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CMU uses entertainment, education and interaction via social media to encourage connections, conversation

Since arriving at Central Michigan University in May, Sherry Knight has made reaching out to students and others through social media a priority.

Knight, CMU’s associate vice president of university communications, and her public relations team utilize social media by providing audiences with what she calls the “three E’s”: entertainment, engaging information and educational content.

“We know that social media is a driving force for us. It’s the main outlet for our audience, and we need to be present so potential students and people around the world can see what we are doing,” said Knight.

Soon after Knight became interim vice president of university communications in early May, she began working with Assistant Directors of Public Relations Kathy Backus and Danny Goodwin to improve CMU’s presence on social media outlets.

“June 1 is really when we wanted to start our social media improvement. We wanted to look at it from a strategic standpoint and get serious about social media,” Backus said.

From there, the “three E’s” and “four R’s” were created. The E’s are the goals that content should accomplish on social media.

“The “three E’s” are an effort to motivate our audience toward some sort of reaction to our content,” Backus said.

The “R’s,” which are recruit, retain, relationship and reputation, are reasons why the university’s social media exists.

“We use the ‘four R’s’ as measuring sticks for all the content we put out through social media,” Backus said. “We obtain the ‘four R’s’ through what we post on our pages.”

The public relations team also looked to streamline CMU’s social media.

Backus said there were plenty of pages that had the Central Michigan name but were not official. To fix that, the public relations team created official Facebook and Twitter pages, which can be identified through CMU watermarks found on the photos of each profile.

With the change in mentality and through becoming more streamlined, CMU’s main Facebook page went from 27,464 likes on Aug. 1 to 31,315 likes on Dec. 29.

During that time, the public relations team had many ideas that helped the page become even more interactive and better at telling CMU’s story.

“All of our growth has been authentic growth. We didn’t do any campaigns, purchase any ads or do any giveaways. We want people who truly want to be our fans and come to us because they have a vested interest,” Knight said. “We used to not do a lot in social media. It wasn’t aggressive, proactive or for the long term. The 120th anniversary was our kickoff to much bigger and much better ideas.”

The first idea was the incorporation of historical events on CMU’s Facebook timeline. In honor of the university’s 120th anniversary, major events from the university’s past were put on the timeline.

“We used the timeline to enhance our history. By putting in on the page, people from all over could interact with the history of the school,” Goodwin said. “At the time we did it, the only other university in the state of Michigan that had done anything this extensive was Grand Valley State University.”

In addition to the timeline, the Facebook page also celebrated CMU’s history by dedicating photo albums to each decade of its existence. According to Goodwin, these were very popular and created a lot of interaction.

Another idea the public relations team implemented was covering events through photos and posting them on Facebook.

The team went out with cameras on move-in day, Leadership Safari and MAINStage to take photos. After the event was over, they posted the photos to Facebook and asked people to tag themselves via cards they had handed out.

“We recognized that teens like Facebook, and Facebook is mostly about pictures. So what we did was create cards so people could go to the page and tag themselves in our photos,” Backus said. “This allows us to interact with the people who are on our campus and give people who aren’t on campus a great view of (CMU).”

This idea proved to be worthwhile when they posted a photo of a family on move-in day and found out it was the family of former Detroit Red Wings player Joey Kocur.

“We posted the photo having no idea who it was, and our fans told us it was Joey Kocur. It was awesome to have an interaction like that,” Knight said. “We want to connect with people, and our social media efforts allow us to do that.”

To Knight, social media provided the university the opportunity to reach out.

“We can convey qualities in social media that you get over time and reinforce that aren’t possible in a single brochure. Our social media is a snippet of CMU,” she said.

Although CMU is constantly implementing new social media strategies, Knight said she isn’t sure where social media efforts will go in the next year.

“We can’t say yet,” she said. “We love the element of surprise.”

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