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30 Ideas for a Digital-Friendly New Student Orientation

Leading up to Orientation

Preparing for this post I recently watched a HigherEd Live video interview called, “Social Media Strategy for Orientation.”  While there were a number of orientation-specific best practices shared, overall the feedback was this: “Orientation is a yearlong process” and as a result, the process of using social media in orientation was implementing strategies far before and after the summer programs.

1.  Establish Goals/Learning Objectives

Your first order of business is to have plan and explore what your goals, as well as learning outcomes, would be for your initiatives including social media. The more strategy and intention that aligns with your goals and learning outcomes the easier it will be to implement and evaluate. Part two of this first step is then learning more about each platform, so you understand the technology and capabilities of each. Check out this post by Courtney O’Connell at Socialnomics with quick videos to get you started (here).

2.  Orientation Registration Social Media Questions.

This is a suggestion that may have passed its’ window of opportunity for this year. In order to know exactly the social media sites your incoming class uses, apply more questions to their orientation registration. This will allow to build strategy around the most popular, as well as efforts into the academic year. Even if your registration period has ended, you can still administer a brief survey at orientation itself. Polling technology in the middle of a session could quickly gather this.

3.  First Step is Facebook.  

Overall it would be a best practice for your orientation program to have a Facebook page, but its use should include serious engagement and not just promotions. This includes seeking out communication with followers with questions, responding to comments, calls to action and more. Facebook groups for each class are also a great way to build community within each class, even after they have graduated. Here is where long-term planning is crucial, as the university needs to get on the same page who will have responsibility over this page, as well as establishing each class year page before a non-university entity creates it. Finally, orientation programs may want to consider create private parent pages, allowing for dialogue between parents and administrators.

4. Get Branded.  

Social Media logos needs to be on all your materials, from your website, t-shirts, banners, emails, and mailings. Investing in a student graphic designer should be considered to create content just for social media. Established one Hashtag. Hashtags are applicable on most social media platforms but are most common on Twitter and Instagram. Agree as soon as possible what your hashtag will be and get it out to all available parties including print, digital and in-person means.

20078290_s5.  Actively Find New Students.

Most likely at this point, acceptance letters have been sent out, so you have missed an amazing opportunity to connect real-time who are celebrating their new student status on Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram. However, because they have most likely used keywords, including your university name, you can search for them and respond now, welcoming them to your university and excitement to see them at orientation. By actively seeking new students to follow and initiative communication with, it establishes your voice and approachability in the digital space. Next year, establish a common hashtag for all admitted students, including a call to action for newly admitted students to post on their social media sites.

6.  Invest in Student and Professional Staff Training.

Do not assume students or young professionals are advanced users of social media, especially as it relates to building community, strategic communications or producing live-event content. Student leaders should first be introduced to digital identity and leadership conversations and then social media strategy. Consider bringing in outside speakers who can cultivate this experience to not ruin the playful nature of social media, but drive home the point of taking social media to the next level. Ed Cabellon always has great content on his blog, but one his most popular posts is on this topic. Learn more about his ideas on how to train staff on social media (here).

7.  Blogging.

This is an advanced option, most likely explored after a year of an orientation program establishing a social media presence. The key to a blog is to make it different from your university website, and ensuring that your institution supports a secondary website. Take a look at Bridgewater State’s orientation blog, called “Off to Bridgewater State” where they feature their student orientation team, as well as additional content that new students would be interested in like residence life. I would recommend looking into or Medium for your platform, which offers free design options but is also easy to operate.

google_plus_wallpaper-308.  Google Hangouts Live.

Another way to actively educate students before orientation is to offer dynamic video content.  The cheapest and quickest way to do this is through Google Hangouts Live. These ‘live’ videos can be promoted for real-time viewing, but also can be shared after as they are uploaded directly to YouTube. Ideas for different hangout ideas include: featuring four of all-star orientation leaders who talk about their college experience, on-the-move campus tour, or an interview the Dean of Students, Director of Residence Life and Director of Student Life to talk about life on campus.

9.  YouTube Video Tutorials.

YouTube I believe to be the hardest, but potentially the most needed area for orientation to pursue. Tutorials could be created for new students, preparing them for the orientation experience or even expect when you get assigned a roommate. When done correctly, costs will including proper video equipment, skills video technicians as well as editors. This content lives on and your return on invest can be significant.

10.  Hire for Specialties.

In your orientation program, hire students with specialized skills including graphic Design, video production, digital communications, photography, photo and video editing, as well as are social media influencers on campus. These do not need to be separate positions, but exploring the other skill sets students have during their orientation leader interviews will allow their contribution to your program even stronger. That being said, as you will see in the next section, I believe strongly a specialized student position should be established that oversees all digital, print and video communication efforts for the program.

Ready to rock it at orientation? Click page ‘3’ below for ideas to implement at your on-campus orientation experience!

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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