News Column

Social Media Builds Community

November 13, 2012

Lisa Pemberton

Saint Martin's University in Lacey is ramping up its marketing efforts in places officials believe they can reach plenty of prospective students: on Twitter, Facebook and other social media websites.

The private Catholic university has employed a group of students through its Marketing and Communications department to help increase its social media presence. As part of their job, members of the so-called "Social Squad" have agreed to spend a few hours each week posting tidbits online about their personal lives, from sports practices and class projects to all-night study sessions and special events at the university.

"It's trying to give other people outside the university a view of what it's like to be a student here," said Saint Martin's web manager Carl Lew, who oversees the project.

The Social Squad recently covered a fundraiser featuring celebrity chef Guy Fieri. The Nov. 3 event was attended by 550 guests who raised more than $700,000 for student scholarships.

The students researched Twitter handles of the event's sponsors and planned a strategy on how to cover the event, said university spokeswoman Jennifer Fellinger.

"I think we tweeted almost 300 tweets during the event," said Saint Martin's sophomore Stephen Mahnken.

As part of the gig, Saint Martin's sophomore Brooke Sanchez, 18, had a chance to meet Fieri at an exclusive event prior to the event. "It was so cool," she said.

Last week, the Social Squad was given an early tour of Cebula Hall, the university's new engineering building.

Squad members posted Instagram photos of the building, which offers several "green" features, including solar panels.

"Maybe I should change my major so I can have classes in this awesome building!" Sanchez tweeted.

She said she enjoys the project because it keeps her involved in campus activities. Recently, the Social Squad helped promote a "best room" contest where students sent in photos of their dorm rooms. They also are getting ready to do a project for commuter students soon.

"I think it's just like building a sense of community within the rest of Saint Martin's," Sanchez said. "We interact with other students. I'm able to connect with students who aren't necessarily in my regular friend group."

Most colleges and universities are using some type of social media for marketing, although the concept of using student voices is relatively new, Lew said.

In some ways, the Social Squad project is a bit like how companies use customer testimonies to generate buzz about their products through social media, he said.

"It's more customers talking about your product than the company talking about your product," he said.

At The Evergreen State College in Olympia, some students who work in the Admissions office maintain blogs about their experiences.

"We try to update (the blogs) about once a week," said Evergreen junior Karl Anderson. "I talk about things I'm doing in class, and how I'm being involved in the community."

Evergreen also recently activated a new virtual tour, which offers video footage, photographs, 360-degree views and a walking tour of the campus.

The project was designed to help give potential applicants a view of the campus, and also to help new students and alumni connect with the campus, said Evergreen spokesman Jason Wettstein.

Students helped produce the tour, which is a standing feature on the college's website,

Last month, it was promoted through social media, and in the future college officials plan to enhance the site's smartphone capability and establish apps on iTunes, Wettstein said.

So far, it's been a popular online feature, and "early visitors have come from across the country and even internationally," Wettstein said.

Source: (c) 2012 The Olympian (Olympia, Wash.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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