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Chapman University’s Transformative Social Media Strategy in Residence Life

How can social media strategy make an impact on campus life?

Social media platforms provide a vibrant space to share valuable content and ignite discussions that empower and educate — from academic support to life skills in higher education. 

An effective social media strategy is pivotal in fostering engagement, communication, and community building in various professional domains, such as programming and residence life. Implementing a well-structured social media strategy involves understanding the target audience, crafting engaging content, and utilizing analytics tools to track progress. By monitoring metrics such as reach, engagement, and conversion rates, professionals can refine their approach, identify successful initiatives, and address areas for improvement.

This post serves as a timely case study, exploring how social media strategies can be tailored and optimized to meet the unique needs of residence life and showcasing the tangible impact on community engagement and program success.

Within this case study, we look at how Tim Alexander, a previous Digital Community Cohort participant and Resident Director at Chapman University, utilized Cohort tools to grow Chapman’s residence life community both online and in-person. 

You can also hear more from Tim in an episode of Josie and the Podcast:

Before Strategy

Before attending the Digital Community Cohort, Tim described the social media goal setting within the Residence Life department as a structured yet accountability-lacking approach. The use of SMART Goals provided a framework for goal setting, but Tim recognized a deficiency in accountability if goals were not achieved. This realization prompted him to seek a more effective and measurable strategy, leading him to participate in the Digital Community Cohort.

Initially, Tim’s focus was on developing improved strategies for the individual Instagram account of his specific building, accommodating over 400 residents. However, the realization of a broader impact emerged when considering the 2-year live-on requirement affecting a significant residential community of 3,600 residents. This perspective shift prompted Tim to rethink and elevate his initial goals.

“We utilized SMART Goals before, but there was no accountability if a goal was not achieved. Initially, our goal before participating in the Digital Community Cohort was simply to develop better strategies for the individual Instagram accounts for my specific building (400+ residents). But since we have a 2-year live-on requirement (3,600 residents), then I realized how this could impact the broader residential community. After the cohort, I wanted to include Digital community-building expectations in all nine of our residential communities via our Resident Advisor curriculum.”  

Tim Alexander, Resident Director at Chapman University

Putting Strategy Into Practice

The social media audit.

The audit emerged as a pivotal learning tool, enabling Tim and his colleagues to quantify engagement levels. The resulting data served as a reference point, revealing startling information about some communities that had not posted on their accounts in months. This discovery acted as a wake-up call, inducing a sense of realization and, in some instances, embarrassment among colleagues.

In response to these revelations, Tim implemented a series of strategic initiatives. He organized a professional development workshop for his 21 coworkers during the Spring semester, aiming to impart the potential of digital community building. 

“After presenting the audit and successes in Glass over the Winter Term, some colleagues were resistant to investing time into social media efforts because they claimed “it was too much work” or “too late to start in the academic year.” Some would make snarky remarks like, “we’re not Glass,” and I would explain that they don’t need to be like us, they just need to highlight their own building’s strengths and lean on their RA’s expertise.”

Tim Alexander, Resident Director at Chapman University

Fortunately, before the Spring semester, one of his coworkers prompted her eight Resident Advisors to create content addressing conduct policy violations and community trends. Their video on propped doors garnered an impressive 30.2k views, while another video on Alcohol and Illegal Substances earned 15k views. This success not only motivated Tim’s colleagues and their student staff but also initiated a friendly competition to produce the “best” community content.

The Takeover.

Guided by Katy’s Takeover Guide, Tim adapted the concept for Resident Advisors to post on Instagram stories during their classes, humanizing the RAs and making them more relatable to residents. Weekly staff meetings became a platform for discussing community trends, providing an opportunity to address pertinent issues such as quiet hours, social gatherings, and roommate conflict tips.

“Katy shared a Takeover Guide which we adapted for Resident Advisors to post on the story while they went to class. This helped residents realize that, like them, RAs are students and these stories helped humanize the RAs and make them more relatable when they were on-call in their RA uniform.”

Tim Alexander, Resident Director at Chapman University

Goal vs. Strategy.

The collaborative spirit further extended to Lead Resident Advisors, who underwent a tailored professional development workshop. Tim empowered them by adapting the Goal vs. Strategy presentation and encouraging the development of content ideas. However, resistance surfaced from some colleagues who viewed social media efforts as excessive or belated. Tim addressed this skepticism by emphasizing that each building did not need to copy his own (Glass Hall), but should instead focus on highlighting their unique strengths and leveraging their RA’s expertise.

“I also hosted another professional development workshop for our Nine Lead Resident Advisors, and tasked each of them with completing the audit activity. I really adapted the Goal vs. Strategy presentation we had and empowered them to develop content ideas since they are the experts of their peers.”

Time Alexander, Resident Director at Chapman University

Social Media That Worked

Humanizing RAs and Enhancing Move-In Experience

Tim recognized the importance of early connections between Resident Advisors (RAs) and residents. 

“Even before students moved in, we had each RA create a post about themselves. And they could put their professional headshot in their RA gear, but then also some personal photos to help humanize them. And this worked out really well, because on move-in day, residents already knew their RA and felt connected to them.”

Tim Alexander, Resident Director at Chapman University

Additionally, Tim orchestrated the creation of informative videos on practical topics like laundry and Wi-Fi connection, tailored to the social media preferences of the residents. This resulted in a humanization of the brand — residents respected and trusted their RAs and, in turn, respected the rules and guidelines of their residence resulting in less incidents.

RLMVPs: Empowering Students and Co-Curricular Opportunities

Tim joined with Selena Walters, Housing Communications Coordinator, to co-create an innovative approach that extended to collaborating with students possessing diverse skills. Recognizing the exceptional contributions of a film major and a marketing major, they created the role of Residence Life Marketing and Video Production interns (RLMVPs). This initiative not only showcased student talent but also turned into a co-curricular opportunity.

“The thing I love most about facilitating communities is working with the students to create the content. So, I was privileged to work with a film major and a marketing major. I was able to create a position called the RLMVPs, or the Residence Life Marketing and Video Production interns. And it was really amazing to create this co-curricular opportunity for both of them to apply their knowledge from the class into content that we needed for our department.”

Tim Alexander, Resident Director at Chapman University

Being of a similar age to their Gen Z peers, the RLMVPs produced a video aimed at educating people about the checkout process – a substantial undertaking given that the students resided with them for nine months. 

The team devised an engaging concept featuring a student who, during checkout, missed crucial information. To get out of trouble, she traveled back in time as the “Ghost of Move-Out Information” where she helped a past resident with his move-out checklist. Tim acknowledged that such a creative concept was beyond his own imagination.

The resulting video, featuring two popular BFA in Screen Acting students on campus, became a source of entertainment. The casting acquired a high viewership, as their friends were eager to see them in action. Ultimately, the goal of ensuring people understood the closing expectations was accomplished, thanks to the widespread viewership of the video. 

“I will say, before the RLMVPs and adding DigiCohort learning into the RA curriculum our content overall was getting double-digit likes, but now we’re in the triple digits. Views used to be a couple hundred at best, and now we are in the thousands. Our followers have also drastically increased, and from an admissions standpoint, we aren’t facing any substantial enrollment cliffs or application issues. Can’t confirm if our social media is directly connected, but I do think we give incoming/current students A LOT of content for what living on campus looks/feels like.”

Tim Alexander, Resident Director at Chapman University

Saturday Spotlight: Celebrating Diversity and Identity

Tim aimed to bridge gaps within the community by showcasing individual residents, particularly those from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds. Learning from the cohort, he strategically highlighted marginalized identities during the Saturday Spotlight, contributing to a more inclusive campus atmosphere.

“One great lesson I learned from one of the faculty in the Digital Community Cohort was their intentionality around who they posted on their Instagram. They, similar to Chapman, work at a predominantly white institution. And so, they shared that they’re very strategic about ensuring that the identities that are celebrated on their Instagram are underrepresented or underserved students. And so, moving forward, I gave my student staff the directive that Saturday Spotlight should be students from marginalized identities. Because if they already might feel invisible on our campus, we want to give them an opportunity to feel visible.”

Tim Alexander, Resident Director at Chapman University

From Goals to Growth: The Digital Community Cohort Experience

Tim Alexander’s experience with the Digital Community Cohort has undeniably transformed Chapman University’s residence life. Tim leveraged social media to cultivate a vibrant and engaged online community for residence life. Tim’s initial goal was to enhance strategies for a single building’s Instagram account, but he now intends to enact Digital Community Building expectations across all nine residential communities. Reduced conduct cases, reduced RA calls, increased resident information literacy, and a palpable sense of community were the results.

If you’re ready for a similar transformation, the Digital Community Cohort is for you. Besides equipping participants with tools and strategies for navigating the dynamic landscape of online community building, this cohort also provides a platform for collaboration. The Cohort is offered once per year, so sign up to stay in touch to find out when registration opens for the next round.

PS – If you’re looking for a training opportunity for the student social media strategists working on your institutional/departmental accounts, check out the Student Social Media Academy. A team of coaches who have extensive experience training student employees brings them up-to-speed on all things community and content management for higher education institutions in six key modules. Check out more about the Academy and how to register.

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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