awareness for The Home for Little Wanderers, and holidays and clothing drives over their Facebook and Twitter handles.
Not content to rest on their laurels, Sabovik and her team are currently incorporating social media into the college’s Open House events, using Instagram videos for prospective COM students to talk about what they’re most excited about as they embark on their campus experience. While she reports that COM students are most engaged on the established platform Twitter, where accessibility and ease of functionality still make it the most used channel, it’s a landscape where things can change quickly. “Our students are very visual, so Instagram is also really popular, and we’re still trying to introduce Snapchat, and determine how we can best incorporate that into the mix,” Sabovik says. “We’re constantly sitting down and talking with our students about what’s achievable, and what opportunities can come out of changes in the newest platforms,” she adds.
Despite the pride this year’s winners might feel about adding the Shorty’s accolade to their already successful social media program, the priority for the department isn’t going to change any time soon. “The thing that occupied us most is what’s our best way to engage with students, and deliver that content in the way students want it,” Sabovik says, “We’re always going to want to use social media as a way we can make our community feel a little smaller, and little more connected.”