How West Virginia University uses Social Media To Reach Gen Z

Tony Dobies, social media director at West Virginia University, joined the SMSS podcast to give a preview of his keynote at the upcoming Social Media Strategies Summit – Higher Education, in Boston, November 2-3.

Tony’s presentation will explore how universities can use the latest social media trends to reach Gen Z, as well as how important video has become to WVU’s social media strategy. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation:

#SMSSummit: You just recently hit the six year mark working at WVU. Can you tell us about that journey?

TD: I did, which makes me feel super old. I’ve had a great time at WVU. It’s been a big learning curve for me. I started out wanting to be a sports writer, so I did that for a couple of years before coming back to WVU to write press releases and be a PR specialist of sorts.

Over the last six years, that transitioned into what I do today, which is everything social media at the university. It has been an interesting ride, but one I wouldn’t change at all.

 

#SMSSummit: WVU’s twitter bio is awesome. “3 Pulitzer Prize winners, 23 national championships, 371 degree programs, high-ranking research & a mascot with a cool beard. One great place to call home.” Can you touch on how it’s important to use humor in social media?

TD: We try to have a good mix of everything. I like to split our Twitter account into thirds. We have a third talking about our academics and research; a third about our student life, sports, and activities that happen on campus; a third is our personality — what I like to think of as brand building.

When we’re talking about our mascot or “one great place to call home,” we consider those important ways we set ourselves apart. All of those topics combined serve to create our unique personality.

 

#SMSSummit: You recently tweeted out the video “WVU Is Almost Heaven.” How did that video come together?

TD: We played on a saying used in West Virginia — that it’s almost heaven. Take that familiar phrase and incorporate it into a video, and people are more likely to click.

Video is something that we have put a priority on over the last two years and we’ve seen some great benefits.

We have the luxury of having a video team at WVU. Two years ago, we started to see that our numbers on videos, especially on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, skyrocketed compared to our other posts. That was a sign that we really needed to start investing more time in video.

The “WVU is Almost Heaven” video was specifically made with our social media audience in mind — an approach we use regularly now.

 

#SMSSummit: On what platforms are you seeing the best engagement?

TD: A lot of people will say Instagram because that’s where students are. I agree, but for me Instagram is number two.

Number one for me Facebook. We have a massive audience there. The “WVU is Almost Heaven” video had a reach of over 2 million people! Compared to any other platform, nothing else comes close. We spend the most time there — as we should — since that’s where we see the most views.

Our university-wide accounts focus on admissions and recruitment. On Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter we spend a lot of time creating campaigns with the high school demographic in mind.

 

#SMSSummit: WVU recently won an award from Public Relations Society of America for spearheading Snapchat spectacles in Higher Education. How are you using Snapchat on campus?

TD: We started on Snapchat about three or four years ago. We were by no means the first university to use it, but I think we were one of the first universities to do it right.

We believe Snapchat should be really student focused — showing off experiences through a student’s eyes so high school kids can see what life is like on our campus.

Every Tuesday we have a student take over our account and let us experience their day: organizations they’re involved in, sporting events they attend. Giving them the freedom to choose what they show gives the takeover a unique feel.

Testing new ideas (using spectacles and different campaigns) actually helped give us a fresh approach to the our content across our other channels, too.

 

#SMSSummit: Do you use Snapchat’s geo-filter feature?

TD: We do. We’ve developed some campus wide geofilters that have stayed up for a while. They’ve become a form of cheap advertising. We use them during events, or in areas around the state where we’re recruiting students. It also adds an element of fun!

 

#SMSSummit: Your upcoming keynote is about reaching Gen Z. What is Gen Z?

TD: Gen Z is the new generation: 13-18 year olds. For higher education, this is significant because this is the group our recruiters are trying to target. Over the last ten years or so, marketers have gotten really good at reaching millennials. Then, of course, things change.

Now we’re all adapting and figuring out the quirks of this new group — Gen Z. The subtle differences between Gen Z and millennials is something I find super interesting — which I’ll get into during my keynote.

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