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:
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.
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!