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Building Community vs. Facilitating Community

Josie and the Podcast, Building Community vs. Facilitating Community

If you know me, you know I talk about community – all the time. Reflecting on the work of Marcus Collins, I spend this episode diving into the roles we all play in community, and how we can all evolve together. We’ll discuss how we can show up and be active advocates for our communities, defining belonging as a facet of community and how this all translates to student success. 

But we’ll also dig into what a community really is. Is it though the memes we share on our schools’ social media account, the campus itself, the culture the students share, or the staff we bring on at the higher levels?

We’re also trying something new this episode, and sharing an interview I did recently with Tim Alexander, the Resident Director at Chapman University. 

In this episode, Tim talks about how he implemented ideas from my Digital Community Cohort to create meaningful social media content that humanized Chapman’s RAs and staff even before the semester kicked off. He digs into his favorite parts of facilitating community on campus, and how he’s serving the unique needs of first-year students.

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Josie and the Podcast is produced in partnership with University FM, a podcast agency dedicated to higher education. University FM works with leading colleges and universities to tell stories on campus that build branding, drive engagement, and connect communities. Reach out to team@university.fm to connect on podcast strategy, production, and growth. We look forward to talking with you!

Element451 is a proud sponsor of Josie and the Podcast. Element451 is an AI-powered, all-in-one student engagement platform, helping institutions create meaningful, personalized, and engaging interactions with students. Our platform harnesses the power of Artificial Intelligence to seamlessly tailor content for each individual, bridging the gap between broad outreach and personal touchpoints. Fueled by intelligent automation and deep data insights, teams are free to focus on what matters most — building real connections with students. Learn more at Element451.com. 

Notes from this Episode:

[00:00:00] Josie: Josie and the Podcast is produced by the team over at University FM. They are the higher ed podcast agency helping communicators build community, share research, and inspire thoughtful discussions with stories that resonate. Podcast with ease and elevate the stories of your institution today. Go to university.fm or click the link in the show notes to start.

Josie and the Podcast is also sponsored by Element451. They are the leading student engagement platform for higher education. It combines AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants, workflow automation, and modern marketing tools to hyper-personalize student communication and boost team productivity.

The easy-to-use platform can help you optimize the entire student journey experience, from application to graduation and beyond, ensuring that every exchange between your institution and its learners is meaningful, personalized, and engaging. Go from the noise to relevancy with timely, personalized communication on every channel. Welcome to the era of student-centric engagement. Visit element451.com for a demo and join the future of student engagement.

[00:01:41] Hello, and welcome to Josie and the Podcast. I’m Josie, and I’m so happy to have you here with me today. What does it mean to lead and, just overall, live in this digital space era with heart and humanity fully intact? On this podcast, I spend time answering that question with heart, soul, and lots of substance.

My goal is to share conversations that are gonna encourage you, empower you, and we may even try to entertain you to rethink digital strategy for yourself and the organizations you support.

Happy New Year 2024! I am so excited that you’re joining me here today to talk about something that is just very near and dear to my heart and where I get to geek out about. But talking about the new year, right before I started recording, I stumbled onto this article about the reels of 2023, “reels” with E, E, L, S, called from the Washington Post, “If You Didn’t Share a Recap Video, Did 2023 Really Happened?” This is by Taylor Lorenz. I love her work as a journalist and as an author. And honestly, the kind of work she does in the digital space is also a bit on the researching side. And I did also happen to put out a recap video on Instagram. It was much earlier than… you know, I think it was, like, December 27th.

But she calls this, this trend, because it used to be our top nine, that people would put those grids together. They’re seeing this as the TikTokification of life. Kate Lindsey, the co-founder of internet culture newsletter, Embedded, which is a newsletter I highly recommend that you subscribe to and check out. And it just got me thinking for a moment, and even the reel that I put out there, what would make up your real reel?

And not even, like, okay, now I’m not going to show the really big highlights, because I think highlights are very much real, but I didn’t include in there, for example, how we were sick solidly for two to three weeks in December, or, you know, maybe some family health issues that happened in September. But… and maybe those real reels are something that we just have for ourselves. So, we really know what that encapsulates.

Well, no matter what, if you put out a reel or a real reel or not, I am in the new year feels, which actually is always this push and pull between all the things, you know, like, drive for achievement and overarching feeling of anxiety. And maybe that’s just, like, my everyday. But I wanted to share with you some of the things that I am looking towards in trying to, you know, call them resolutions, goals, ambitions. This is what I’m trying to read more than watching TV. And if you’ve been listening to the podcast, this isn’t actually a new one, but it’s easier, honestly, to turn TV on than open a book. And that sounds weird, but that’s the vibe I’m going for. I’m going to try a low-spend spring. And this is actually a trend I stumbled into on TikTok. There are a lot of people doing no-spend years. And there’s systems to this where there’s some tracking, there’s some things that you obviously, like, basic needs you have to allow yourself to buy things on. I am always susceptible to the holiday spirit that, kind of, gets into the problematic side of commercialism and capitalism. And so, I am six days into the new year and I haven’t bought anything non-essential. So, yay for me. I’ll keep you posted on how that’s going.

What I am wanting to increase, though, is protein. And I am a red meat eating all the meats, but in a variety and in more strategic ways, because I’m doing a lot more weights. I hear, as we get older, we need to increase weights. I’m not, like, maxing out on squats or anything or, like, deadlifting more, like, lower rep stuff. So, I’m bringing that energy in.

And then, a little bit more of a sassy one is big eggplant emoji business energy or the peach emoji. I want to come into my own as a business owner with embodiment, confidence, security, and sustainability. And so, I’m all for the emojis expressing that kind of energy. 

As I shared over the holidays, we got a little sick. It also delayed some podcast recording. So, we’re catching up. We’re getting back on track. You may hear it still. I’m so, so nasally. I would, statistically, I feel like there is a chance you also maybe picked up a bug. Hopefully, not a bah humbug – bug. But here we are. I am so thankful, though. By Christmas Eve, we were feeling better because we had reservations,at a fun, and for us, fancy place. And there’s lots of fancy places in LA. Our favorite food, honestly, is, like, our local taco truck. So, we don’t do, like, fancy and honestly, like, foodie stuff, but this was a multi-course, and it was really fun. And then, we also did something like that New Year’s Eve with some friends, which was, like, a United Card event. And just I’m really thankful that we were feeling better and up to doing those kind of things. But also, last year, we did absolutely nothing either of those nights. And that was amazing, too. There’s not just one way to do any of those things.

What’s coming up in the spring? Probably, not more, like, fancy meals and foodie stuff, but spring is honestly my busiest time as far as things that I’m putting out into the world that I’m offering and I just find in higher ed and especially my work within student affairs.

So, the first one is Renew. There are two dates in January, the 19th and the 26th. If you still have not registered and maybe you are also trying to do a no- or low-spend January and you can’t do that $25 registration fee, just DM me, email me, and I’ll get you in. I don’t want costs to prohibit people from being able to go through this reflective and goal-setting experience, especially for those that are in higher ed and work in communications, marketing, and social media.

The Cohort is also coming back in February for the 2024 season. It is a two-month group professional development experience for those that are ready to finally get some concrete social media strategy skills that they can apply into their programs, departments, divisions, entire campuses. And what’s been really meaningful for me is now I’m seeing, since this is a number of times we’ve offered the program, we’re seeing real examples of the cohort come to life. And actually, you get to hear from one participant from a previous year in a little bit. And that, that is just, like, the good feels for me.

The Student Academy is always a tool that you can grab and go with. You might be finally hiring students to help you with social media or any kind of communication. Maybe it’s blogging, podcasting, videos, email. This is the training program that you can give them that is self-paced, give them some measurable outcomes, and know that they have completed something that was created by experienced strategists in higher ed.

And then, finally, I, full up to my eyeballs with amazing consulting and coaching clients. And we’re doing lots of research and discovery and strategy and roadmapping all around social and digital communication strategies. And so, that, that’s been awesome.

Today’s episode is about building versus facilitating community. I have been talking about community for quite some time. The drive I have, the philosophy, whether if it’s digital leadership, digital identity, digital strategy, my philosophy and practice is to use communication tools to actually connect and build community.

How we grow those, how we can connect all this work into deeper strategies and initiatives, like belonging, and to actually communicate what we need to get out there, on campus, off campus, there’s all these facets. But do we actually build community or facilitate community? Because at AMA Higher Ed in November, and I know I’ve been talking about this conference a lot, but a lot of conferences I go to, I am more giving a lot, as far as, like, sessions, or it’s a lot of knowledge that I might already know. And this conference just really was a lot more for me, my development, and the community. But there was a keynote there, and when he said something that I didn’t freeze, I got excited, and it really got me thinking.

And that’s Marcus Collins. He is a professor, best-selling author, chief strategy officer, culture scholar, and Forbes contributor. He’s affiliated with University of Michigan, the Stephen Ross School of Business. And he had a keynote about community, about brand strategy, consumer behavior. And he’s worked with all kinds of brands. And he was very relatable, though, even though he’s worked with McDonald’s and Nike and Beyonce and Apple and all these things. And he relies on literature, case studies, and data-driven insights. And he talks about how culture influences behavior and, especially, consumer behavior, community behavior, and how we ascribe to different culture subscriptions.

So, he just came out with a book last spring, For the Culture: The Power Behind What We Buy, What We Do, and Who We Want To Be. And obviously, I am influencing, I’m prescribing by this book. And his practice is that we are facilitating community, we are not building community. And how community, though, is the DNA in how people connect, and social (media) is about people, putting people first, widening the aperture of how you see the world.

But I still had to wrestle this phrase of facilitating community rather than building it, honestly, because I have been saying building community. And I do think it’s good to have a moment of pause to just think about that, the active roles or inactive roles that we play in community. And I think, and I’m going to talk about Gen Alpha and Gen Z and AI in a future shorty episode. It did make me realize how, and this can come as a frustration, we don’t control tech and social and some of these innovations, nor does higher ed or your campus control culture or trends or, you know, like, generations or usage of tech. Sometimes, we have to respond to it and/or facilitate that community. Literally, like what we say in student affairs, often meet your students or your community where they are.

Maybe I have had this same philosophy or just semantics of the language. So, for example, I will hardly ever recommend a Facebook group anymore because the culture, especially if you’re wanting to connect with a younger demographic, is going to be found more likely on a tool like TikTok or Discord, or maybe WhatsApp.

As we think about the role of social media marketers in 2023, HubSpot put out a state of social media report. And that report said how an active online community is crucial to successful social media strategy.We are seeing more positions outside of higher ed that have community in them in a marketing infrastructure.

I also realize how I’m not the only one thinking about this, as a little while ago, Trusted Voices Podcast and Higher Voltage Podcast teamed up to also respond to the keynote of Dr. Collins from AMA. Kevin Tyler, Erin Hennessy, and Teresa, they talked about institution culture and climate. And the pivotal role two-way communication is in creating a sense of belonging in higher ed and how belonging can impact communities.

So, I will definitely link to that episode because it takes a little bit of a different lens but also all, kind of, aligned. It’s about community expectations and assumptions might need to change more on probably our side of the house.

Kevin reflected about a quote that stood out to him from Dr. Collins. So often in marketing, we confuse information with intimacy. Oh, hands in the air, please, please, please. Our one-directional strategies, I think, are actually causing the opposite effect. But communication can be evolutionary in the way when it’s intentional and strategic. And generations our are way more savvy. They are exposed to brands and messaging and come to expect cultural fluency in communities. I think this is when we put out flat statements when it’s something very, maybe, emotionally related, if it’s a crisis or a change, that that is just almost speaking a different language to our community, because that’s not how we talk to each other anymore.

We need to create a space to evolve versus just fitting into what you want your community to be. That is like still forcing first-students onto Facebook and then wondering why there’s no interaction.

And there is a difference. And this is something I specifically took away from the podcast with Trusted Voices and Higher Voltage. There’s a difference between campus culture versus culture on campus. We, behind the scenes, talk about navigating campus culture, how we spend our money, who has power, how things get done, versus the culture that’s actually happening in the world and in the community that’s existing and changing the campus. And many times these come into clash with each other.

And I’m not just talking about trends and what people are wearing. There’s this fluency gap, but we need to be fluid in culture. And I find in some pockets that, sometimes, culture in this phrase is looked down upon. This is our traditions. This is who we are. Going against where culture is moving, whether if that is a new program, AI, a digital tool, or even, for example, how we show up to work for hybrid versus fully online versus in-person – culture connecting back to change. And it’s, it’s messy.

And I think it is important for leaders to take the time to be uncomfortable, to see what culture is outside of their C suite, because I guarantee it is not the same. So, facilitating community is centered on the culture of the community, not the campus culture. And so, again, shout out to those two podcasts for tackling that discussion.

[00:19:33] I hope this episode, you may or may not be grappling with language, but I think there’s something here as we think about being advocates for culture and community and how we show up. And those that are versed in social, you get this. You understand why you need to understand the culture of emojis and GIFs and memes and how the culture even of X is different than how you would show up in Reddit or Discord, and then how you might approach the way that you communicate through a story and through the lens of culture could make you more approachable, could make those strategies more relevant, and not just relevant but actually make an impact.

But we cannot always make up the culture, just like we can’t make the next new social media platform. I mean somebody could. Facebook started on a college campus.

[00:20:39] And so, let’s move this discussion into even something deeper and where I want to take the culture discussion within communities into higher ed, the secret sauce of it, and where we are alread,  always or should be driven is being in the business of belonging. And so, let me geek out, if you don’t mind, about defining belonging as a facet of community. 

Times Higher Ed recently put out an article reflecting on belonging as the next steps in inclusion. And inclusion and equity go hand in hand. And unfortunately, because some states don’t… can’t handle their DEI right now, are calling offices and these initiatives belonging. And so, I also don’t want to diminish, though, this word of belonging, because we’re having to use it to, kind of, I don’t even want to say play nice in some states, but belonging does resonate, but sometimes words matter. And anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent. I think that’ll be another topic for another day.

Belonging asks, does everyone on campus feel valued, connected, and able to be their authentic self? The article goes on to say, in many ways, belonging is the emotional counterpart to inclusion. Have everyone’s ideas been heard, respected, and understood? And then, is that feeling of having personal involvement in an environment?

They go on to say, a sense of belonging is centered on gaining acceptance, being part of something, and feeling supported, as well as giving support to others. And those types of ingredients are sometimes forgotten when we are building digital communities, not on purpose, not maliciously, but we get so caught up in what that tool is and then producing, producing where we keep those at the core, maybe in our curriculum or in our on-campus programming.

I want to give you this toolkit as you think about going about facilitating community in 2024. EAB Student Belonging Resource Center have five tenets of student belonging, whether if that is classrooms, in digital spaces, or on campus. And those include seamless student experience, mental health and wellbeing focus, active and engaged learning, co-curricular and social engagement, and mentoring and support.

And I just want to thank for an activity, an exercise. If you were to look at your strategy right now on Instagram, what you put out, even let’s talk about the reel put out in 2023, would it include any of those five tenets as far as topics that you talked about on your channels, the emails that you shared, the discussions that were had in Discord? Our digital communities can facilitate within the culture, belonging, knowing we have some tenets we can pull on, because goodness, do we know the impact belonging can have?

No surprise, if you’re listening, you probably have seen gaps in participation from applicants for student leader positions, events, volunteering. But we’ve known that belonging to a thing, it can be something really big commitment, whether if that is Greek life or athletics or service learning, but also can be something simple and consistently going to an open mic or, you know, like, connecting in your residence hall or your faculty member. Iit is shown to help persistence, retention, and actual use of our services while students are on campus.

You might also be thinking about your 2024 and your community and the culture and the challenges that exist. We can approach it in a people-centered approach. We do this often when we see maybe concerning trends in our community, an increase in judicial cases, an increase in transports, a significant usage in mental health resources. But we also know from the research, there are demographics that already and always need additional support and services. So, for example, first-gen students may need more encouragement, resources, and normalizing seeking help for them. In my shorty episode from last spring about using influencers, I talked about research that was done when you are actually sharing real stories of both the struggle and the success of students that not only resonates, but students will actually use those resources more likely, versus than just sharing the quotables, the highlight reels, because that’s a real reel, is that college is hard. Being a human is hard. And how can we still “be on brand” but not be so in the clouds and aware, not aware of the culture and the realities that are really happening?

[00:26:28] Next, I want to talk about taking a more active role in community and culture, not only doing your own work and knowledge about what the culture is and not just what your campus culture is. Because another positive outcome of belonging, this self-reported sense of belonging, is that it is facilitating stronger student outcomes and predictors of success.

Success is not just, did we make our class, and did we get X percentage across that graduation stage? We know there’s so many steps in between. And the good news is there’s lots of studies on belonging and outcomes for success and how community is such a core center of it. And we can think about online belonging also belonging in this conversation.

A Pitt University multi-site trial on online belonging through an exercise improved first-year college students academic persistence, but only when the institution had strong strategies and resources in place to support diverse students belonging, different types of learners, different modalities. And this brief online belonging exercise, they gave to 27,000 students from 22 different colleges and universities before the pandemic. The research takes a minute to get out, y’all. That’s just where we are right now.

But going through this exercise, students felt a stronger sense of belonging where institutions prioritized it. And there were positive impacts all over the place, residence halls, courses, signing up for mentor programs. The list goes on. So, I’m going to link this article so you can also look more into what the initiative was and the strategies that they implemented.

Another just example as you think about, what are initiatives that we could try, Iowa State University, as part of their teaching resources, provided faculty instruction, specifically on facilitating a sense of belonging in the classroom, that focused on some topics like interpersonal relationships, identity and growth, and mindset, so students could felt seen in their classrooms. And then, I would just say, not just seen in the classroom, but also in digital spaces.

[00:29:04] Let’s shift a little bit. I’ve laid my literature review of culture, community, and belonging. We are finding that we need more cooks in the kitchen, I guess you would say, in a strategic way.

And we’re seeing new positions pop up everywhere with different titles and focuses. So, Sprout Social, there is an expanded list of some trending social media job titles and descriptions. Not just, you know, you see those job titles and you’re like, “That’s just, kind of, a quirky title.” So, a few is a social media intelligence analyst, monitoring, analyzing culture and conversations. A social media engagement manager, I love this approach, serving as the connection between marketing and customer service, orchestrating engagement strategies that aren’t just outward, but the conversation.

We’re also seeing a lot more content-driven positions, content producers. There’s so many different skill sets within this world of editing, video, writing within a campaign and within trying to make this about storytelling needs to have skills behind it.

Social operations manager, that almost is like the project manager for social media. And then, the last one is a community manager. What’s the difference, you might ask, between a community manager and a social media manager? In some cases, social media manager is focused on the profile strategy, while the community manager focuses on engaging audiences across all different networks to increase community loyalty and grow connections. And just because, again, you add titles to it and more people doesn’t always equate. But what I appreciate about these positions is they are community-driven and there’s a strategy, not just a catch-all.

This is where I get geeked out about the why of what we do. Why are we even using social media? Why do we keep trying to build communities? Why are we sending these emails? Why are we doing chatbots? And well, I hope we… if you don’t have answers to those, we need to get really, really clear on that.

Because we don’t have time to just put out stuff and fluff, our students deserve more. Our parents and families need more. Our alumni want to engage more in our own internal communities. And for me, there is a deeper sense of need for belonging. Research is also showing we are in a loneliness pandemic, at home, at work, on campus, in high school, and in early career opportunities. Social is not the solve for it, but how could you approach your tools a little bit differently to help fill that gap?

And one way that I am, is offering the Digital Community Cohort. I launched this thing at the beginning of the pandemic, while conferences were closing or piecemealing together, and all while we were having to triple dog down dare, all of our everything into online. And we’ve learned so, so much since then. And even the Cohort, I’ve learned a ton since then. But what I also know and so cool to see is it’s making an impact.

And I can tell you about community and facilitating community and solving problems all day, but, also, at another conference this fall, Tim Alexander, who is a resident director at Chapman University, residence life and first-year experience. We got talking at the NASPA Western Regional Conference. He happened to sit in on one of my sessions. And I literally stopped at one point, because he shared a couple experiences that he had as I was talking about influencer marketing and integrating students into social media training them.

I was like, “Do you just want to get up here and talk about what you’ve done?” Because he took the Cohort. And he took it and ran with it. And we all go to maybe conferences or we do an online course. And I mean, goodness, I’ve got some out there that I still need to finish or actually implement things. But I’m really proud of how much he… and not, it wasn’t even in the Cohort. It was later, because it’s like a, kind of, intense two-month thing.

So, I asked him some questions about his experience with the Cohort, but also I don’t… this is, I am not a salesperson. I am a strategist and I am into sustained and strategic and impactful change. When Tim, in the session, was starting to talk about the impact, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, this is the goodness here,” because we don’t need to go to another conference. You don’t need to go to another webinar. Like, it’s not going to solve your problems, and neither will the Cohort. What makes it work is when you take the information, you learn about your culture on campus, you connect tools that make sense, and you try something. You track the impact. And then, you see that growth, or you’re able to make data-informed decisions as you go.

And Tim is also just like such a force and energy. And I also was living through all of his fun holiday travels. So, make sure to go follow him on all the socials. And so, he shared some reflections about different questions that I sent him that I’m actually going to integrate right into this episode. So, it doesn’t have to be all about me. Because they highlighted the work they undertook at Chapman University in residence life that started before students even arrived on campus this last year. Of course, I was, this is awesome to see the lessons that he learned from our cohort curriculum to create meaningful social media content that humanized their staff – that was a goal – that improved information literacy about their residence halls. And the biggest one that I just… if you are in residence life or student affairs, I need you to hear this, and I need you to take some notes. Their strategies led to a decrease in incidence in their residence halls. And so, let’s hear more from Tim.

[00:36:03] Tim Alexander: So, 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.

And another thing that we did was we posted eight videos, so each RA was assigned one topic or theme to help educate residents before they got there — so, things about how to do laundry, how to connect to the Wi-Fi, basic stuff that, you know, we put in the 20-page memo that we send out, which we know they don’t read. But knowing their preferred method of communication is social media, creating videos that were short and sweet, to the point, and if they needed to they could go back to to learn how to do certain things. One video we did was how to turn off the water. If your toilet is overflowing, something that I know as a resident director, but as a new first year student, 18-year-old, probably never had to deal with that. And so, when you think about the thousands of dollars we were able to save because our building really never had any toilet plumbing issues, whereas other communities were struggling with that because students did not pay attention during the community meeting after moving in and going to orientation, having all this information brain dumped into them.

And so, very early on, I felt like the students that lived in Glass Hall had a higher level of information literacy, because a lot of times the RAs and I would come together and talk about trends of the community. And someone would say, “Oh, a lot of students are asking for lockout codes.” So, we would create a video about how to remember your ID, and if you did need a lockout code, some of the steps that you would take to, kind of, get it as quickly as possible. Or, there was another trend where people weren’t really honoring our quiet hours policy. So, we made a fun video of the RAs being noisy. And that, kind of, got a lot of views.

And then, we made a video about our social gathering policy. So, this is about how many humans can be in a residence hall. And that went, sort of, viral. So, for context, we only have 400 residents that live in our building. And that video got, like, 19,000 views. And still, to this day, I’m not quite sure what was going on in the algorithm, but I think, from that point on, people were watching our videos. They were following us from other buildings.

One of the things I learned in the Cohort was doing assessments. So, a lot of times, we were measuring metrics of, like, likes and follows. But one of the faculty was like, “Why don’t you ask your followers, what do they like? What do they want to see more of?” And he sent this survey out. And there was a resident that said, there are residents in other buildings in other communities that follow Glass Hall to learn about what’s going on and to get educated about things, because their community wasn’t posting a lot.

So, it was really nice to get some qualitative data endorsing that our videos and posts were educational, they were informative, people thought they were comedic. They wanted to see more of the RAs. So, we had RAs do takeovers. They wanted to see more of me. So, I would do, like, Tuesdays with Tim Takeovers, and I would go live and students would hop on.

And it really humanized our student staff. I think they were sharing that they received a lot more respect when they would respond to incidences, because people knew them, not just their residents, but because they were on this digital platform. People knew their face. They knew their name. They recognize them from specific videos. And one of the biggest positives was that we were getting incidences in general. Like, I would look at our duty logs. And in comparison to other buildings, we were getting a lot less calls, because students understood, kind of, what it meant to live on campus a little bit better and they understood the RA role a lot more. And so, they just had this level of respect for my student staff and myself.

[00:39:52] Josie: Another question that I had for him was, what an impactful social media effort resulted in very real outcomes on campus. So, we asked him what he loved most about facilitating communities.

[00:40:08] Tim Alexander: 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. And they were both RAs. And as folks know, RAs are compensated through room and board. But they were really going above and beyond the job description to create these videos.

And so, 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.

Being so close in age to their Gen Z peers, the ideas and creativity that came out of them, we needed to create this video to educate people about checking out. That’s a big process. You know, the students live with us for nine months. And then, during finals week, they need to pack up all their stuff and go home.

Well, they came up with this great concept of this student that, that during checkout, did everything possibly wrong, was fined, and, like, messed up, and missed all the important information that we gave them in the closing community meeting, but then had the opportunity to time travel back in time, learn everything he needed, and then get it together. Like, I would have never came up with something like that. And it was a fun video that featured two BFA in Screen Acting students who were, kind of, popular on our campus. So, by casting these campus characters, we got a lot of views because their friends wanted to see them in the video. So, ultimately, we achieved our goal by making sure people understood our closing expectations because a lot of people watched this video. And then, it goes back to that co-curricular piece where, even the BFA screen actors were being able to apply what they were learning in class on this project.

[00:42:00] Josie: Y’all, talk about a residence life MVP. I love the creation of unique marketing and video production roles to create content that really resonates. It’s not busy work. It’s a work of belonging. And it’s making an impact. And Chapman University and Tim’s role as an RD is focused on first-year students. So, we asked him how he’s serving the unique needs of first-year students, especially those who are underrepresented, underserved, and under-resourced.

[00:42:29] Tim Alexander: So, in addition to introducing our resident advisors on our platform and educating people about different policies, we also wanted to highlight our residents. And we really wanted to do this because our buildings, kind of, separated into three different structures. And oftentimes, if you’re walking just to your floor to your room, you might not ever interact or meet another resident from another floor. And so, by showcasing certain residents on our Instagram, we were really able to introduce them to the entire building and also connect them with other residents from different floors.

But 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. So, 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.

Now, I didn’t go all the way into student development and explain Laura Rendón’s validation theory, but I did feel like, in many ways, we were affirming our non-traditional students with letting them know we celebrate their greatness, they’re supposed to be here. I mean, it was so great to see their roommates or other residents comment on their posts and have their parents and family members DM us and thank us for celebrating their kid. And all the Saturday Spotlights would also then re-share on their personal page, so then that would help increase our outreach.

But it really wasn’t about increasing our followers or likes. Because we had a kid in our building that had 16 million followers on TikTok. We could have easily leveraged his platform to get us more views and more likes, but it wasn’t about that. It was about finding the students in our building who had a recent achievement or accomplishment that they wanted to highlight, that we could give them a space to do that. And I wholeheartedly believe that we contributed to retention and persistence because those students felt like they belonged.

[00:44:34] Josie: You can’t see it, but I’ve got hard hands about this intentional strategy of belonging, inviting students to be creative, especially around the residence hall content and serving these underrepresented students. And finally, I asked him what was life like after the Cohort and what’s next for your community at Chapman University.

[00:44:59] Tim Alexander: After participating in the cohort and gaining all these skills and tools that I was able to apply in my specific building, over the summer I sat down with my colleagues and we developed a content calendar for the academic year to ensure that all 70 RAs and all nine of our communities could benefit from this digital community building model.

This was actually a SMART goal that I had developed in the program, so to see it come to fruition was so validating. And it was nice, because during RA training, we went over guidelines and tips and tricks and some of the students who supported me in class presented alongside me so that their peers could hear from a student’s perspective.

And each community was required to post a certain amount of videos before move-in day. So, during this time, they’re bonding over creating intro videos and fun ways to teach their residents about different things. We’ve hired more RLMVPs and have been partnering with our campus police to post more videos about safety around campus.

And I feel like we’re leading the effort on our campus for digital community building. Like, I can’t walk around campus without people recognizing me and being like, “Hey, there’s Tuesdays with Tim.” Or, even some RAs will share that they’re being recognized in class or around campus because people are following our social media accounts.

And one of the best things is, when we were recruiting for resident advisors, we utilized multiple platforms and videos to, kind of, get the word out. We had the highest number of applicants ever in the history of Chapman. And I wholeheartedly believe it was because students who maybe didn’t understand the role or thought it wasn’t as cool got to see RAs doing their job, creating these videos, having fun, and wanting to be a part of that.

[00:46:42] Josie: Tim, thank you so, so much. I really wanted to, like, obviously have this conversation live, but you were,traveling the world and I was sick. And we make things work. But I might continue to do these little snippets in future episodes, because I think it’s so helpful to see real-world examples and impact. And this one, I think, though, again, those that are listening in student affairs start to approach social to solve a problem in a programmatic initiative way that you can move the needle. So, thank you, Tim. I can’t wait. We get to present together at the NASPA Annual Conference in Seattle. So, come find us. Or, I’m sure we’ll share all of the things, if you can’t be there. That’s okay, too.

I got to tell you about what Tim learned in the Cohort. In case you’re listening and it’d be something for you or someone you supervise or someone that you know, that you’re looking into something that not only is going to make your Instagram grid look great — sure, that’s fine — but actually make an impact and help students.

The Cohort is, kind of, a concept of an online mastermind where all of our discussions are around supporting participants, including then the curriculum that we integrate within the two months. You get the benefits of almost like a coaching. It’s not even almost. It is a coaching program. You are coached by five experienced digital strategists and myself, and then your peers. We also keep it very manageable. It’s around 20 to 30 people. We’ve had people, obviously, the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Australia.

And every week, starting in February, is one workshop, and then one, kind of, like, processing session. It’s a coaching session, where we actually get to work and integrate it. Because, goodness knows, we don’t have time to actually implement what we’re learning. And so, we get some time in the sandbox.

You also get all these materials forever. I can see the stats on the back end, and I see previous students from years ago still accessing the materials. And then, a toolkit as well. So, we give lots of templates that you can take and make work for you and your community, from creating goals, a calendar, reporting, and analytics. And we really do call them gifts because they will, maybe not immediately, you can’t use them immediately, but they will keep giving for years to come.

And there also is places in the cohort where we process and we see our progress. And we are also our own unpackers of the culture that we can implement and give to our community. And so, no surprise, we are also facilitating community using a tool called Discord that then participants and our faculty can stay connected for years to come.

I just want to share a couple quick quotes. Getting to see both of these individuals out into the world, integrating this content also just, like, fills my soul. So, Jamie, he’s a communication manager at Texas A&M. They say, “Without the support of the cohort and knowing there are those who are in similar structures, I would still be sitting and just second-guessing all my choices and implementation strategies. There is so much social changes or just our own self-doubt and to be able to ask all your questions and share even the struggles, the fails, and then trying things in a supportive environment helps so much.”

Christopher Boggs, the marketing coordinator at University of Pennsylvania, “The Digital Cohort gave me the tools I needed to elevate our social media presence and tell our community stories in a way that our students and their families can really use. The program offers invaluable assets for professional communicators in higher ed!”

And you may have noticed, or not, because it was such a little change, this is our fifth time we’re offering the Cohort since 2021. We actually removed one word because it was a mouthful. It went from the “Digital Community Building Cohort” to the “Digital Community Cohort.” We are building. We are facilitating. And it just rolls off the tongue a little bit more. But this program, we are always evolving along with social media and what’s happening in higher ed.

A quick recap on facilitating community, supporting your campus and its culture. Social media communities evolve on platforms, and so, too, do those that manage and support these roles. And community goes beyond just the handle on social. These can be used as significant drivers to support initiatives like inclusion and dialogue and cultivating a sense of belonging and meeting community members where they are. We can cultivate community with an intentional and strategic strategy and by doing the work.

So, the role of marketing and higher ed community, we got to evolve to continue to serve our students. We can’t make up campus culture. We aren’t the architects of digital communities, nor the culture that’s happening in the world. But we can be participants of it and facilitate it.

[00:52:50] We can also integrate our values and our priorities, where students and our community need them most by holding space. But we need to do just as much work on facilitating community and belonging and inclusion, as much as we do putting it out there and defining what that is for our community.

Because community and management and facilitation is important. And let’s center it around the sense of being seen and heard and feeling like you’re part of something bigger than yourself. And I want you just to think back to a moment that you had when you were a high school or a college student. It could have even been when you were completing a master’s or doctorate.

There is a high chance. There was even a small moment or maybe something over time that happened where you felt like these were your people or that your faculty member really saw you, your potential, your opportunity, that you were able to overcome a challenge or had a group experience that still is impacting you today. We cannot forget those ingredients and how we can make it a holistic approach and how we are facilitating our communities on campus, online, and everywhere else in between.

Don’t forget, we are enrolling for the 2024 Digital Community Cohort. Starts in February. We are offering scholarships, payment plans. Let me know how we can support you. I really hope that you will join us.

[00:54:59] And y’all have an amazing 2024. Thank you for joining me in this shorty episode of Josie and the Podcast. Join the conversation online. You can find me on all the platforms @JosieAhlquist. The podcast is also on X, Threads, and Instagram. All the notes to the show, all the nerdy research that I talked about is at josieahlquist.com/podcast. Pretty, pretty please, in 2024 just once, share it, like it, subscribe, five stars, give me a review. 

And of course, if you want to learn more about me, my team, my consulting work on digital engagement and leadership, find me at josieahlquist.com.

Thank you again to our podcast sponsors, University FM, who are the producers of this very show, and Element451. Sending digital hugs, loves, and waves to whatever corner of the world you’re listening in from. This has been Josie and the Podcast.

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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