Building Loyalty in College Student Organizations

Building loyalty among students starts happening before they arrive to campus.

A majority of students have access to the internet and are finding and researching all they can about how they can be connected to campus and other students. Most of them utilize your institutional Instagram account, Twitter, Facebook, or other social media site and student engagement platform to see if student organizations exist that match their interests.

Transparency is the way students (and the world) are starting to function these days, and they’re looking for student organizations to get involved with that meet those expectations.

Social media is not a fad and college student engagement platforms that can reach students aren’t going away. They’re only going to continue to evolve over time.

How can you create a student organization culture that is all about providing an awesome student experience while reaching learning outcomes?

How can you figure out what really matters to current and incoming students? 

Student organizations provide insight into the inner workings of populations of college students on campus, so we need to be able to learn how to meet and identify needs, and involve students before they make it to on-campus or online classes (yes, off-campus students can be involved too)! As much as we give our time to understand how we can best support them, they too, give us amazing feedback to help us optimize services.

To truly understand how to build student loyalty and keep that culture, you need to understand the characteristics that help push students to become more loyal and involved.

What really matters to students?

It seems like students continually arrive to campuses with expectations of what the student experience will be like, so it’s important to communicate what your campus offers specifically.

1. Personalization

Adding some sort of personal touch to each interaction is incredibly meaningful for students. With class sizes becoming larger at institutions each year, it’s important we engage students whenever possible.

Become human-centric, rather than completely student-centric. What I mean is: we can all learn student development theories and understand where a student may or may not fall on a continuum; it’s important to build common ground and humanize (and personalize) each touch point for them.

While a student navigates the application process, to financial aid, to registering for orientation, it’s important to add a personal touch that may make a student lean back and think, “I feel valued and appreciated” even if it’s on a micro scale.

The personalization even comes down to how you give or show appreciation. Not every student wants to be shown appreciation in public, and prefer to be given it in private.

It could be greeting a person by their name when they sign into an online class, when they enter a room, or if you’re responding to student e-mails. Make them feel more than just ‘an e-mail’ for you to get through to reach inbox zero. Send them a birthday card or offer them something while they wait in the lobby if you have a meeting with them (it could be just water)!

2. Showing fairness and equity

As much as we don’t want to admit it, our brains like to keep tallies of what is fair to one person and what is fair to others. Also, when you do something nice for a student, they’re more likely to do something nice for you (maybe speak more highly of you to a peer or of the department, etc).

By going out of the way for a student, to an extent, creates a subconscious desire for them to do the same. Part of this is exercising customer-service in student affairs and part of this is just being an awesome human being.

How do your student organizations continually ‘wow’ students?

How do you create surprises for students that will make their experiences more memorable?

Better yet, how do you make mundane tasks something fun? 

For example, have you ever filled out a Typeform survey? It’s an experience in itself. It surprises and delights the end-user. If you’ve ever opened an Apple product, you feel the amount of time that went into innovating and creating it. When students utilize something that was created with them in mind, there is a sense of excitement and knowingness that student leaders and staff are going to keep them on their toes.

Creating feedback loops + fun moments + fairness = creates an optimum experience.

Other ways you can show fairness and equity (and actually following through) is inviting them to be a part of committees and lead student organization initiatives (like on-boarding a student engagement platform) with your department or institution. Additionally, it’s important to communicate where resources are being allocated to students and if they’re allocated fairly amongst student organizations.

3. Making them feel important (because they are)

There are a few more valuable things to an institution than loyal student leaders and students. Not only will they continue being engaged and looking for opportunities over time, you’ll also have the opportunity to engage with them as alumni.

What are ways to further strengthen relationships at an organizational level? Students to students? Are there tangible and intangible ways of making sure students will come back?

There are a myriad of reasons why students get involved and stay involved, and why they don’t came back.

We know why rewards systems work, if coupled with a meaningful experience. (Swag alone does not cut it).

For example: Have you ever been given a loyalty punch card to a business? Similar concept. During my time in student affairs, I watched two organizations hypothesize and experiment with loyalty cards to engage more students. One student organization gave out loyalty cards with 8 slots to be stamped or checked off when they attended meetings or an event. Another student organization gave away loyalty cards with 10 slots and had 2 of the slots already stamped when they showed up to the first meeting. In the second student org, they had already created more buy-in than the first group. The members were surprised and rewarded when they attended the first meeting AND they perceived that they were already ahead (even though they still had 8 more slots to fill to meet). In the end, the second student organization had more students coming back.

Key Takeaways

1. Personalization: create memorable experiences for students through creating every ‘touch point’ as personalized as possible

2. Showing fairness and equity: humanize each experience: take a human-centered approach rather than always a student-centered approach

3. Making them feel important: students are more likely to speak highly of your student organization if they feel valued (and reward their engagement and input)

Your Thoughts!

What things matter to make students happy in their student organization experience?

What strategies do you use to boost student loyalty?

Thanks for reading – as always continue the conversation on Twitter with @hellopresence and @kayleyrobsham!

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Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham is the Community Engagement Manager at Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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