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Digital Togetherness Through COVID-19

More than ever, people are turning to social media as a way to stay connected as we practice safe social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. For CSU social media, we have been implementing ways to quickly deliver critical information to the CSU community, as well as explore the idea of “digital togetherness” to unite Rams across the world. Below, we share some of the content ideas we’ve used to engage our audience, the numbers behind our work, and some resources from the higher education digital communications community.

Digital togetherness

We know members of the CSU community and beyond look for information and updates about COVID-19 on CSU’s social media accounts. It is important that we post new COVID-19 information to social media in a timely manner. We created a template for each of our accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Instagram Stories) that we could quickly modify for each update from the university. The templates not only helped us save time and quickly share information, but the cohesive look acted as a signal for our audience that we were posting new COVID-19 information.

examples of COVID-19 update graphics for Facebook and Instagram

Left: COVID-19 update graphic for Facebook. Right: COVID-19 update for Instagram Stories

Alongside our Instagram Story updates, we also created new “COVID-19” and “Health” highlights on CSU’s Instagram account to ensure our Instagram audience had access to new information regarding COVID-19 beyond the initial 24-hour posting period.

CSU's Instagram profile with COVID-19 and Health highlights

Soon after CSU made the decision to move classes online for the remainder of the semester, our team started hearing about this idea of “digital togetherness” from our higher ed social media colleagues. With society practicing safe social distancing, prolonged isolation can cause loneliness and depression. But, we can foster community through our existing digital communities. At its core, social media is all about creating meaningful human connections delivered in a digital context. From virtual concerts to Facebook Live workouts, brands are embracing digital togetherness by creating content that brings their communities together in engaging ways.

We began brainstorming ways CSU could use digital togetherness to unite our community. We saw Brigham Young University posted an Instagram video featuring professors sending encouraging messages to students before online course delivery began. It was a great idea, and we decided to give it a try.

We asked the CSU Social Media Committee to reach out to a few professors they thought would like to be part of the project, and we ended up with nearly 40 videos from amazing professors. We published the video across CSU’s social media channels the day before online course delivery began. The video turned out to be the 💚 our community needed.

On the first day of online course delivery, we asked students, professors and staff to send us a picture of their at-home workspace. We then shared the photos to CSU’s Instagram Stories and Twitter.

Examples of at-home work space pictures the team received

Online learning was new territory for many CSU students who had never taken an online course before. So, we created vibrant vertical videos for Instagram Stories that featured some of CSU’s online learning tips. We repurposed the vertical videos and created horizontal gifs (below) for Twitter.

As far as future content planning goes, we are focused on providing critical updates from the university, resources and encouragement for our community to keep teaching and keep learning, and sharing stories from and about the Ram family — continuing digital togetherness with our Ramily.

A look at analytics

According to RivalIQ, social media engagement is down across all the social media platforms barring Twitter. The article also mentions that higher education and news media are the only two sectors that are staying ahead of the declining engagement curve. These inferences seem to be holding true for CSU’s social media channels.

Our Twitter impressions have risen by more than 33%, and we received almost four times the number of link clicks in March. Impressions on Twitter is a sum of all the times a Tweet has been seen. This simply means that our Tweets are being seen a lot more during this time.

This is how our Twitter metrics have changed (month-over-month comparison):

March 2020 February 2020 Percentage Change
Impressions 758.8K 568.8K 33%
Engagement Rate 1.50% 1.20% 25%
Link Clicks 2,800 714 292%
RTs 527 425 24%
Replies 112 49 129%

We are seeing near-average numbers, if not a decline, in our key Facebook metrics – reach and engagement. However, we are seeing a big bump in our Instagram KPIs, especially on Instagram Stories. Instagram is the platform where our current and prospective students interact with our brand. Our team has been working to provide the most accurate and timely updates to our community on Twitter and Instagram Stories.

During March, our top Instagram Stories averaged 15,000-16,000 impressions. In February, the range was 11,000-13,000. On whole, we are seeing a higher number of impressions, average reach rate, and average completion rates for stories.

A look at Taps Back on Instagram Stories: Our top stories in March received 10-20 times more taps back than what we normally see. This goes to show that people do want to consume all the information in a story, even if it might be wordy or ‘text heavy.’

Resources

Shoutout to the Higher Education Social Media (HESM) community, which includes social media managers from colleges and universities around the world. We are all communicating big changes that have significant impacts on students, staff and faculty. We are leaning into the HESM community to get ideas and inspiration, and for best practices for communicating during this unprecedented time. The #HESM hashtag is full of relevant, timely and creative ideas.

Higher Ed Experts is hosting weekly free Talk and Learn online meetings every Friday. This is a great opportunity to check-in with members of the higher ed digital communication community on relevant and timely topics.

Twitter recently provided tips on how brand can connect with their audiences amid the COVID-19 pandemic: They recommend viewing messaging to ensure it fits one of these categories in order to be helpful for audiences: Inform, Connect, Entertain and Help.

Finally, this article from Sprout Social, What to do right now: How to navigate through a global crisis on social media, has good points to consider when creating content during a crisis.

We will get through this. Together 💚

Ashley Manweiler

About Ashley Manweiler

Colorado State alum. Graduated in 2013 with a B.A. in journalism and technical communications, concentration in public relations. I’m not a science genius, but I write about it a lot. My favorite social media platform? Buzzfeed.