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Student-Run Social Media: Make it Work for You

Did you know we here at Duke have a suite of channels branded Duke Students and run by a team of actual students?

Facebook: @DukeStudents
Instagram: @DukeStudents
Medium: @DukeStudents
Snapchat: @DukeStudents
Spotify: DukeStudents
Twitter: @DukeStudents
YouTube: Duke Students

Well now you do!

Here’s how we’re set up:

Student editors posing
Last year’s team of editors
(I don’t have a group pic yet this year because several of our editors are studying abroad!)

We have approximately one student editor per @DukeStudents channel. I say approximately because we have a couple of people who run multiple channels, and our Instagram channel has two editors. (It works better that way for content flow.) One of these editors is our editor-in-chief, who runs strategy, analytics, and the process of keeping everyone on track. We’ve found it works a lot better when we let them be in charge of each other. I’m basically just there in case they get stuck on something.

These editors are paid! We meet in person (or via Google Hangouts for the study abroad students) once every two weeks, but the rest of their work is done off-site whenever they have time. We keep things organized on a team Slack. We try really hard not to over-schedule them. They do a lot remotely and they work different hours than I do, so it works better for everyone this way.

You might be surprised to know that the student editors have full control over their respective accounts. That means that they don’t have to submit drafts to anyone for review, and they are allowed to choose and curate what they want to post! (More on how we make that work later.)

We also have a team of content contributors. They are mostly underclassmen and are unpaid. There are about 40 of them! We meet with them once a month and keep in touch online via GroupMe. They’re each assigned one of the paid editors as their mentor for a set period of time, and then they rotate to a different editor. This gives them exposure to a lot of different social media channels. Their job is to contribute content to the editors for each of the different channels. Eventually, we hire our student editors from this group, so being a content contributor is almost part of the interview process to be a student editor.

Here are the rules:

People usually gasp and clutch their pearls when I tell them the students don’t have to submit drafts to me before they post, but we do have a pretty solid set of time-tested rules that all of the editors know and follow. I do read their posts once they go up, and on the rare occasion I have to ask them to take something down, but they’re actually usually even more careful than I would be with the rules I’ve given them.

The rules go thusly:

  • The “Grandma Rule:” If your grandma wouldn’t want to see it, don’t post it.
  • No references to alcohol, parties, drugs (and no red Solo cups, no matter what’s in them)
  • Nothing dangerous
  • No content promoting Greek or SLG organizations (This is because we don’t want to accidentally play favorites, so it’s just easier to not promote any of them.)
  • No profanity, including phrases like “AF,” or hashtags that contain profanity (like #GTHC and #DDMF)
  • Do not insult other schools, even in reference to sports
  • Follow NCAA athlete recruitment rules
  • Do not answer admissions questions. Always redirect to Admissions!

These rules really take care of most of the problems we might have with what to post and what not to post. It really helps to begin a group like this with the rules in mind so that you can be clear about expectations. We’ve found that once the expectations are established, the more freedom we can give them, the better. More freedom equals more creativity!

It’s also helpful to remember that they are students, and students are human, and humans mess up sometimes. They’re going to mess up. (To be fair, so are you.) So with that in mind, make sure that you have a plan in place for when they mess up or need help and a way they can contact you anytime.


I mentioned above that we hire to our paid student editors team from the pool of content creators. This gives us at least an academic year to make a determination about whether the student is enthusiastic about @DukeStudents or not, and we’re hiring for enthusiasm, not necessarily skill. You can teach skills. (Doing social media isn’t brain surgery, guys– hate to break it to you.) You cannot teach enthusiasm.

Student editors in a silly pose

Other ways students can help you:

If you don’t want to set up social media that your students can run on their own, there are lots of other ways to use the talent of your students:

  • Use them as a focus group! They know really cool stuff. Ask them about new social media channels and how they use social media.
  • Have them collect content for you! Most of them already know how to shoot great video on their phones and have an eye for what will work in an Instagram feed.
  • Occasionally make them do boring stuff. No one likes spreadsheets, but let’s be real. You’re the grown-up here and it won’t kill them to copy-paste for a couple of hours.

In conclusion, students are awesome!

Get yourself a team of them and see how much more fun they make your job!

Trends in Social Media

What should you be looking out for in social media for 2019? I recently gave a talk about this at Duke, and here’s some of what I think is coming:


  • Live video is still a big trend this year, but it’s even more engaging and interactive!
  • Keep an eye on native LinkedIn video.
  • Create with mobile in mind.
  • Look for more YouTube content from Duke University this year!
Aaron Chatterji is one of Duke’s LinkedIn video stars!

Speaking of LinkedIn…

Is it the year of LinkedIn? They’re rolling out lots of new features lately. We’ve seen huge growth in native video uploads, especially first-person explainer-style formats. LinkedIn also recently relaunched Groups with new features. We’ve found that the articles we post on Duke’s LinkedIn page give us pretty good referral numbers to our website.

Messaging Apps

You all know about Facebook Messenger, and I hope you’re paying attention to your Facebook page’s inbox. But did you know that you can now do ads in Messenger?

WhatsApp also just launched WhatsApp Business, and while we’re not doing anything there yet, I’m definitely keeping an eye on it.

And, yeah, Snapchat is still a player here! While the stories-format content is easier and sometimes more popular on Instagram now, Snapchat is still an important 1-to-1 communication tool for many of our students.

More on Stories

Yep, we’re still talking about the stories format. It’s the big new thing! So what does that mean for you?

Source: Buffer

It means you’re going to have to start thinking about vertical video if you haven’t yet. Gone are the days when I’d constantly yell at people to turn their phone horizontal to make videos. Now vertical video is a totally legit format!

It also means you have a great opportunity to make in-the-moment, less produced content, and for those of us with a small team, this is great news!


A couple of apps based on the idea of music are up-and-coming. Of course there’s Spotify, which lets you create public playlists. (Check out the @DukeStudents Spotify!)

And if you have teenagers around you at all, you probably also know about TikTok (formerly We don’t have an institutional TikTok account yet, but we might in the future!

My prediction? Apps and social media with huge music libraries are going to keep being kind of a big deal!

Social Media’s Reputation

Social media took a big hit this year. People are questioning everything that’s posted, stupid viral stunts are hitting the news, users are worrying about their privacy (and rightly so!) and some are even leaving social media all together.

As brands, it’s our job to make the spaces we control on social media as safe as possible for our fans and followers. Puppy pictures are always a good place to start, just sayin’.

Takeaways for Higher Ed from VidCon 2018

VidCon is not always the type of conference you’d think of for a higher ed professional. It’s all about online video, and a lot of it is about screaming pre-teens running after their favorite YouTube stars. This year, though, my boss and I got ourselves some industry track passes and dove in. Here’s what we learned!

Sonja & Laura in the emoji photo booth at VidCon


You can use YouTube for more than just hosting your videos. Use all the functionality of YouTube to really take full advantage of the platform!

  • Use the community tab to interact with users: Ask questions, deploy polls, etc.
  • “Stories” tab is coming for channels with >10,000 subscribers this year!

What should your branding and subject matter be on YouTube?

  • Find and study 5 channels that you want to be like.
  • Optimize for the “suggested video” function in YouTube by changing your thumbnails to ones that match current videos, and updating old titles to match current trends.
  • Personalities do well on YouTube.
  • Check out #YouTubeTaughtMe for some really fun stories about what people have learned from YouTube.


Facebook has some interesting video formats to play with.

  • Facebook Watch:
    • Check out George Takei Presents. It’s growing by 20k subscribers/day!
    • Facebook Watch is better for programs rather than personalities (as opposed to YouTube, where personalities rule).
  • Facebook Live:
    • Create a consistent live video programming schedule.
    • The key for live video is interaction.
  • Facebook Stories:
    • You can save some work by importing these from Instagram Stories if you’re already doing them.


  • LinkedIn is a pretty un-crowded (is that a word?) space for video creators right now. That’s why a lot of video creators are jumping in!
  • Max length for a LinkedIn video is 10 minutes.
  • Here are some LinkedIn personalities to check out: Bill Gates, Emirates, Gary Vee


  • Is Snapchat dead or dying? Maybe. In the Snapchat vs. Instagram Stories battle, it looks like Instagram Stories is winning.
  • But Snapchat is different from Instagram in that authentic content is the key. Snapchat doesn’t depend on the likes, comments or “score” of your posts. It’s all about the relationships.


We talked a lot about educational content at VidCon.

  • Answer questions people didn’t know they had.
  • Establish friendliness and familiarity. (ex. Crash Course on YouTube)
  • For teens & tweens, let them participate in some way and focus on how things affect them now.

How can you stay on top of trends?

  • Use Google Trends to monitor trending terms.
  • Track your overall channel performance year over year to account for seasonal changes, and then adjust as necessary!

Working with Students

If you were to ask me what the most rewarding part of my job is, one of my top 3 answers would easily be getting to work with students. It’s also one of the most common questions my colleagues and I are asked about our social strategy at conferences–“How do we use our students’ voices so strategically?” During my three years at Duke, I’ve been ridiculously fortunate to work with and get to know some pretty exceptional students.

Can they be a handful at times? Does it take a lot of time and effort to manage our student team? Is it an absolute NIGHTMARE wrangling student schedules to nail down a meeting time for the semester? Absolutely. But allow me to make the case for working with students–plenty of them, and often.

While working with student teams can be a bit like herding a bunch of overachieving and hilarious kittens at times, they also have some of the best ideas when it comes to content or how to reach their peers. Their opinions on how we market to prospective and current students are invaluable. Plus, they advise us on what platforms their peers are using, how to speak to them in an authentic way, and when and where to reach them. Essentially, they keep us cool and up to speed on what The Kids are doing. So working with them is a mix of:

But also,

At Duke, our @DukeStudents handles are absolutely flourishing and it is 100% due to the efforts of the students who have total ownership over each platform. They’re currently on Instagram (by far their strongest presence), Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.  There are the formal Duke University institutional accounts that I manage and the more informal, student-voiced @DukeStudents channels that allow current students to interact with one another as well as prospective students. We keep these DukeStudents and Duke University branded social accounts completely separate. Our student team is composed of 8 editors–one for each platform and a managing editor who acts as team leader and analytics expert.

While we certainly give them guidelines on things to avoid and advise them in certain situations, the students have ownership of their channels and the content they post there. We’ve found that properly training and then empowering them to own their channels is a great way to foster the dedication and level of professionalism and enthusiasm needed to see their audiences grow. Ownership = Attachment = Dedication.


We even take this one step further when it comes time to replace our graduating seniors. — MOMENT OF SILENCE–

We task each editor with identifying stars from a larger pool of their peers in a volunteer capacity to be promoted to the paid editor positions. The team is structured with 8 paid student editors who mentor a larger pool of mostly-first-year student volunteers (usually around 20). These student volunteers help to curate and create content for the DukeStudents channels and as our platform editors graduate, they select their successors largely from this broader volunteer pool. Our editors get experience with managing and mentoring a team and our student volunteers get to feel like they are a part of a structured effort on behalf of their university with opportunities to play a significant future role in the DukeStudents social presence.

P.S. Paying them helps too. Managing an institutional social channel is a job and should be treated as such.

We also offer them other perks, like exclusivity on information that will be relevant to the broader student body. For example, one of our student editors was actually featured in our top secret project with Apple earlier this year. We tapped him because we had the working relationship from his time on the @DukeStudents team. We also let the broader team of editors know what was coming about 20 minutes before the video formally dropped. Additionally, we tap them for special projects related to recruitment and yield.  We want them to feel important and valued as a member of the communications team for their university.

We also want to help our students build up their professional skills and resumes. We get them access to our colleagues who may be experts in areas that they are interested in pursuing or who can teach them particular skills that they want to learn. We make sure to give their creativity and work a large platform. For example, this past fall one of our student interns produced a beautiful video to welcome Duke 2022 to the incoming class when decisions were announced.


Join the Blue, #Duke2022!!! 🔵😈🎉🎊

A post shared by Duke University (@dukeuniversity) on

She created, filmed, produced and edited this project from start to finish. We amplified on our channels, but she now has a solid piece of work to add to her portfolio.

Did I also mention they’re just fun to hang out with? So there’s our approach to working with students. It’s not for everyone but I highly encourage you to make the effort to find a few good ones and see what sort of magic you can make together!

3 Things We’re Doing Wrong in Higher Ed Social Media

1. Calling Snapchat “dead.”

Yeah, the redesign makes your life harder. Are you going to friend all of your students so that your story shows up in their friend feed, or are you going to be content with showing up in the “Discover” tab? You decide, but know that incoming students aren’t giving up Snapchat anytime soon. We’re just going to have to figure out a way to engage. And speaking of engagement…

2. Failing to engage.

We’re really used to broadcasting. We broadcast all the time. We tweet and share links to our sites. We tell people what we want them to know. Increasingly, though, our incoming students and our other community members are looking for engagement. So, yeah, we’re going to have to do some one-on-one stuff, which takes some man/woman-power. And looking ahead, we’re going to have to engage both in the messaging apps we already use (have you checked your Facebook Page inbox recently?) and in the apps we’re going to have to learn to use, like WeChat and WhatsApp.

3. Using YouTube as a video bucket.

Your YouTube channel isn’t just a place where you can chuck all your video content so that you can embed it elsewhere. YouTube is a social platform. Yep, and it’s getting to be even more social with the addition of the community tab and a coming-soon Stories-like feature. You’re going to have to roll your YouTube strategy into your general social media strategy, so start laying the groundwork now to get control of YouTube on your team.

Instagram Stories vs. Snapchat

Communicators, particularly those in higher ed, were perplexed to say the least when Instagram Stories launched in August 2016 as a direct challenge to Snapchat. We were even more surprised when the app reported in 2017 that after one year, Instagram Stories had more than 250 million daily users.

In the premiere episode of Extra Credit, we break down the pros and cons of both tools and try to help our fellow #HESM professionals make wise choices about how to spend their time and energy on both:

How #HigherEd can use Snapchat Custom Stories for social media student takeovers (via

I’ve believed for a while that the most fun part of working with social media is throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Trying new things is intimidating, but there are always lessons to be learned in success and/or failure.

When Snapchat announced Custom Stories at the end of May, all higher ed social media professionals asked themselves the same question: “What does this mean for us?”

After poking around the new features, I thought it might allow us to take a different approach to student takeovers.

The new update happened to launch the same week we had content scheduled to congratulate high school seniors who will attend Texas A&M in the fall. This campaign included a Snapchat takeover with two future Aggies on two very different sides of the country – one in California and one in Texas, but 200 miles from campus.

Only one person can be logged into a Snapchat account at any given time, but by using the new Custom Story feature, our two future Aggies were able to do their takeover at the same time…


Read more here.

Creating Your Own On-Demand Snapchat Filter: A Step-by-Step Guide

As a designer for Duke’s Office of News & Communications, one of my favorite things to work on were our campus Snapchat filters. We typically host an on-demand filter for big events on campus such as basketball games, cultural performances, football games, and holidays. Not even a decade-old, Snapchat has grown to be one of the most popular social media platforms for millennials, with more than 9,000 snaps sent per second. Whether you’re a publicity executive for an organization that has an event coming up or a someone who wants to make a great birthday present for a friend, you too can create your own personalized Snapchat filter! Without further ado, here’s a quick step-by-step guide:


Visit and click the “Create Now” button under the “Community” tab. Log into your Snapchat account.

On the following screen, hover over the “Download Template” link to either download the PSD or AI templates. Either template works – just choose the software that you’re most comfortable with.

Next, check out the submission guidelines on the bottom of the screen to get a general idea of what is okay and what isn’t.

Now you can start designing! Brainstorm what visuals might work with the theme of your event. You should always have a short phrase of some sorts that’s presented in a visually appealing and engaging way. Be sure to make the content pop so it’ll be visible in either broad daylight or the evening. And remember, NO HASHTAGS allowed in the design (or it won’t be approved).

After you’ve made a filter that follows the Snapchat guidelines, you can upload it! Visit and click the large white box on the right that says “Upload Geofilter Asset.” Enter your name, email, and check the two boxes on the bottom.

Select the date and time range you want your filter to be useable.

Search the map for the area that you wish to have your geofilter shown. Then, draw a box around the area with Snapchat’s mapping tool. The bigger the area, the more your filter will cost.

Now you’re almost done! Click “Submit.” Snapchat will contact you in a couple of hours letting you know if they’ve approved your filter. If approved, they’ll bill the account that you’ve linked.

Finally, keep an eye out for your filter on the designated dates!


And that’s how to make your own personalized Snapchat filter. They’re an easy and fun way to engage with your followers. Plus, if a follower uses your filter, all their friends who see the filter will also know about you. Good luck and have fun designing!


Oh Snapchat, My Snapchat!

I’m a storyteller. While it took me a solid eighteen months to start walking (don’t worry, I ended up being a varsity athlete, so saving that extra energy paid off eventually), talking wasn’t a problem at all. According to my mom, my first word was “beer”. I guess that’s what happens when you were born and raised in the world’s capital of beer, Munich, Germany. In second grade, I became spelling bee champ and in May I graduated cum laude from Duke University. So things turned out just fine. I think.

To make a long story short: Words have always made more sense to me than numbers. The exciting part about writing – at least to me – is the fact that I never know where my keyboard and fingers are going to take me in the end. Storytelling includes, but is not limited to, writing. It can take on a variety of different forms. Evolving technology and the rise of Web 2.0 applications have allowed us to experiment with new types of storytelling.


As an international student from Germany, I saw an opportunity in Snapchat to let my friends and family back home know what I’m up to on a daily basis. Seeing how Duke and American (college) culture in general is very different from attending school in Germany, I figured taking a couple of pictures a day and adding short captions would help them understand what being a Duke student entails. It also help me stay connected to the people I left behind in Munich. Over time, however, I started to realize that Snapchat not only allowed me to exchange funny snaps with my brother, it enabled me to tell the most important story of all: my own. Being authentic has always been important to me. I’m passionate about a lot of things and I want people to know that, which is why I want my Snapchat stories to reflect that. Now, who is this Bavarian, parsley-loving Duke senior that is really good at spelling? And how would that be reflected on Snapchat?

Well, there are a lot of opportunities, I can tell you that. Examples of past snaps include excitement at multiple Duke Basketball games in Cameron Indoor Stadium, doing a handstand against the wall of Perkins Library while shaking my hips to Fergie’s “G-L-A-M-O-R-OUS” at 11pm, a selfie with Peter Hamby, head of News at Snapchat who visited Duke for a post-election panel, interviewing former Duke Basketball star Grant Hill in West Union, random screenshots of Bayern Munich’s social media posts (they’re hilarious!), and most importantly: a gazillion Chapel pics at 3am after leaving the library.

That being said, there are a lot of really cool things happening at Duke every single day that are worth sharing (in my humble opinion). I have a lot of school pride and love bragging about my amazing classmates, professors, our basketball team, and this absolutely gorgeous campus.


Moreover, my snaps are frequently featured on the official “Duke Students” Snapchat stories. The person who is in charge of the Duke Students social media accounts, Jackson (who is one of the most talented people on this campus! If you don’t believe me, watch this and this), once told me that he loves my snaps and that I’m the biggest contributor. So if you ever watched the Duke Students’ Snapchat stories, chances are pretty high that you saw one of my snaps. Especially if it featured Duke Basketball. In that case, probably half of the content was mine.

Now you have learned quite a bit about my Snapchat consumer habits, however, the best is yet to come. This is where my roommate Eden comes in. You see, Eden and I have the most perfect college roommate relationship anyone could possibly have. We are each other’s therapists and cheerleaders. Some people hope that their roommates are gone when they come back to their room. Not in this case. I tend to desperately call Eden at 2am if she isn’t back from studying yet. There are two reasons: 1) I miss her. 2) We have a bedtime ritual.

Allow me to elaborate on that. It all started about a year and a half ago. Eden and I had similar study and sleeping schedules, so one night we decided to go to the bathroom and brush our teeth together. The next time we added music to our joint bathroom session. At some point I just started recording us on Snapchat because why not? There we were: two sleep-deprived college girls brushing their teeth and removing makeup while jamming to Disney songs in a scruffy dorm bathroom at 3am. To be fair, some people thought we were a little crazy but most people loved it. One of my brother’s childhood friends who was closely following my Duke journey on social media actually reached out to me, telling me that he loved Eden and our bathroom snaps. Now they’re friends on Facebook. See how Snapchat connects people? Over time, we added themes to our late-night Snapchat escapades. I once brought a basketball to the bathroom and pulled a Troy Bolton to the High School Musical soundtrack. Every now and then we ask our hall mates to record us so we could do more sophisticated dance performances.


Why do we enjoy this so much? Well, being a Duke student can be hard sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware of how incredibly privileged and lucky I am to go here, and I remind myself of that every single day. However, being under constant stress, having a gazillion deadlines every week, meetings, part-time jobs, leadership positions, club involvements, internship applications, volunteering, working on your startup, research, (and having a social life) can be mentally and physically exhausting sometimes. So when we come back from the library after hustling for 18 hours, we want to end the day on a high note. Spending ten minutes in the bathroom with one of my favorite people in the world, dancing and singing to “I just can’t wait to be king” or “Hakuna Matata” to celebrate another day of learning and being productive (or occasionally the lack of the latter) is something I have come to cherish.

Will I remember writing papers about the political realignment of 1964, the emergence and disappearance of female subjectivity in Hitchcock, or the nature vs. nurture debate in sex & gender determination twenty years down the road? Probably not. Will I remember how my roommate and I once put on Panda facial masks and jammed to Desiigner’s song “Panda”? Absolutely. And that’s largely thanks to social media. 
Those are the types of stories we are going to tell our kids one day when we come back for reunions. “Sweetie, do you see that building to the right of that archway? That’s where aunt Eden and I used to have our bathroom parties. Let me show you a video or two!”