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30 Ideas for a Digital-Friendly New Student Orientation

Post Orientation into Welcome Weekend

At this point, your goal on social media and digital communication should be to continue the energy and enthusiasm from the in-person experience at orientation into the fall semester. Knowing that students have been educated on the communication tools available, your job is to foster the online community. Further, what other curriculum can you offer through digital means as students prepare to start the semester which couldn’t be fit into your orientation program?

1.      Develop Post-Orientation Digital Curriculum.

There is only so much you can cover at orientation, which only skims the surface of fully orientating a new student to the college experience. In order to build a holistic orientation program, looking beyond the one or two-day experience and build out curriculum through YouTube, blogging or another online source. These sessions could be topical, such as how to prepare for move-in day or getting involved in greek life, to comical such as this video that depicts what a (lonely) Dean of Student did over spring break, missing her students on campus:

2.    Get Coverage.

Based upon the staffing structure you create during orientation, you may or may not have the same staff professional or student leaders around who ran your social media accounts the entire summer. Ideally you would have the same person or group of people maintain the voice of your social media accounts throughout the entire year. Awareness of these possible shifts and developing a formal training for transitions is important.

3.  Stay Engaged Online.

After having a clear picture of #2, those responsible for social media accounts to be tasked need to keep the interaction at a high level. Just as before and at orientation, seek out conversations about the university and especially engage with incoming students. Keep a delicate balance of too much promo (a bulletin board) with too little information (a twitter graveyard). The happy medium is to provide content from other sources that your community will find beneficial, such as related articles, videos, or images that relate to new college students. Don’t be afraid to use humor and have a personality. This is also the time to drive the conversation on the class Facebook group, as students will post questions and ideas that would be ideal for someone familiar to the institution to respond to.

4.  Regional/State Tweet-ups.

Alumni affairs does this really well, pulling together students in different parts of the country to join in community. Many times these are even alumni run. This program can be applied to new students and their parents as well!  Look to the locations your student orientation leaders live after orientation or areas that have a strong alumni base. Start small, pick a safe/public location that also won’t be overwhelming to find, is affordable/free and have at least one point person on site. If funding is available, look into renting a venue, providing snacks, or plan a formal activity.

instagram5.  Instagram Student Take Over.

An idea that was mentioned by Meg Bernier in the Higher Ed Live Social Media in Orientation video that I’m really into is the idea of a student social media take-over. Meg explained that leading up to move-in, as well as during and after the welcome week experience, that new students would take over the St. Lawrence University Instagram account. This would allow this account to have original student-driven content. The back-operations of this included students being required to apply for this opportunity, then being selected and I would assume interviewed and/or trained. The St. Lawrence University Instagram account has received a lot of positive attention for their overall strategy in the higher education community, learn more (here).

6.  Explore Vine. RIP 2016.

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 10.39.52 AMIf you are looking to use Vine during the academic year, it is a good idea for any university program to first start experimenting with it over the summer.  If you want to get advanced, there are ways of editing content, but for now look for your seven seconds of simple footage that can quickly go up.  For orientation, think about how to introduce campus locations, traditions, how to’s and other fun messaging.  The challenge to produce only seven seconds of content…that is also entertaining within a loop feedback….is a great exercise of precision, planning and purposeful communication.  Start to follow other Vine accounts that are doing this well. Here are a few universities that are doing it well (here).

7.     Parent Podcasts.

I suggest a parent podcast over a student-focused one because my gut tells me parents would be a better fit for this medium. Using this concept, just like Google hangouts, you could have one or two hosts, as well as special guests that cover topics. Your special guests could include current college parents (maybe already heavily involved in your parent program office), university staff, faculty or students. Topics could include: financial aid, first time college parents, the job market, greek life, ect.  Basically think about the major questions (or complaints) you get from parents and have that drive your content.  Just like a YouTube video or blog post, podcasts can be shared generously through social media after the fact.

8.   Call Your Community to Action.

Only waiting for students or parents to interact with you online is a mistake. Be proactive and put out calls to action. This can be as simple as responding to a question or requesting followers to send in a 10 second video of (fill in the blank).   are really great at implementing this strategy, by asking subscribers what video they want to see next or having a Twitter Q&A time weekly.

9.  Is Your Campus Physically Digital Friendly?

21948358_sThis last post isn’t an easy question or a quick fix. This is a reflective and long-term action item for many college campuses. Look around at your student spaces such as lounges, dining halls and anywhere that you want students to ‘be with and in community.’  re there ample plug-ins? Do you see students pulling entire tables over to a wall to find power? Consider reconfiguring your space permanently with this in mind. If not, have you thought about providing extension cords, power strips or charing stations?

What is the strength of the wireless internet? Ask your current students, they will know. At a previous campus I worked at, one coffee shop was popular more than just for their yummy latte’s, they had the strongest internet reception on campus!

10.  Expand Digital Identity Education & Social Media Strategy.

It takes a village to successfully transition a new student to campus. All of these ideas need other players and influencers on-campus to truly make for a digital-friendly campus. One way to start this momentum beyond your orientation program is providing Digital Identity education throughout your institution. This should be followed in building social media strategy.

The first focuses on the bigger picture impact of our digital profile as it relates to your identity and even branding. Education should cover the positive and negative use of online tools by college students, and our role as educators in leading by example in the digital age. There are many consultants that can be called upon to help you accomplish both of these goals, however you know your institution best and having peer-peer collaborative conversation might be just as valuable (and cheaper).

I welcome your comments and open up to hear about your best practices or even experiments at your institution.  Thank you for considering these 30 ideas for a digital-friend New Student Orientation, which in retrospective is really how to create a digital-friendly student experience year-round.

Follow me on Twitter @josieahlquist

For all content cited on this post, explore {here} for all references I have used on my blog.

*All images purchased from https://www.123rf.com

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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