Trust Your Students

Turn back the clock to 2010. Facebook’s monthly active users had recently exceeded 500 million, Twitter was approaching 50 million, and Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger unveiled a new photo sharing platform called Instagram.

The CSU Alumni Association’s Facebook account was in its terrible twos, and its Twitter account was just learning to walk. Corporations, nonprofits, universities, and just about everyone else had realized that social media was not only useful, but essential. The cliché about hiring a teenager or a (gasp!) college student with MySpace or “The Facebook” experience to run your entire social media program was dying or dead, as professionalization of the field accelerated.

CSUAA interns
A few of the Alumni Association’s awesome interns, from left: Jillian Shook, Savannah Hoag, and Theresa May

With professionalization came editorial calendars, well-planned tactics, and for some, actual budgets. There was also a tendency to put programs under people with titles like content manager or social strategist. Universities, of course, still relied on students, and that’s a good thing.

The CSU Alumni Association has always depended on student interns to develop and post content across all of its platforms, and not just because staff lack the bandwidth to keep up with it all.

Different Perspectives = Better Ideas

I often remind myself that I am not my own audience and that diverse perspectives always lead to better ideas. That’s important to keep in mind while you’re trying to brainstorm share-worthy content or promote an event. Organic or unplanned ideas often resonate with followers the most. And a communications team that empowers and trusts students generates more genuinely original posts than one that keeps the hatches battened down so tight that ideas suffocate.

Two recent examples come to mind. We wanted to do something for #WorldEmojiDay, but had no concrete concepts. One of our student interns, Theresa May, came up with the idea to create an emoji mosaic of the Oval using the Emojaic app. It quickly garnered 100+ likes on Instagram (which is great for us) and then we noticed other iconic campus scenes pop up on various CSU accounts. We don’t take credit for inspiring their posts, but we were happy to see the concept foster Ram pride in a unique way to a wider audience. For myself, I’m grateful that Theresa felt free to run with an idea on her own.


Another example is the use of Snapchat as an editing tool for other platforms. The Alumni Association doesn’t have a Snapchat account, but has participated in takeovers run in large part by our student interns. Theresa (again!) came up with the idea to use Snapchat to create stickers and super-impose animations on photos that she saves to her camera roll and posts on Instagram stories and other places. Recently, she used the technique to add a tiny backpack to a squirrel for move-in day.

This tactic might not be new, but it was new to us, and has enhanced our content-creation toolkit. And student interns continue to enhance our overall social media program, just as we do our best to provide an inclusive environment where they can learn and thrive.