NIU consults students for social media strategy

Sergio Rivera
Sergio Rivera

A team of six NIU students had the unique opportunity to act as consultants by providing social media and marketing strategies and recommendations to the university in a semester-long project that started in January through the College of Business’ Experiential Learning Center (ELC).

The project was designed to find innovative ways of enticing potential students, retaining those currently enrolled and allowing alumni the opportunity to stay engaged, while reviewing and improving on the current techniques being implemented through social media.

Kathy Buettner, vice president of University Relations, said the decision to use the ELC was based on the success of the program and the belief that students have an understanding of social media concepts.

“The team was responsible for evaluating what social media outlets currently exist, and anticipating what’s on the horizon in order to help us determine where we should focus our energy,” Buettner said. “Why bring in outside consultants when we have students who are young business professionals familiar with not only social media, but the university as well?”

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Foursquare and Flickr provide NIU with a means of marketing the university to larger audiences in formats which are popular with multiple demographics.

The ELC team was tasked with researching these and other platforms to help University Relations define a long-term plan for use of social media at the university.

“When it comes to communication, I believe bringing students in as equal partners in improving the university is important,” Buettner said. “The intended audience is the students, so let’s bring them to the table.”

Holly Nicholson, NIU’s social media specialist, said it’s important to offer simpler ways of reaching out to students to provide information about the university.

“Social media is where our students and prospective students are, and we want to give them a convenient place to have their questions answered and build a community with our students,” Nicholson said.

The results of the project were presented to the university earlier this month and were met with high praise from NIU University Relations staff.

“What the ELC has given us is a road map for our social media initiatives for the next 12 months,” said Jennice O’Brien, director of Web Communications. “They’ve recommended several new avenues for us to explore and presented ideas for improving the way we currently do some things. We’re excited to start implementing their recommendations.”

“This was one of the best consulting reports I have received in my professional career,” Buettner said. “The ELC team did a fantastic job in providing suggestions based on student interest. I was very impressed.”

One recommendation presented by the ELC team is to establish a student organization that would work closely with University Relations. Nicholson said she’s eager to work with students to help build stronger social media recruitment efforts.

“This will be a very beneficial group for our students because they will have the opportunity to gain valuable social media marketing experience to take with them into the job market,” Nicholson said. “NIU’s initiatives will have a lot to gain from having the student perspective, as well.”

Other strategies proposed by the team include implementing the use of QR codes and Microsoft Tags, creating virtual tours of the campus and utilizing social bookmarking.

“An important factor to the success of this project was the academic diversity of the team,” Nicholson added. “Students from many backgrounds – business, computer science and visual communication – brought their experience and unique perspectives together to create a comprehensive proposal. This is a great encouragement for students in other NIU colleges to participate on an ELC team.”

Previous ELC teams have worked extensively with major companies such as McDonald’s and Caterpillar, among others, in recent years. The program creates opportunities for students to work hands-on with organizations to help solve real-world business issues.

Team members were Ashvini Krishna Ayyasamy, Dominique King, Kimberly Kyrouac, Corinne Montgomery, Wasil Pahuchy and Sergio Rivera.

by Andrew Hrubec

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