Zach Heeter is an admissions counselor at Frostburg State University in Frostburg, Md.
Social media growth is much like a garden. With the proper tools, care and passion, it will be blossoming in no time.
This spring semester, I had the pleasure of managing Frostburg State University’s “meetabobcat” Twitter page. As an admissions counselor with experience in digital marketing, I saw this as an opportunity to use my experience and grow our communication about the admissions process on a medium that 75 percent of high school seniors actively use to make their college decision. Versus traditional advertisements, social media allows applicants to directly speak with us and most importantly, we can speak back. At the end of my first digital campaign with FSU, I found that the best results are gained naturally, following these four steps:
1. Plant the Seeds
The same way a garden bed begins as nothing but seeds, you may need to wait patiently for your page to grow. Find quality students who represent your university well and whom you’re willing to have as online ambassadors. Current students know the intricacies of your university better than anyone, so give them the voice on the page. Find the students that encompass your brand and they will quickly become personifications of your university. You will still need to moderate and occasionally post as well, but it’s no surprise that prospective students feel an authentic, close connection to their future peers.
2. Water Daily
What starts as a seed can only blossom with proper care, which is the essence of keeping your social media up to date and relevant. Having students look at an outdated page is as unproductive as not having one. Train your ambassadors and share useful tricks and tools so that each ambassador may grow as your page grows. One such trick is to search your institution’s name in Twitter’s search feed to find prospective students—this way your ambassadors can directly address questions and help them through the admissions process. Explore other tools with your team and make sure to check up on your pages daily to make your page blossom.
3. Allow for Sunlight
Every representative of your school has a personalized brand, but also broadcasts a collective representation of the organization as a whole. Find unique and impressive stories that your students share and give light to them on a major social media platform. Even if you don’t mentally position each student as an ambassador, remember that each flower makes up a part of the patch. Give light to several students’ stories to fully illuminate the great experiences offered by your school. We did this at FSU with a #meetabobcat Instagram campaign, interviewing students and staff at FSU and sharing their stories. To enable the entire community to share their stories, we also used the hashtag #instaFrostburg. This highlighted Frostburg’s collective personality, informed incoming students of available opportunities and gave an authentic representation of our students. Brainstorm hashtag ideas with your own team and create a campaign that highlights the best of your institution. Once the hashtag starts to trend, content will shine and light up your page naturally.
4. Let Nature Be Natural
Twitter pages don’t start with thousands of followers right away, rather they grow into a sustainable communication network after gaining traction online. Before a green garden bed becomes luscious, it must first have sprouts, and this holds true for social media too. Instead of looking at the quantity of followers, look at the quality of interactions and the growth of the page. Are you happy with the connections? Are they authentic? Is the page growing? These are the three main bases you should use to measure your social media garden’s success. If your answer to all three is yes, then you’re on the right track. Maintain a high quality relationship with your followers and quantity will follow suit.
Growing a social media presence isn’t always easy, but that doesn’t mean it has to be hard. You have an entire university as a resource—use it! Remember to always let the heart of your community, the students, be heard, and remember that relationships are the heart of growth.
 The 2013 Social Admissions Report: http://uversity.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Screen-Shot-2013-04-16-at-12.39.47-PM.png