Embracing new media is a challenge. Community college leaders need not only master fringe technologies, they also have to ensure those innovations are not used in a way that could potentially undercut the integrity of the college.
It’s a tough call, evidenced by the fact that some colleges recently sought to discourage the taking of selfies — a popular practice by which people snap personal photos with their smartphones and post the images to social media — during graduation ceremonies.
While maintaining the image and sanctity of the college is important, administrators at Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) in Pennsylvania decided the benefits of the technology far outweighed the potential drawbacks.
“We all agreed, if students wanted to take selfies, we weren’t going to ban it,” says Karen Stout, MCCC’s president. Rather the college decided to embrace the trend. The thinking: Who better to provide evidence of student success, then students themselves?
Stout says it’s just one example of the many ways in which colleges can use social media to tell their stories.
Tell your story
During MCCC’s recent commencement, Celeste Schwartz, vice president of information technology, encouraged attendees — graduates, staff, family, friends — to pull out their smartphones and take a graduation image. Video monitors throughout the venue displayed a unique hashtag, #ThinkBigGrad. Attendees snapped dozens of selfies and posted them to Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook using the hashtag.
With the images, many also posted short congratulatory messages such as, “My wife’s graduation from MCCC,” “we did it!,” and “It Happened ;-).”
Stout posted her own selfie from the stage, and says she stayed up till 3 a.m. that night, responding to student posts and making new connections with fresh graduates.
Behind the scenes, MCCC staff curated a collection of the best images for the website. Local media picked up the story, using the college’s Twitter feed as part of its coverage of the event.
“We had so much buzz for about 48 hours around our commencement,” says Stout. “It was a way really to engage our students and our graduates and to make a statement about the importance of completion.”
A strategic approach
Fun as it was, MCCC’s selfie exercise was part of a larger strategy to engage students and chronicle key moments of their college experience.
Stout says successful media campaigns require contributions from all of levels of leadership, including the president. She uses social media, including Twitter, to engage directly with legislators.
“I tweet about them being on campus, about contributions they’re making in the community. It gives me a lot of reach, not just with legislators, but with the press and community influencers.”
A CNN reporter even picked up on one of her tweets, and came to the campus to report a story about tuition assistance.
“After that, I thought, this is just fabulous,” says Stout.
How does your college use social media to tell its story?