40: Student Storytelling at SUNY Oswego w/ Tim Nekritz

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Tim Nekritz, Director of News and Media at SUNY Oswego talks about giving up the reins to your communication channels, and trusting and empowering your students to tell your institution’s best story.

We approve student bloggers a student blogpost. That's carry over to the stuff we do in instagram and in SamChat. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professionaldevelopment podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcomeback to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect e Tou podcastnetwork. I'm Eric Olson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we'rehere today with Tim Neckritz, director of News and media at Sun yest wego, Tim, welcome to the show. Thank you for having me. Reallyexcited to talk with you today about trusting and empowering your students to tellyour institutions best story. But before we dig into that, Tim, canyou get the listeners a little bit better understanding of both Sun yes we go, and your role there? Okay, so as we go, where acomprehensive college in the Sunny System State University of New York. We are locatedon Lake Ontario, which is fantastic in the summer. and not quite asfantastic in the winter. I can tell you it's beautiful almost always. Andwe are we have about eight thousand students here, Grad Undergrad, and myrole is that I'm kind of the chief storyteller here. So I have ateam of professionals that do other writing and video and photos, but also avery large student team that does a lot of student storytelling, and social mediais where a lot of those stories end up being. I love it.Tim Whenever we talk about giving students the rains to our communication channels, therecan be some anxiety around that, but talk about your approach it soon.Yes, we go of approving students, not posts. It was kind ofingrained early because when we were looking to do student blogging, probably about tenor eleven years ago as when we started...

...it, and I asked around ita very early high at web and every asking you to do you preapprove studentblog posts, and the few people who are doing it back then said Idon't know that, that doesn't make any sense, and so that's how Icame up with a phrase we approve student bloggers, not student blog posts,and we have. That's carry over to the stuff we do in instagram andin snap chat and as well as in the student interns I have who whoall have blogs and then work in various other social media channels as well,like the pup, the only place we've ever done a review once in awhile for a previews for a video, just because of so much going onin the video it's easy to misspell a title or maybe there's something that justdidn't work right it. Generally speaking, and and even then, when Iwas working with the students have worked in on video, it's very rare thatI have to send something back to them for an edit, because this istheir life. They know what's going on as a student much better than Ido, and so I do trust their bots on that. And it's funnybecause I was just thinking about this earlier today. Our school, our highschool, had a quote unquote, radio station when I was a senior andstarted and basically we had a little cassette player and you would play the cassetteand then you would bend the microphone down to the speaker and that would goover the school sound system. It's just I mean that sounds like such Hifi. You would have no idea. Then after that we would read the announcementsand nobody was like, Oh, we have to do all this stuff,we you have to be responsible on our sets. If they just trusted usand that that I think that lesson, unwittingly, is stayed with me.If you are trusting your students, that means a lot to them. Theyknow that this is a responsibility. So I think I put that up front. I know it's once a while I will mentioned. Oh yeah, bythe way, don't forget your teachers and parents and future employers can see this. I try not to be really didactic with it. I try not toreally lecture hector them, but to make it positive. Say, obviously Itrust you to do this, so I know you'll do a great job.I always tell them that, always encourage them and always tell them that Ireally have I believe that they're going to do well. Let's stay on thisconcept of trust because I think it's really...

...fascinating. So, so, whileyou identify these students as your brand ambassadors, you're not doing much specific brand trainingwith them. You're not giving them scripts, you're not giving them talkingpoints. Talk us through your belief that your students are your brand and thevalue of letting them speak authentically. Well, absolutely, it's a you know,the brand is not. I actually teach a class and I teach.The brand is not what you, as the company, say it is.It's what people think you are. Scott Stratton, also known for UNMARKETING,Voca of conference and he used the line he said, what's your brand?Asked one of your students. I'll tell you what your brand is. Sowe have eight thousand different brands out there. Obviously we all hope they at leastknow what we are to some degree, but for me a brand training wouldseem like a waste. I don't want them to seem inauthentic. Iwant them to be who they are, because that's I picked them, becausethey're interesting, because they're doing interesting things and not just to to sound out, you know, marketing, marketing phrases and taglines in that type of thing. That's not really what social media is for, and I know there alot of a lot of big brands is still don't understand that. I thinkit's all about the tagline and trying to post something that no one's interested in. Ice Recruit these students because I think they'll be interesting to our audiences.Whether it's prospective student or current student, members of our campus community or alumni, there's certainly a lot of different people they can appeal to and they're goingto peel to that if they're interesting, they're talking about interesting things. IfI'm recruiting, last week we had a laker takeover which was from our medicinewomen swimming and diving team and they had they both had really good seasons.They're going to the conference championships at Suniacs, and so I had one swimmer whobasically was posting photos, videos and that kind of thing and the coachpicked her because she knew social media, but also she's a character and swimmersoften seem to be characters and that's what I wanted to put across. It'slike, you know, swimming is not a sport that you necessarily think ofin college because you think about the big glamor sports, but our swimmers arejust as important to us is as anybody...

...else there. Academic High Achievers,they're involved in other ways, and so this was a great way to putthat in front of people. And even if people knew nothing about swimming,they learned a little bit about it and learned that we had a really goodteam and saw a little bit of the the character insights that you can getfrom such a group. Really good stuff. To Timmy, can you give usan example of a success story where you did trust a student with yourbrand voice and you're glad that you did? Oh, absolutely. Her name isAlissa Levinberg and she was really our first in earnest video blogger. Andit's kind of funny because she tweeted at the sunest me Goo account basically saying, you know, hey, if you want someone who can make videos andtalk about the college, I'm your girl. So I clicked on the link onher bio and I saw that she was really good at video blog andjust talking with the camera, blogging and that type of thing. So needsto say, hiring her, and we stay hiring, I mean as avolunteer, was one of the more easy decisions I've had in my life.The only easier one I could think of is when she asked if she couldbecome a full intern and I said why, I'm even having a meeting. Andso, basically, we bring storm some ideas and I said what aboutthe idea of Alyssa explains it all and Nickelodeon and biocom didn't come after usfor that, but obviously that, with the takeoff for clariser, explains itall. People my age understand what that is. But also, you know, the current students say they you know, Nickelodeon seems to be timeless apparently.So if you want to do kind of an advice thing, and reallya lot of what we did with that, we would do some that were orientedtoward prospective of Sweo students, but somewhere just perspective students in general,which she would be very generic and they might say out as we go thisis but if you're going to another college or with another colleges, that atup and I think that made them very widely applicable because other colleges would sharethem because we weren't just talking about a sweet go. So she got somenice traction are that we students would come up to her and say you're thatAlyssa person and they oh, I got your friend, my friends got tomeet you and that type of thing.

And she actually got interviewed a coupletimes by case current she spoke some conferences. She was the only student at thecontent higher Ed web conference in Atlanta, for example, and she and Ispoke about student storytelling and basically when I was speaking they were just waitingfor me to get done so that Ilyssa could top a list of questions.I know a problem with that. And so her video skills she's actually puttingto work for channel Frederator, which is basically it involves these people who makea bunch of cartoons that are on various networks, and so she basically isstill doing blogging, talking to the camera, blogs and entertainment, except she's gettingpaid for it and and they have a really, really good and bigfollowing and it's really what she was born to do and I'm just happy thatfor four years she was able to ply those skills with us. And certainlyI know we've got a lot of other there rising stars and I've had toother students who've whose social media backgrounds have helped them work in things like fitnessmagazine and read book as online editors or as activists or as video and TVproducers. So I'm happy we provide that launch pad for them. I thinkthat's been a bit of an appeal to when you can say you know theone of your video bloggers is now doing this for a living with a very, very well followed Braham. You know, it is not necessary to recruit students, but at least it kind of shows them what they can do,and that was a lot because I did not restrain what she did. Wetell we talked about some ideas. I'd float some ideas. Sometimes that shewould do. Often she'd come with ideas or we try to cheat start withsomething. We tried, okay, listen Arrat down or make this broader.And a lot of it is also the authenticity. She did a video aboutdorms and obviously if you work in higher ad you know that some people ona campus don't like the term dorm. They want you to use residence halls. But if she used a term residence halls, that would not have beenauthentic to students and as a result that, her video on dorms continues to beone of our top performers on Youtube because it is timeless and students areprobably searching for the word dorms, not...

...residence halls, and is coming upin search engines. It's such a win win story. I really love itand she was an interesting example of in terms of finding student ambassadors. Shefound you in terms of incentivizing student ambassadors, you know she saw this as aprelude to a future career in general. How common is that in terms ofhow are you finding these ambassadors and and how do you get them motivatedto produce good work for you? Well, in the old days it was definitelymuch more, much more hunting for that type of thing we would like. When I was starting the student blog project, I would ask around people. It's like, do you know student who's very involved in this? Youknow student who is like, you know, maybe can has a science background butcan speak to it in an everyday language. Say, I originally thought, okay, I want to get x number of bloggers. I want toget them from these backgrounds. It's kind of change a little bit. Westill find ways to highlight them, but my core students are now communication studiesgenerally or marketing people, and that then, that's fine, because they are andI had some journalism students, including the one who's an online editor now, approaching because she said, I know to work in journalism, I shouldknow about blogging and some of the things that goes go with it. Nowthe students generally will come to me apply to become an intern in that typeof thing. For what we do weekly Laker takeovers in instagram and occasionally onsnapchat. Now to I will ask around, like, for instance, the theswimming and diving. That's just something that I saw. I asked sportsinformation, I asked the coach and they gave me something. And but thenI'll have students come to me and say, Hey, we're doing this event.Can we do the takeover for it? And you know, I try tobet them and see if someone will will vouch for them in that typeof thing. Talk to them a little bit about some ideas and how oftenthey might consider posting how we started, make sure it's Tagla or takeover andyou know, then basically try to work through because sometimes it'll have, well, I don't know if I've got a week's worth of content. Okay,let's take a step back and they will. In the process of talking, they'llhave more content than they realize.

They too and a case once ina while. We had a lake or takeover for a theater production last yearby a freshman, Anna, and I said wow, she's really good andI said you want to become an intern and she has been ever since.So sometimes you happen upon those people, it's always a bonus. You canget them early on your college careers. You can find you know, obviouslya Lissa contacted me two weeks into being a college student, so that wasthat was way too lucky. But if you can find for me, likeif I can find someone who's a sophomore or something like that, that's greatbecause they have some college experience and if we're lucky, they'll be with mefor three years and help smooth things over because of you're doing new interns everysemester. Then it's a bit of a relearn, but now it's kind ofa it's kind of a mix, like I'll get a couple new interns andsomeone will graduate or something like that, or just have it take another internship, but then I'll have a core interns, because it's also good to mix itup and bring in new ideas. I have a new video intern namedGriffin Bruce. He does have some really good video skills from a social mediastandpoint and he retinally wanted to be a video intern with our videographer, buthis advisor said you need to broaden out, so he's doing some general social mediastuff. He's doing instagram stories and doing them real it really well forus. So but again I'm glad for this. Is someone who's looking tograduate and he's getting something else that isn't just videos, is some social mediaexperience. So for me I do try to solve as experience, but Ialso know that they need to be passionate about it. They want to havesomething on the resume, but they also should have some school spirit. Theyshould want to really want to go into social media, at least have afeeling that they want to go into social media communications and just really feel itand want to show one show want to be dependable and want to put thebest face forward for whatever they're working with. They know that there are college ambassadorand certainly they value that, but ultimately I want them to also towalk away with something. I want them to have a portfolio after they leave. Are Don't want to just say okay, you did this that the other thing. I want them to have some project, or maybe it's a blogseries, maybe it's a video, that they can take forward and say,look, this is something that I did,...

...and I think that's as valuable asanything really, really good stuff. Tim You. You mentioned some ofthese student takeovers are currently doing. What activities, what communication channels are youthe most excited about or seeing the most return on from, from letting yourstudent ambassador's loose on them? Definitely instagram is it right now? The instagramstories are doing really, really well. Snapchat is kind of there. Atthe class I teach I asked students if if they bailed on snapchat and afterthe redesign and quite a few of them did because they said, if Ican do this on instagram and on Snapchat, or they might use a snapchat justfor the the direct messaging parts of it, but they're not using they'renot looking for stories as much anymore and part of the reader as we designof snapchats made that more difficult. So the snapchat numbers for stories are notoverwhelming. I'm getting a lot more knowledge out of instagram right now. Meantcertainly anytime we can incorporate them into video, that's good. I've got one studentis really good photographer and I can use her stuff everywhere facebook, instagram, twitter, snapchat, because the good thing is I have people with alot of different skill sets. So I've got, you know, some peopleare good writers, a videographer, someone who's good with photos and one ofmy interns basically is kind of like the help or tip blogger more so thananybody else and no other she looks at the cycle and says, okay,people need tips on this or that or the other things. And then oneof my bloggers, also really good photographer, put together last year a list oftwenty two, one hundred and twenty five questions to ask your future roommates, which was longer than I would have recommended, but I'll be darned ifallow the students in our incoming class group didn't use that and copy it overand gave their answers and and having to find roommates that way. It's funnybecause she was somebody who found her roommate through the admitted student group that wehad in two thousand and eighteen and she in a roommate, just did avideo with us, which probably to be a two part video, about findinga roommate, trying to find out who an ideal roommate is and then beinga good roommate. So you know, when we get that that person thatreally good story, who can put out...

...things that are informative and entertaining.We want to find ways to showcase that any you know. So there's andthere's so many different ways to do it, because good content is good content workingso many different channels preach tim finally, what advice would you give to institutionswho are looking to leverage student ambassadors for their communications in order to takethat first step toward it? I'd say start small. Choose a channel.You know, if you're really concerned, choose a channel you think it's alow risk one. Maybe it's blogging, because it won't get a lot ofattention. You wouldn't want to. If you are concerned, don't put themon your most popular channel. Nest yet. But the problem is when you havewhen you have a mindset, I've got to approve them first, you'rereally sending them the wrong message. The message is not that I value yourcontributions. The message is I value the ability to edit or approve your contributions, as opposed to just saying you know, you're really interesting, you're well spoken, or a great photographer, a great videographer. We want you totell your story. And essentially that's where I try to come from, becauseI feel like once you start with the approval process. Yeah, I guessyou can. You can loosen up after that, but it kind of putsa barrier up there at first and hopefully, you know, if you change that, hopefully that you know, they'll feel better about it. But Ithink if you start from a position of trust it's much easier to get themoff the ground and, you know, and have some some ideas as faras what to do. There was a I think it was target x,had a hand out which was a bunch of tips for student bloggers and someof them were, you know, the expected, you know, don't postanything too personal or weird or whatever, but then also some ideas as faras if you're you know, if you don't know what to what to blogabout. Here are some thoughts for my students. I always ask them yourfirst blog entry should be your introduction and induced yourself, tell them a littlebit more about yourself. That should be easy. Then that makes a secondone a little bit harder. But I actively work with them on what they'redoing. Like Griffin is involved in a lot of clubs, he's an Ura, he's got so people who have...

...a lot of irons in the fire. Who have a lot of interest. They can speak to different, differentaudiences. Or for us, when we see a question that comes up regularlyin our admitted student groups, then we might have someone go out and researchit. Like a good example was we have a synchronized skating team called theIce Effects, and a couple of incoming students asked about that a few yearsago and one of my intentions like, Oh, I'm like good friends withthe president, and so he just emailed or some questions. She emailed back, and just that turn that into Qa and then post it into that groupand that shows some value to the group, to shows that we're answering their questionsand trying to get them a little bit more information to and again that'sthat's, you know, students talking to students talking to students. So it'sreally a win, win win, and it keeps the ball much more intheir court than mine, because if you're a student applying at a college,you know you've already talked to a whole bunch of administrators and that type ofthing. You want. You want college students, current Coun Students, arethe they are who you aspire to be. You aspire to be a current collegestudents and it's so these are the ones who you will trust the most. Great stuff to him. What's the best place for listeners to connect withyou if they have any foll up questions about student store telling you did?A good place to start is twitter at Tim neckrets on twitter. They canalso drop me a line on email, which is tim dot neck rits,and I'm assuming that's going to be spelled out somewhere here at a Swigo DotEdu. So I try to be responsive on those. Some days are betterthan others, but if there's anybody's ever really interested in the topic, Icertainly want to help and want to continue bringing student stories forward wherever they mightbe. Love it. Thanks against so much for joining us today, Tim, much appreciated. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprize wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helpingcolleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just publishedthe second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content onhow institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment...

...growth challenges, downloaded today for freeat Helix Educationcom playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the shown itunesor your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until nexttime.

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