Q&A on Colorado State University’s Google + Presence

Janna Crabb (@jcrabb) is director of online communications at CASE.

As part of a series of posts around Google +, I spoke with Kimberly Stern, director of social and digital media at Colorado State University, about the school’s use of the platform.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the Google + presence your department manages and related goals. Does your institution have other accounts not managed by your department?
A: Colorado State University’s Google+ presence has blossomed in the past year with more than 147,000 followers and 2.1 million views. The main institutional account is managed by the social and digital media team out of CSU’s Division of External Relations. We continue to explore how we can best use the platform but for the time being, our goal is to leverage digital tools offered through the Google+ platform (such as Hangouts on Air) to enhance our storytelling efforts and engage our audiences worldwide. We are still honing in on the content that serves our Google+ community best.  A few other units on campus, including our College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, have launched Google+ accounts but widespread use has not yet caught on.

Q: Why is your institution on Google + and how do you find it valuable? Who is your audience?
A:  Initially, we started using Google+ in 2011 simply for search engine optimization purposes and because it seemed like a good idea to go ahead and reserve our account name. Needless to say, we really didn’t have a distinct strategy at that time. That all changed when Google approached CSU in fall 2013 and invited the institution to participate in a national campaign called #AskAdmissions, where universities used Google’s Hangouts On Air feature to connect admissions counselors with prospective students. We accepted the invitation and haven’t looked back.

Institutions of higher education are at a crossroads of tradition and technology, founded on one underlying question: How do we reach an increasingly connected and tech-savvy group of prospective students, while accurately maintaining our academic reputation and storied institution with relevant technology? For CSU, Google Hangouts On Air was one answer to this large question. Combining existing communication and social media channels with live Google Hangouts On Air, Colorado State held its first-ever “RamChat” in early October 2013. The event crowdsourced questions about the university from prospective students and put them in front of a group of current students who could answer them best. RamChat via Hangouts On Air resulted in a new way for prospective students to speak directly to students and employees on a platform that encouraged real connections and created a resource that will be useful for years to come through YouTube.

Opportunities to showcase CSU and its programs through tools such as Hangouts On Air are what make Google+ exceptionally valuable to our overall social and digital strategy.  With the launch of the Google+ Insights (analytics for the platform), it has been interesting to see demographic information about our audience. Alumni make up most of our Google+ community and posts about institutional news seems to resonate well.

Q: What are some of your Google + successes? What have you learned? Any tips for other institutions?
A: Incorporating Google+ Hangouts on Air into our recruitment efforts through our Office of Admissions has by far been our biggest success with Google+. While it can be important to communicate with prospective students using an official voice, often the most powerful and lasting stories come from enthusiastic students. Prospective students are interested in learning what their days will be like on campus, where they will live and with whom they will go to school. The best authority on the subject? Those who are currently living it. Using Google+ Hangouts has been an excellent way to connect future Rams with current students. This summer, our university president, Tony Frank, took part in a RamChat via Hangouts on Air hosting an AMA (Ask Me Anything) with our incoming class.

Since fall 2013, we’ve hosted 12 RamChats via Hangouts On Air which have collectively garnered thousands of views on YouTube and hundreds of crowd-sourced questions answered live.

After hosting several Hangouts On Air, we’ve learned to roll with the punches when it comes to technical glitches. Each time we host a Hangout, we learn something new about the technology and continue to fine-tune our process. Also, it was interesting to learn that a majority of our viewers who tuned in live to our RamChats did so from their mobile devices.

Q: How does Google + compare with Facebook at your institution?
A: I’ve certainly learned to not underestimate the power of Google. Before hosting our first RamChat via Hangouts, CSU had 3,900 followers on Google+. Today, our audience is 147,000+ and growing and is larger than our Facebook audience of 90,000.  We are still looking at which ways to distinguish our Facebook and Google+ audiences and strategy. At this point, institutional news and research stories fair a bit better in our Google+ community but we continue to try new things in this space to discover what engages our audience. 

Q: What Google + projects would you like to focus on in the future?
A: Our Veterinary Teaching Hospital out of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences is world-renowned, and we have launched a new a series titled Paging Dr. Ram to connect our veterinarians with the public through Hangouts On Air. Beyond that, we would like to be able to use Hangouts On Air regularly to feature the amazing work being done by our faculty and researchers.

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