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 blog post. That's carry over to the stuff we do in instagram and in Sam Chat. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development 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. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect e Tou podcast network. I'm Eric Olson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with Tim Neckritz, director of News and media at Sun yest we go, Tim, welcome to the show. Thank you for having me. Really excited to talk with you today about trusting and empowering your students to tell your institutions best story. But before we dig into that, Tim, can you get the listeners a little bit better understanding of both Sun yes we go, and your role there? Okay, so as we go, where a comprehensive college in the Sunny System State University of New York. We are located on Lake Ontario, which is fantastic in the summer. and not quite as fantastic in the winter. I can tell you it's beautiful almost always. And we are we have about eight thousand students here, Grad Undergrad, and my role is that I'm kind of the chief storyteller here. So I have a team of professionals that do other writing and video and photos, but also a very large student team that does a lot of student storytelling, and social media is 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, there can be some anxiety around that, but talk about your approach it soon. Yes, we go of approving students, not posts. It was kind of ingrained early because when we were looking to do student blogging, probably about ten or eleven years ago as when we started...

...it, and I asked around it a very early high at web and every asking you to do you preapprove student blog posts, and the few people who are doing it back then said I don't know that, that doesn't make any sense, and so that's how I came 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 and in snap chat and as well as in the student interns I have who who all 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 a while for a previews for a video, just because of so much going on in the video it's easy to misspell a title or maybe there's something that just didn't work right it. Generally speaking, and and even then, when I was working with the students have worked in on video, it's very rare that I have to send something back to them for an edit, because this is their life. They know what's going on as a student much better than I do, and so I do trust their bots on that. And it's funny because I was just thinking about this earlier today. Our school, our high school, had a quote unquote, radio station when I was a senior and started and basically we had a little cassette player and you would play the cassette and then you would bend the microphone down to the speaker and that would go over 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 announcements and nobody was like, Oh, we have to do all this stuff, we you have to be responsible on our sets. If they just trusted us and that that I think that lesson, unwittingly, is stayed with me. If you are trusting your students, that means a lot to them. They know 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, by the 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 to really lecture hector them, but to make it positive. Say, obviously I trust 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 I really have I believe that they're going to do well. Let's stay on this concept of trust because I think it's really...

...fascinating. So, so, while you identify these students as your brand ambassadors, you're not doing much specific brand training with them. You're not giving them scripts, you're not giving them talking points. Talk us through your belief that your students are your brand and the value 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. So we have eight thousand different brands out there. Obviously we all hope they at least know what we are to some degree, but for me a brand training would seem like a waste. I don't want them to seem inauthentic. I want them to be who they are, because that's I picked them, because they'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 a lot of a lot of big brands is still don't understand that. I think it'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 going to peel to that if they're interesting, they're talking about interesting things. If I'm recruiting, last week we had a laker takeover which was from our medicine women 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 who basically was posting photos, videos and that kind of thing and the coach picked her because she knew social media, but also she's a character and swimmers often seem to be characters and that's what I wanted to put across. It's like, you know, swimming is not a sport that you necessarily think of in college because you think about the big glamor sports, but our swimmers are just 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 put that 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 good team and saw a little bit of the the character insights that you can get from such a group. Really good stuff. To Timmy, can you give us an example of a success story where you did trust a student with your brand voice and you're glad that you did? Oh, absolutely. Her name is Alissa Levinberg and she was really our first in earnest video blogger. And it'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 and talk about the college, I'm your girl. So I clicked on the link on her bio and I saw that she was really good at video blog and just talking with the camera, blogging and that type of thing. So needs to say, hiring her, and we stay hiring, I mean as a volunteer, 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 could become a full intern and I said why, I'm even having a meeting. And so, basically, we bring storm some ideas and I said what about the idea of Alyssa explains it all and Nickelodeon and biocom didn't come after us for that, but obviously that, with the takeoff for clariser, explains it all. 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 really a lot of what we did with that, we would do some that were oriented toward 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 this is but if you're going to another college or with another colleges, that at up and I think that made them very widely applicable because other colleges would share them because we weren't just talking about a sweet go. So she got some nice traction are that we students would come up to her and say you're that Alyssa person and they oh, I got your friend, my friends got to meet you and that type of thing.

And she actually got interviewed a couple times by case current she spoke some conferences. She was the only student at the content higher Ed web conference in Atlanta, for example, and she and I spoke about student storytelling and basically when I was speaking they were just waiting for 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 putting to work for channel Frederator, which is basically it involves these people who make a bunch of cartoons that are on various networks, and so she basically is still doing blogging, talking to the camera, blogs and entertainment, except she's getting paid for it and and they have a really, really good and big following and it's really what she was born to do and I'm just happy that for four years she was able to ply those skills with us. And certainly I know we've got a lot of other there rising stars and I've had to other students who've whose social media backgrounds have helped them work in things like fitness magazine and read book as online editors or as activists or as video and TV producers. So I'm happy we provide that launch pad for them. I think that's been a bit of an appeal to when you can say you know the one 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. We tell we talked about some ideas. I'd float some ideas. Sometimes that she would do. Often she'd come with ideas or we try to cheat start with something. We tried, okay, listen Arrat down or make this broader. And a lot of it is also the authenticity. She did a video about dorms and obviously if you work in higher ad you know that some people on a 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 been authentic to students and as a result that, her video on dorms continues to be one of our top performers on Youtube because it is timeless and students are probably searching for the word dorms, not...

...residence halls, and is coming up in search engines. It's such a win win story. I really love it and she was an interesting example of in terms of finding student ambassadors. She found you in terms of incentivizing student ambassadors, you know she saw this as a prelude to a future career in general. How common is that in terms of how are you finding these ambassadors and and how do you get them motivated to produce good work for you? Well, in the old days it was definitely much 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? You know student who is like, you know, maybe can has a science background but can speak to it in an everyday language. Say, I originally thought, okay, I want to get x number of bloggers. I want to get them from these backgrounds. It's kind of change a little bit. We still find ways to highlight them, but my core students are now communication studies generally or marketing people, and that then, that's fine, because they are and I had some journalism students, including the one who's an online editor now, approaching because she said, I know to work in journalism, I should know about blogging and some of the things that goes go with it. Now the students generally will come to me apply to become an intern in that type of thing. For what we do weekly Laker takeovers in instagram and occasionally on snapchat. Now to I will ask around, like, for instance, the the swimming and diving. That's just something that I saw. I asked sports information, I asked the coach and they gave me something. And but then I'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 to bet them and see if someone will will vouch for them in that type of thing. Talk to them a little bit about some ideas and how often they might consider posting how we started, make sure it's Tagla or takeover and you 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'll have more content than they realize.

They too and a case once in a while. We had a lake or takeover for a theater production last year by a freshman, Anna, and I said wow, she's really good and I 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 can get them early on your college careers. You can find you know, obviously a Lissa contacted me two weeks into being a college student, so that was that was way too lucky. But if you can find for me, like if I can find someone who's a sophomore or something like that, that's great because they have some college experience and if we're lucky, they'll be with me for three years and help smooth things over because of you're doing new interns every semester. Then it's a bit of a relearn, but now it's kind of a it's kind of a mix, like I'll get a couple new interns and someone 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 it up and bring in new ideas. I have a new video intern named Griffin Bruce. He does have some really good video skills from a social media standpoint and he retinally wanted to be a video intern with our videographer, but his advisor said you need to broaden out, so he's doing some general social media stuff. He's doing instagram stories and doing them real it really well for us. So but again I'm glad for this. Is someone who's looking to graduate and he's getting something else that isn't just videos, is some social media experience. So for me I do try to solve as experience, but I also know that they need to be passionate about it. They want to have something on the resume, but they also should have some school spirit. They should want to really want to go into social media, at least have a feeling that they want to go into social media communications and just really feel it and want to show one show want to be dependable and want to put the best face forward for whatever they're working with. They know that there are college ambassador and certainly they value that, but ultimately I want them to also to walk 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 blog series, 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 as anything really, really good stuff. Tim You. You mentioned some of these student takeovers are currently doing. What activities, what communication channels are you the most excited about or seeing the most return on from, from letting your student ambassador's loose on them? Definitely instagram is it right now? The instagram stories are doing really, really well. Snapchat is kind of there. At the class I teach I asked students if if they bailed on snapchat and after the redesign and quite a few of them did because they said, if I can do this on instagram and on Snapchat, or they might use a snapchat just for the the direct messaging parts of it, but they're not using they're not looking for stories as much anymore and part of the reader as we design of snapchats made that more difficult. So the snapchat numbers for stories are not overwhelming. I'm getting a lot more knowledge out of instagram right now. Meant certainly anytime we can incorporate them into video, that's good. I've got one student is really good photographer and I can use her stuff everywhere facebook, instagram, twitter, snapchat, because the good thing is I have people with a lot of different skill sets. So I've got, you know, some people are good writers, a videographer, someone who's good with photos and one of my interns basically is kind of like the help or tip blogger more so than anybody 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 one of my bloggers, also really good photographer, put together last year a list of twenty 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 if allow the students in our incoming class group didn't use that and copy it over and gave their answers and and having to find roommates that way. It's funny because she was somebody who found her roommate through the admitted student group that we had in two thousand and eighteen and she in a roommate, just did a video with us, which probably to be a two part video, about finding a roommate, trying to find out who an ideal roommate is and then being a good roommate. So you know, when we get that that person that really 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 and there's so many different ways to do it, because good content is good content working so many different channels preach tim finally, what advice would you give to institutions who are looking to leverage student ambassadors for their communications in order to take that 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 a low risk one. Maybe it's blogging, because it won't get a lot of attention. You wouldn't want to. If you are concerned, don't put them on your most popular channel. Nest yet. But the problem is when you have when you have a mindset, I've got to approve them first, you're really sending them the wrong message. The message is not that I value your contributions. 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 to tell your story. And essentially that's where I try to come from, because I feel like once you start with the approval process. Yeah, I guess you can. You can loosen up after that, but it kind of puts a barrier up there at first and hopefully, you know, if you change that, hopefully that you know, they'll feel better about it. But I think if you start from a position of trust it's much easier to get them off the ground and, you know, and have some some ideas as far as 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 some of them were, you know, the expected, you know, don't post anything too personal or weird or whatever, but then also some ideas as far as if you're you know, if you don't know what to what to blog about. Here are some thoughts for my students. I always ask them your first blog entry should be your introduction and induced yourself, tell them a little bit more about yourself. That should be easy. Then that makes a second one a little bit harder. But I actively work with them on what they're doing. Like Griffin is involved in a lot of clubs, he's an Ur a, 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, different audiences. Or for us, when we see a question that comes up regularly in our admitted student groups, then we might have someone go out and research it. Like a good example was we have a synchronized skating team called the Ice Effects, and a couple of incoming students asked about that a few years ago and one of my intentions like, Oh, I'm like good friends with the 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 group and that shows some value to the group, to shows that we're answering their questions and trying to get them a little bit more information to and again that's that's, you know, students talking to students talking to students. So it's really a win, win win, and it keeps the ball much more in their 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 of thing. You want. You want college students, current Coun Students, are the they are who you aspire to be. You aspire to be a current college students 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 with you 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 can also 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 Dot Edu. So I try to be responsive on those. Some days are better than others, but if there's anybody's ever really interested in the topic, I certainly want to help and want to continue bringing student stories forward wherever they might be. 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 helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment...

...growth challenges, downloaded today for free at 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 itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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