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30 Ideas for a Digital-Friendly New Student Orientation

On-Campus Orientation Experience

With all the ideas I listed so far, you should get the point that waiting until your actual orientation program to ‘reveal’ or promote your social media platforms is not a good idea. But again, if you are reading this and your orientation season starts next week, toit doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply what you can. The magic of having orientation as an in-person experience beyond digital interaction is key. Look at everything you do and how you can bridge and support the online strategy and conversation into face to face experiences and vice versa.  Here is your chance to ‘prove’ that your institution is digital friendly. For more ideas, check out the strategy University of Michigan called #Victors2018.

1.  Set the Tone in Welcome and Registration.

The moment participants arrivatcampus and into registration it should be obvious that the orientation program is digital friendly.  Have your orientation leaders out taking photos and posting content on their pages, as well as the main orientation pages. Get them talking 1-1 and in groups with new students asking them about the hashtag and accounts. Visually get hashtags and social media pages on everything from slides, name tags, t-shirts and TVs. At most orientations, the program officially begins with a welcome by such university staff as the Dean of Students. Ensure whoever this speaker is to at least announce the hashtag and encourage digital activity. This also would be a great location for #3 below. If the student orientation leaders get some ‘mic time’ allow them to even make this promo push. New freshman students are much more likely to be into what their future peers suggest.

2.  Social Media Staffing & Scheduling.

My recommendation would be to have a sub-team of student orientation leaders who are trained on advanced strategy and technologies within social media communication. By doing this, the students themselves can be tasked for each orientation program to actively maintain, engage and activate online conversation. They should also be tasked with ‘listening’ during sessions for instant feedback, as well as live tweet highlights including pictures, videos, resources and quotes. However, campuses may not be comfortable completely handing over social media accounts to students. A first step to this idea would be year one to assign a professional staff solo or along-side students. I believe with proper training, supervision and support, students are the best fit for this task.

3. Live Display of Social Media Activity.  

A great way to foster an active ‘back channel’ during orientation is to visually project the conversation. There are a variety of options available to project Twitter, Instagram and Facebook activity during events such as Orientation. To explore options available check out this post by InsideHigherEd.

4.  Digital Identity Session.

Welcome to my soapbox, which I will keep brief as I have written about it before (here). Students and parents at orientation should receive some form of digital education, not only in how to find the online resources for community and support, but in the expectations the university has of social media behavior, as well as how to use the tools responsibly as an emerging leader. My plea, if you are going to hold students accountable for their online activity, why not set them up to be successful and orientate them to it.

5.  Spice Up Session Interaction.

Attendees have more expectations that being talked at. Audience interaction is a given, however some presenters just don’t get it.  Some speakers you may not have ‘control’ over, so make the orientation sessions you do have direction over to push the limits over a talking head or sage on the stage. Have fun, using images from Pinterest or gifs found online. Include the orientation hashtag on (most) slides as a friendly reminder to stay active online. YouTube videos and even music breaks can re-energize the crowd. Considering tech options, looking into polling programs where attendees can ‘vote’ or even evaluate each session.

guidebook-icon6. Look into Guidebook.

While there are a number of online schedule applications, Guidebook is quickly becoming a popular choice for not only orientation programs for large-scale conferences and events. Guidebook allows attendees to view a real-time schedule on mobile devices. Social media sharing is also built-in, as well as user interaction. How much are you spending on print costs? Could this budget go toward not only a more digital friendly orientation, but one that also is tree-hug friendly too.

7.  Incentivize Following.

 Sometimes people need more than great content to follow a product through social media. Look into establishing an incentive program for ‘new followers’ on different social media platforms. For example, announce that you will select one new follower from each orientation group that will get a $100 gift card to the bookstore. Push this throughout the orientation experience and announce at the end of the program. Here are some ideas on how big brands are using incentives to get Twitter followers (here).

8.  Saturday Night Live-Like Skit Experience.

Many orientation programs have a skit portion, where students act out scenes about college life. Many of these teach students about positive decision-making. Instead of all live ‘skits,’ blend in pre-created videos like SNL does, as they re-set live sketches. Not only does this allow for a different type of experience, but may also give you more time for live skits preparations and an overall more enjoyable attendee experience. After all your orientation sessions are over, post these sketches on YouTube or Vimeo. Let these student-produced projects be shared by the campus community and continue conversation for years to come.

22184370_s9.  Hands-on Tech Tutorials.

By increasing your use of technology and social media in your orientation program you need to aware of those you may be alienating. This may include students, parents and maybe even staff and faculty who are not familiar with platforms and/or do not have the means to join the online conversation. Ensure you have provided computer access, as well as print options for participants.

If your orientation will heavily use Twitter, Guidebook or Instagram, consider sending out tutorials on these programs beforehand or offer something brief right at orientation. This could be done an ‘Genius Lab’ like station where participants can stop by asking questions, as well as a location an orientation leader could lead a tutorial. These would be great during breaks or at registration.  The ACPA national convention was a prime example of this done at a professional conference, learn more about their efforts (here).

10.  Celebrate & Track Activity Each Session.

Tracking social media activity and evaluating effective measures is an advanced, but key element when being strategic with digital initiatives. Things to look for include the change in followers, to the number of RT’s, favorites and comments. Explore the hashtag for trends and make sure you have responded to the majority of them. Take note of what worked well, so every session your strategies continue to improve, building momentum and more clearly serving your new campus population.

Wahoo you survive orientation season 2014!  But the work is not over transitioning your new students. Go back to your learning outcomes and strategy you built before orientation. Look to other universities and what example that have set for how they use digital communication platforms yearlong.  or example, check out Duke University who recently produced a YouTube video on how to use social media effectively in higher education.

Please read on for more ideas specifically for post orientation, by clicking page ‘4’ below!

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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