NCSL Article: Discovering Your Student Life’s Heartbeat Online
In our continuing quest to better help schools understand, measure, and utilize the increasing amount of campus engagement online, I wrote the article below on discovering your student life’s heartbeat online for this month’s NCSL NOW! magazine.
Discovering Your Student Life’s Heartbeat Online
By Tom Krieglstein
The Internet is a decentralized place, with a lot of small, loosely connected pieces, where individual engagement acts like a finicky firefly. Our traditional rules of on-campus physical student engagement need to be modified for an online world, or we’ll miss out on leveraging our best tools to increase and quantifiably measure and report on student engagement, both within our student groups and across the whole campus.
When talking about online engagement, my favorite place to start is offline, on the dance floor. We’ve all been to good dances and bad dances. A dance’s success is proportional to the number of relationships built up on the dance floor. It’s a simple idea; people are more likely to dance, have fun, and hang out longer if they have relationships with the people around them so that they can talk with these people or teach them new dance moves. So, if you host a dance party, your job is to connect people together around shared interests, increasing the number of relationships on your dance floor. It’s not about you, it’s about them connecting, learning, and growing from each other, and the more relevant the introductions, the more likely the relationships are to solidify. You are the facilitator of engagement, not the gatekeeper. After you’ve built up the relationships, you should be able to walk away from the dance and have it continue on without you.
Moving back to the online world, Web 1.0 was about a community having a central hub and a moderator, admin, or webmaster playing the gatekeeper of member engagement. Large sites would push content to their members who would then consume the content, and that would be the end of the engagement. In the Web 2.0 world, the most popular and explosive sites like Facebook, WordPress, Twitter, and YouTube don’t have a central hub. There is no gatekeeper of engagement. These tools all act as platforms to facilitate relationships among members. The more engaged the members are with each other, the more successful the site becomes.
Looking at three popular tools in particular — Facebook, Twitter, and blogging — the goal for increased student engagement online should be to move from 1.0 engagement to 2.0 engagement, where we make it about them, and we are simply the facilitators. Here are four recommendations for online engagement:
Instead of using a logo for your role as the facilitator of engagement among members, use an image that has a face, or a group of faces that shows you are actually human. Talk as if you were talking to someone at a cocktail party. A big logo head at a cocktail party would be odd. Being human also means you engage in the conversation as if it were a two-way street … because it is.
Instead of stressing yourself out trying to engage everyone, enlist hosts to take over some of the engagement and facilitating. Delegating small roles to members will make your job easier and give your members a stronger sense of ownership in the community.
The sense of ownership among the community members is amplified when the members get to populate a site with their own content. Support the sharing of real videos, photos, and stories from your members. This will increase engagement and will make a site feel more human. School-sponsored student bloggers are currently popular, and a step in the right direction. But make sure you allow them to write without censorship, and after their sponsorship is over, let them keep their blog and content.
Link Out, Link In
Because the Internet is a collection of small pieces loosely connected, no one tool will solve all your problems, but collectively, the tools leveraged together can have a big impact on engagement. While certain sites, such as Facebook, remain the most popular, students like to spread out and express themselves on multiple sites across the Web. Facebook is a limiting tool if you use it as your only source of online engagement. Make sure to link between all the tools you are using, and the tools your students are using. Following these four tips will support your success in engaging students and members online. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging are a start, and once you add up each piece and multiply by all your members, you will start to discover your student life’s online heartbeat.