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St. Norbert Joins the Conversation

In 2005, I was a 19-year-old sophomore living in Mary Minahan McCormick Hall. Busy on my laptop one day, I received an email invitation to join the St. Norbert College Facebook network from my classmate Micaela Diedrick ’07. Confused but curious, I created an account and logged in. 

Who knew then that managing social media for my alma mater would become a line in my job description and part of my formal title? When I first jumped in, Facebook was little more than a digital yearbook. I couldn’t have predicted that I would be involved in the creation of emerging media strategies for my alma mater; I had no sense of the ways in which new social platforms would revolutionize human communication.

After completing my art major, plus an internship in the office of communications at St. Norbert, I was ready to step up to the challenge. Soon after graduation, I excitedly accepted my first job, that of managing the college’s electronic communications. It didn’t take me long to realize that there was a very large gap in our electronic communications strategy. This was 2007, and not only Facebook but Twitter and YouTube were slowly being embraced by corporations and institutions of higher education.Emerging technologies were opening up direct connections between businesses and their constituents. They were also opening up connections among consumers themselves. This meant that one angry customer could share a negative perception or experience for others to see and react to. Companies were fearful that they would lose control of their brands, and worried that potential negative interactions would gain enough traction to derail business. Most businesses were still sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see how the tools would evolve. 

Having just made the transition from student to young professional, I was less convinced that the risk everyone was fretting about was truly perilous – especially when weighed against the gains to be had. Wading slowly, we created an institutional presence for the college on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. It was evident that if we didn’t create our own presences on these accounts, someone else would create them for us and then we would truly lose control. It was also undeniable that social media could aid us in our day-to-day charge – building relationships with the campus community, prospective students, our alumni and others. So it was that we began meeting our audiences in the media where they themselves were increasingly spending their time.

On St. Norbert’s new social media platforms, alumni were responding warmly and the office of admission was learning from prospective students that our social media updates were contributing, for them, to a more complete picture of the college. What’s more, local businesses and nonprofits were turning to us for advice and counsel on how and where to target their efforts – additional confirmation that we must be doing something right. And, in 2011, Student Advisor named St. Norbert among its Top 100 Social Media Colleges. The college appeared among the leaders in a list headed by Harvard, Johns Hopkins, the United States Military Academy and Carnegie Mellon. (The college currently lands on the list at number 56 out of 6,000 institutions monitored and comes in at the top of all Wisconsin schools.)

The fun part of the job is seeing immediate engagement with our posts. I love seeing the “Likes,” “Shares” and retweets. It’s neat to see how sharing a photo can create such nostalgia in our alums and pride in our current students. Equally interesting, if more challenging, is steering multiple efforts across campus as new entities jump in, each speaking to their own targeted audience. It becomes my job to connect with units early in their planning and to help them make good decisions about which, if any, tools might be effective. I’m constantly reminding the campus that social media is not a 9-to-5 commitment. It brings with it an expectation of regular, real-time engagement.

We are continually tweaking our strategy to deliver better content through our current channels on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and Flickr. And, we’re always hungry for new and better ways to tell the St. Norbert College story. For this reason, I am careful to stay abreast of new channels as they emerge to see whether we can create value for our audiences there, too.

July 2, 2013