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When morale is at an all-time low: How to use digital platforms to lift up your community

In October 2020, many U.S. universities were tasked with finding ways to engage, comfort, and support students while navigating the world of online learning and online community like never before. As many people realized that COVID-19 will continue to impact university operations and student learning throughout 2020, a group of community builders came together to discuss ways to uplifting community morale via social media.

From this panel, you’ll learn how to identify when your community might need some extra love, hear examples of the panelists of how they have lifted/supported their communities digitally, and learn from other examples that have missed the mark.

About 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). 

2:04 How do you check the temperature of your community? What are the indicators for things that are going well or need some work?


8:36 From a content development perspective, what do you feel like the community needs when the morality is low?

Though everyday we do things a bit differently and improvise the best we can, providing consistent content such as reminding students about hours and sharing campus resources can ease COVID-19 related sense of uncertainty, so we can still be the steady campus partner for students.

You need to know “when the time's right to elevate and humanize content” versus “when you’ve accomplished this goal and it’s time to return to emails”, it’s important to be flexible.


15:27 What’s the difference between being yourself vs. the office representative in digital communities when it comes to embracing morale?


18:09 What’s the idea behind having the Vice President sending messages to students via video instead of email?

A lot of times when we deliver bad news, we have already processed the bad news, so we are just informing students about the bad news. But by sending out a video message about commencement cancellation with emotion, we were processing the bad news with our students, so students were able to grieve with us at that moment.


22:48 What are some examples of things that have not worked well?

We may have all these resources, but we have to dig a little deeper in making sure resources are accessible to students and manageable for staff, because not only are our students overwhelmed, so are our faculty and staff.


31:45 How have you connected and collaborated with other offices to provide resources?

35:07 How have you balanced being “always on” and “eager to engage” with your team?

44:34 How do you approach virtual celebrations?

Differentiating our brand from our bot is important: we are humans behind the brand. Students pay us to be "humans behind the accounts" instead of "programmed bots with answers", and our students expect that from us. We can answer their logistical questions in 30 seconds, but we are humans with vulnerabilities and empathy. So what we have as humans should be better than a bot, which is offering a community.


Heather Adams, Senior Program Manager at The Aspen Institute

Heather Adams, Ed.D is the Senior Program Manager of transfer student projects at the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program. Previously the Director of the UCLA Transfer Student Center and Director of the UCLA College Learning Communities, the core focus of Heather’s work has centered on generating institutionalized receptivity, support, and policy restructuring for underserved student communities through strategic partnership and practice. She worked with the UCLA Transfer Success Team to develop and implement a transfer student learning outcomes model for UCLA. She is excited about continuing the transfer discussion and tightening the nationwide transfer support network as the founder of Transfer Nation, an online forum for professionals working with transfer students to share information, collaborate, educate, and generate transfer receptivity.

Morgan Campbell, Social Media Specialist at Indiana University

Morgan Campbell has been a social media specialist for Indiana University Bloomington since fall 2018. Along with her team, she oversees the official IU Bloomington and Indiana University accounts as well as helps consult with partners across campus. Morgan graduated from IUPUI in 2018 with a degree in journalism and public relations. She found her love for higher education while overseeing the IUPUI Office of Orientation’s and IUPUI’s accounts as an intern before graduating. Her favorite thing about social media is how it can bring people from all over together into a community to learn from each other, find new opportunities, and provide open conversation with those who you wouldn’t usually talk to in person.

Rachel Putman, Associate Director for Strategic Communications at University of Arkansas – Fort Smith

Rachel was named the associate director for strategic communications in February 2020 after serving as the interim public information officer since January 2019. She first joined the Office of Marketing and Communications in 2014 as lead photographer. As her role evolved, so too did her responsibilities. In 2017 she was named social media manager, developing the university’s first social media strategy and social media policy, which have since been used in nation-wide presentations on higher education social media use. Rachel also is an award-winning photojournalist.


Tyler Thomas, Senior Director of Integrated Content, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Tyler Thomas builds award-winning brand engagement for the “BIG RED” brand. He directs the university’s strategic functions integrating social media, videography, photography, project management, and graphic design to deliver an effective communication strategy and editorial plan. He is a national presenter on social media and a self-proclaimed foodie. He authored Nebraska Beer and writes regularly for local publications.
Thomas holds a master’s degree in higher education administration from the University of Nebraska and teaches digital content strategy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism.

About Josie, 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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