Ease your student supervision speed bumps.

Radio Silence: Tools to Increase Engagement in a Quiet Online Community

Are you trying to upgrade your online community from a “where is everyone” to a “hip hop happening” place?

By October 2020, most U.S. institutions have transitioned into a fully online or hybrid model due to COVID-19. As a result, there was an urgent need for higher ed to create an engaging community online for students to feel connected to their peers, staff, and campus. While creating a Facebook group is easy, facilitating conversations and prompting members to interact is a huge challenge and learning curve. In this session, digital builders got together to discuss strategies for energizing members and developing a positive community vibe to increase engagement.

About the Higher Ed Digital Community Builders

Organized by Dr. Josie Ahlquist, this Facebook group is a clubhouse for higher education professionals to connect, reimagine and transform how we build genuine campus digital communities and strategic online engagement experiences. Every week, community members share resources, discussions, and opportunities to further develop digital communities that serve our students, families, and partners in timely, innovative, and supportive ways.

Highlighted Content from Panelists

Links to what was mentioned during the panel (Click on the Image for Links). 

8:50 Just because you create a Facebook group, doesn’t mean it’s a community. What should people expect when you’re just starting out as a digital community builder?

Bringing students into the fold to be a part of these conversations: in all of our digital communities, we have students providing insights and feedback, and voice. Because we might think we know everything that students are a part of, but oftentimes we are missing the mark.

Empowering members of the group: find someone who you can trust to be a host or co-admin of a group, find a specific member who can carry some of the burdens, and find someone who can answer questions in their voice. Having an admin team and separating yourself from being the organizer, so when you engage with your fellow community members, it feels more personable to them since they are talking to you instead of a group admin.

18:19 What are the early signs that the audience you want to serve/connect with is actually into your community-building efforts?

It’s usually a good sign when students are not just putting in their social media handles to get followers or take the conversation to other platforms, but instead, they are having the interaction within the current community and continuing those conversations.


25:05 What are some tips, examples, or best practices of creating a first impression that evokes a feeling of safety and comfort?

I tell my members to wear identities on their sleeves: be very clear about your purpose in the bio, so when people come to your pages, they instantly see someone who is reflecting the values that they also live by.

You have to make sure that the presentation and engagement in an online space feel right as if it’s representing the actual school community, so people can actually feel like they belong to this group.


35:05 What are some things you’ve done to bring life to a quiet community? Have there been some hard lessons that you would highly encourage people not to try?

Sometimes building a digital community depends on the timing. The key question you can ask is: how can you provide values using this digital space in relation to what’s going on in the world?

Make prompts easy to read and respond to, because sometimes people might not respond if the direction is complicated or unclear.


45:11 As the builder of an online community, it’s hard not to take it personally when your audience doesn’t react to your ideas, content, or programming. What have been some ways you’ve separated your self/self-worth from your digital community-building efforts?

When someone just sees a brand and logo, it’s much easier for them to criticize and complain. But when you come back to the comments, answer questions, and be honest, it helps them to understand that there are people behind the logos.

People have different personalities online versus in person, and this is just how gen z uses social media platforms online. The audience knows when you are trying too hard.

If you are doing great jobs in building brand trust and awareness and organic connections, when your posts are being trolled, the community comes in and steps up for you.

Additional Resources from Josie

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From speaking, workshops, coaching and consulting, Josie has transformed her services that can be delivered 100% remotely.


Andrew Cassel, Social Media Strategist at Middlebury College

Andrew Cassel has been creating and curating social media content for higher ed since 2011. He presents regularly about social media content best practices around the USA, including for the Alaska Democrats, Perseverance Theatre, as part of the Transportation Communicators webinar series, at the American Geophysical Union annual fall meeting, HigherEd Experts and Higher Ed Content conferences, the eduWeb Digital Summit and Higher Ed Web annual conferences. Andrew was awarded a best in track Red Stapler at the 2017 High Ed Web annual conference and is a five-time winner of Aurora Awards of Excellence from the Public Relations Society of America – Alaska, including the 2018 Grand Award of Excellence. He is currently the Social Strategist and Content Producer at Middlebury College.

Edwin Darrell, Director, Residential Student Experience at Florida State University

Edwin S. Darrell, Jr, originally from Detroit, Michigan, is currently the Director, Residential Student Experience at Florida State University. He has his Bachelor’s & Master’s degrees from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI. While at GVSU, he was involved as a Resident Assistant, Multicultural Assistant, on the track team, brother of Michigan Kappa Sigma Phi Epsilon, and served a year as chair of Volunteer GVSU. Prior to FSU, Edwin served as the Director of the Center for Intercultural Relations (CIR), which included the Women’s Resource Center, the PRIDE Center and the Black Resource Center at San Diego State University. In addition, he served two years as Associate Director of Residential Education and co-chair of their welcome week initiatives. Prior to that, he worked as an Associate Director of Residential Education at DePaul University in Chicago, IL. While at DePaul, he earned a dual Master’s in Multicultural & Organizational Communication. He also served a stint as Assistant Director of Residence Life at the University of Tampa and Residence Directors at both Michigan State University and Western Illinois University. Edwin has served as campus advisor to a dance marathon at 3 different institutions, in addition to starting dance marathon at SDSU. He is an active volunteer in the associations of ACUHO-I and NASPA. In his personal time, he enjoys spoiling his 2 nieces (Skylar & Zion) and nephew (Brandon), softball, traveling, music festivals and watching college sports, particularly college football.


Tony Dobies, Senior Director of Marketing at West Virginia University

As the Social Media Director at West Virginia University, Tony Dobies has positioned the University as a leader in higher education when it comes to new and social media platforms. He is a vocal advocate across the higher education community and has spoken at numerous national conferences on the importance of social and digital media in marketing and communications. At WVU, Tony leads the social media conversation on campus. He leads a team that sets the University’s social media-specific goals and strategies and helps to use social media effectively through various campus-wide campaigns and initiatives. In 2015, Tony was named a “30 under 30 Rising PR Star” by PR News. In 2016, Tony was also part of a team that won PRSA’s “Best in West Virginia” award for the best overall PR campaign in the state in addition to significant recognition for WVU’s innovative use of Snapchat and short, social video campaigns.

Shakivla Todd, Marketing Associate at IFundWomen

Hailing from Southern California and South Carolina, Shakivla wears her identities on her sleeve – well, on her wrist in the form of a tattoo that reads BLAQ, meaning very Black and very queer. By day, she manages social media for a women-owned startup, IFundWomen, where she takes part in helping close the funding gap between men and women. By night, Shakivla is an unapologetic storyteller. She uses the art of storytelling to bring together her communities and build connections virtually and IRL.

About Josie, Moderator and Community Founder

Dr. Josie Ahlquist is a digital engagement and leadership researcher, speaker, and consultant. She teaches teens, young adults, education professionals, and campus executives how to humanize technology tools and prioritize building community online.

Josie absolutely loves fostering and educating about digital community building. So, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she created a Facebook group called the Higher Ed Digital Community Builders, which has grown to nearly 2,000 members. She also created and manages the Digital Community Building Cohort, a mastermind educational program for higher education social media managers to improve online community building strategies.

As a researcher and writer, Josie is extensively published and maintains an active blog and podcast, which have received accolades from EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her new book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education: Purposeful Social Media in a Connected World was listed as an Amazon #1 new release for college and university student life.

She also serves as a teaching faculty at Florida State University, creating curriculum to build digital literacy and leadership skills for undergraduates up to doctorate level students. Josie received her doctorate from California Lutheran University in Higher Education Leadership, Masters in Education from Northern Arizona University. She majored in sociology and human development at South Dakota State University.

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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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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