Social Media in Student Affairs For Student Engagement & Retention

Just a little over a decade ago, social media went mainstream. It’s hard to believe how quickly it took over the world. Some hate it, some love it, but lets be honest, social media is here to stay. It has changed the way we communicate, the way we network, and has expanded the possibilities of engaging with students.

There is no doubt that social media has had its ups and downs in the education industry. There are more students that have a voice that can be heard than ever before. When it is so easy to hide behind a computer, there is a lot more realness that everyone comes forward with. Some of this is good, some of this is bad. For the bad, some universities have fought back and tried to restrict social media. For the good, some universities have embraced this as an opportunity to be transparent and operate more like a business delivering customer service rather than a regulating institution.

Social media is here to stay and for that reason it should be embraced. There are more creative ways to connect with students than ever before.

Below are powerful examples of social movements created by students and universities.

The Know It Alls Guide To Knowing It All – USF St. Petersburg


In the of Spring 2011, Mark Lombardi Nelson from USF St. Petersburg, created a Facebook Group called the Know It All’s Guide To Knowing It All. He simply wanted a place to share information about campus and for students to share information about their home campus. Little did he know his idea would run viral through the campus and become the most utilized option for students to connect on campus. With a full social stream that is active 24/7, students can find out about events, buying books for class, help with homework, selling furniture for student housing, student discounts in downtown St. Petersburg, literally almost anything you can think of. The group has been so successful you can find faculty and staff posting in the group to share information about events and the community.

“Social media solves a need for college students to stay “in the know” about what opportunities they can take advantage of. At our campus the number one complaint we heard from our students was that they would have taken advantage of the opportunities if only they would have known about them. So we built one place where anything and everything could be shared so everyone would be in the know!” – Mark Lombardi Nelson, Former SG President at USF St. Petersburg, @lombardinelson

HashtagNYU – New York University


In 2011, the Office of Interactive Media at New York University took a big risk with a new idea and created a digital community called HashtagNYU. It’s sole purpose is to better connect students to one another and to the UniversityHashtagNYU aims to “provide a space that further develops and transforms the global NYU community.”

NYU is a campus in the heart of NYC with a large commuter student population and residence halls sprinkled across the City. They have no football team, and finding that one common place students could gather and connect  was a challenge when competing with the rest of New York City. The one place everyone had in common wasn’t geographical, it was online via social media.

Nick Jensen, an integral part of the team,  took full advantage of this and created a social system that had the feel of “for students, by students” and executed his vision effectively. The team began to share the NYU story one post, video, and tweet at a time.

On the HashtagNYU site you can find a breakdown of all of the social networking outlets, how to engage and use them, a hashtag directory, a social media hub of all of the universities active networks, and much more.

Nick says the program was successful because, deep down, students want to be proud of their university and excited about being at NYU.

“We had to change the culture and create a community that believed NYU is totally awesome and amazing. NYU is redefining what it means to be an institution in global education.”– Nick Jenson, Marketing Manager at HashtagNYU, @nickj47

HashtagNYU succeeds because it is completely student created and managed. Students run it, interns are hired to create content, and they even have a board of student leaders to review new initiatives and help guide the team.

The response from NYU students has been amazing. HashtagNYU is an inspirational model of students directing their own college experience. NYU is a hub for forward thinking, and the success of this project shows the value of embracing social media. This is a major win for student affairs, NYU students and for NYU as whole.

USFSPConnect – USF St. Petersburg


In Fall 2012, USF St. Petersburg brought on a new position to the university focusing on digital media engagement. Knowing they had a huge task ahead of them, they recognized right away there was no central hub for students on campus. They wanted to create something that complimented the Know It Alls Guide and create a “For Student, By Student” platform that would allow students to have complete creative freedom. These efforts made way for USFSP Connect.

University’s with small community’s always have a prominent group of student leaders that have their hands in everything. While this is great and these students take on a lot of challenges, they knew their were more than just a few students that had amazing ideas and that wanted to contribute their university, they just didn’t have an outlet they were comfortable with.

Not every student is comfortable standing up in front of everyone and voicing their opinion and ideas. Put the right tools into some of these creative minds hands and watch sparks start to fly. A video camera to one student can do what a pen might do for another. Creative design software might be, what a microphone is to another. USFSP Connect put these creative resources into their students hands, built them an online platform to share the content, and let them have at it. The results and social sharing were amazing!

“I remember the expression on the original teams faces when they didn’t know what to create for the blog when Connect first launched. I said “what would you and your friends want to read, look at, or watch?” When they realized they had complete creative freedom, their faces lit up! The videos, blog posts, pictures, and social sharing that followed were amazing!” – Dustin Pankow, Former Coordinator of Multimedia at USF St. Petersburg, @DPankow

Get In The Know – University of Arizona

The University of Arizona has been running an amazing social video campaign. They took quality to another level with their “Get in the Know” series.

They combined some great student personalities with quality tech equipment and the results are unbelievable. With almost every video they have created reaching over 1,000 views, it is clear the University of Arizona is on to something great. See for yourself with the above video.

What can we take away from all of this?

As more universities start catching onto the opportunities social media provides and really committing some creative effort, we will see more successful digital media initiatives popping up all over the country.

Students are bursting with creativity and not enough outlets to express it. Put creative tools in their hands, create a great outlet and watch the sparks fly. When you allow students to create what they’re envisioning, what their feeling, what they want to express, they will want to share it with their friends.

There is no better way to spread the word and increase engagement than by allowing them to create the engagement themselves. It will spread naturally, it will be more fun. Lets be honest, no one knows what your target audience wants more than themselves.

Dustin Pankow

About the author: Dustin Pankow is the Director of Opportunities here at Presence. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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