Engaging College Students Through Social Media

May 29, 2013



Parents and admissions counselors constantly warn of the perils of social media, nagging students to clean up their less-than respectable Facebook pages and to take down party pictures from Instagram. But now the roles have been reversed as prospective students browse college and university social media pages during their application process and current students visit to engage with the schools they attend.

For Barnes & Noble College bookstores, engaging with students, faculty and alumni in-store is only half of the equation. To really connect with customers, the bookstore has to engage them where they live, work and play – and that means going online and communicating through social media.

Shorty Awards

Recently, Barnes & Noble College presented a special category at the Shorty Awards, which was held in New York City. The award celebrates the innovative use of social media and is presented to the college or university partner that uses social media to drive engagement with students, faculty and the entire campus while celebrating the school’s authentic attitude. The Shorty honors the best in Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, YouTube and Tumblr, recognizing the best across all of those platforms.

“We wanted to be a part of the Shorty Awards because our campus partners are doing so much in that space and really communicating to students,” says Barnes & Noble College Consumer & New Media Marketing Manager Tamara Vostok. “We wanted to also reward them and recognize them for all the great work they do.”


See how Barnes & Noble College is engaging with students through multiple social media channels.


This year, West Virginia University won the first Barnes & Noble College Shorty Award. Fans nominated colleges and universities through Twitter, and the Shorty Awards committee chose a winner from six finalists.

“We had hundreds of schools being nominated and they all made campaign videos, so a lot them got their mascot involved and made a short funny video – a lot of them made a music video.” says Natan Edelsburg, Senior Supervising Producer for the Shorty Awards. “Before we knew it, it was one of the biggest categories that received the most press throughout the voting and leading up to the ceremony.”

Barnes & Noble College Consumer & New Media Marketing Manager Tamara Vostok.
Barnes & Noble College Consumer & New Media Marketing Manager Tamara Vostok.

Connecting and Engaging

A 2012 survey by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (an association of university and college professionals in development, alumni affairs and communications) revealed that 83 percent of U.S. colleges and universities are using social media to engage students and alumni, with 96 percent on Facebook, 80 percent on Twitter, 73 percent on YouTube, and 68 percent on LinkedIn. With a majority of higher education institutions using social media to reach its constituency, it made perfect sense for campus bookstores to follow suit. “We have a Facebook page for every store,” says Vostok. “We use Instagram. We have a Twitter account – we have a Pinterest account – I mean the fun never really stops.”

New Form of Communication

Social media tools enable colleges to share what is happening on campus with the world, but more importantly lets a school hear directly and immediately from students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni about what is important to them. This “conversation” is what makes social media so different from traditional forms of communication. Moreover, using social media has made it possible for campus bookstores to discover what its students, faculty and alumni really care about and to invite them to be willing participants in an ongoing conversation about the products and services they want and need. Strengthening those ties, say the professionals, will ultimately lead to greater engagement and brand loyalty.

“Students live in the social realm and grew up in a digital world,” says Vostok, “so the campus bookstore has to be digital and social, too.”