Engaging Students on Social Media

Spring in New England is pretty sweet. After “suffering” through frigid temperatures, epic snowbanks, and awful driving conditions, the warm winds of spring are a welcome respite from winter. Spring is also graduation season, when college and university students from Maine to Connecticut don caps and gowns and pose for family photos. This is also the time-May 29, 2015 of this year to be exact–when I can officially engage with the newest alumni of the Harvard Business School via Twitter and Facebook. Up to this point things are, well, complicated. While I’m not prohibited from reaching out to current students during their two-year stint at HBS, students are not considered to be part of my social media “beat.” But, over the past few months, students have started interacting with us on a more regular basis and I’ve felt emboldened to engage with them; and in this post, I’ll share some strategies I’ve used.

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Scaling the Conversation

Each day, a number of alumni follow us on Twitter. The same is true for students. Whenever we get a follow notification from an alumnus/a, we tweet the handles of his or her section mates to them. When a student follows us, we take a slightly different tact. The first thing we do is confirm what year a student is in. If the student is a first year, we’ll ask him about his first impressions of HBS or what he’s looking forward to most in his inaugural year. If the student is in her second year, we’ll try to find out what she hopes to do post-HBS.

Below is a glimpse at how one of these recent interactions played out.

Once Cherian responded to my tweet and shared what he had on tap for the future, I was able to attempt to “scale” the conversation; which involved extending an offer to the student.

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I’m able to make this offer–and follow-through on it if necessary–due to the way we track alumni on Twitter (click here for more on my alumni tracking approach) and how we use LinkedIn (read my post, “Tipping the (Social Media) Scales” for more information). It didn’t take long for Cherian to accept my offer and once he did, I went to LinkedIn, accessed our alumni group, and typed “Shanghai” into the “Advanced” feature field. Once I found a trio of alumni in Shanghai who were also on Twitter, I sent the following tweet.

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Capture (and Share) Campus Life

Cherian’s case was an example of reactive social media, an approach predicated on waiting for a student to engage with us in some way. But there are times when I’m more proactive. This typically occurs when I’m able to capture an aspect of student life, something which occurred last week.

Since my building is only a half-mile away from the HBS campus, I usually walk to meetings. During my travels, I noticed several flag football games being played on a nearby field. I approached some players on the sideline and was informed that the games involved current HBS students. Before long, I was snapping photos of each contest on my smartphone and then posted the following on Facebook.

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Soon after adding the collage, I reached out to individuals on my Twitter student tracking list and sent the Facebook link to them.

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While I wasn’t happy with the amount of “likes” the post received (six is REALLY low for us), I believe it’s an approach that could–if done correctly–engender significant student engagement.

Another strategy I’ve employed is connecting students with topical alumni-generated content. Last month, we asked alumni on Twitter to finish the following statement, “My Welcome to #HBS Moment was…” Once we completed our chat–which, at last count, involved 30 individual alumni–we tweeted the ensuing Storify to new students on our Twitter list during their first two weeks of classes. My rational, like with the section football collage, was to share a specific type of content with students, one that would appeal to as many of them as possible; and sometime next month, I plan to send the same query to first- and second-year students so I can add new, fresh perspectives to the Storify.

Welcome HBS

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Was this post helpful? Is there anything I missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Robert Bochnak manages social media for the Harvard Business School’s alumni office. He’s also the former writer and editor ofGradMatters: The Blog for Tufts GSAS.

Follow Robert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobertBoc.

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