How one university leverages social media to help online students build community
- University of Phoenix director of social media Mark Deyer said in a recent phone conversation the institution is embracing social media to help fill in gaps created by the lack of face-to-face interaction among students and faculty members.
- Team members have looked at each of the institution's social channels — Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — to uniquely leverage each so it can "replicate an aspect of a more traditional university and have tried to replicate things in that space."
- The idea is to give students a richer experience alongside a sense of belonging in an online setting that can often feel detached and to "engage students on a more personal and emotional level with each other and with the universities," he said.
"In the absence of being able to look next to them in a classroom and see a fellow student there, these opportunities of being able to interact with each other in an online environment is something they hold onto," Deyer said. For example, the university has created a study group on Facebook, and students are highly encouraged to participate in it.
In addition to traditional tips on time management and effective study practices, Deyer said students connect around various life challenges and form relationships that carry on throughout their matriculation. On Instagram, the university drops its brand voice and highlights the activities of its students through a user-generated process.
Perhaps the most essential part of the University of Phoenix's — and any brand's — social media strategy, however, is the intentionality around listening to what students and others are saying about the brand. Deyer said when brands were first adopting social media, what was lost "was true relationship-building, building context of what a customer means over two to three years."
The university archives all of the interactions an individual has with the institution and works to "connect them together in a really meaningful way so that when you come to us today [with an issue]," Deyer said, "we have the full context of all of your interactions." He added students "are willing to share with us the highs and the lows" — everything from health issues to social issues and other personal challenges and triumphs.
And, having the history of interactions really helps the university to distinguish which students are having a bad day versus which have had an overall negative experience. "We really take to heart some of the things that our students are going through, and social media for us has been a really unique way of sharing and serving our students," he said.
But it isn't just students' experiences and opinions they're tracking. The institution said it monitors how the general public feels about the industry overall and uses those sentiments to get ahead of any potential issues before they strike the University of Phoenix.
"It’s important for us to know not just what our students are saying about us, our advocates, but also what the market at large is saying. I think it’s really easy for the community to listen to the good and the positive, but one of the important things is to listen to education as a whole and to understand what the issues are with education as a whole, and it helps us to stay a little bit ahead of the market," he said.
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