How Tweet It Is
By Greg Cannon
While official Marist social media accounts provide followers with College news and updates, just as much time is devoted to answering questions about what’s happening on campus, sharing photos, and joining in the excitement of high school seniors who take to Twitter to announce their acceptance to Marist.
Illustrations by Daniel Baxter
These days, Facebook and Twitter are obvious choices for colleges and universities that need to communicate with a broad and diverse audience of current and prospective students, parents, alumni, and friends.
But just a few years ago, the benefits of being on the top social media sites wasn’t nearly as clear as the potential pitfalls. Did colleges and universities that play such an important and serious role in a person's life have a place alongside pictures of last night's party and 140-character reviews of the new burrito joint?
More than 3,400 Tweets, almost 6,000 Twitter followers, and over 11,000 Facebook “likes” later, the answer is clearly yes, at least for Marist. Gone are the days when college brochures and campus visits were the primary sources for high school students and parents looking to learn more about a school.
“If Marist isn’t telling our story on Facebook, Twitter, and other popular social media sites, someone else will be,” says Dean of Undergraduate Admission Kent Rinehart ’94. “Prospective students are on these sites trying to get a genuine sense of life at Marist, and we need to be part of that conversation.”
Indeed, Marist students, faculty, staff, and alumni are providing such an independent glimpse, whether intentionally or simply by sharing with their friends things like photos of the Hudson River, updates from a Marist football game, or notice of a student musical performance. With such a beautiful campus right on the Hudson River, Marist is a natural subject for photo sharing, especially on sites like Pinterest and through applications like Instagram.
So while the official Marist social media accounts do provide followers with College news and updates, just as much time is devoted to answering questions about what’s happening on campus, sharing photos, and joining in the excitement of high school seniors who take to Twitter to announce their acceptance to Marist. They also share and respond to enthusiastic Tweets that high school students send as they’re touring the campus, such as “Tour at Marist College #dreamschool #sonice #definitelygoingherenextyear.”
A Brief History of Social Media @ Marist
Social media may be here to stay, but individual services may rise and fall. New ones pop up all the time. Rather than bet on whether or not they will catch on, the safe approach is to reserve the Marist name in case they do. Thanks to the foresight of Marist Admission and Information Technology staff, the @Marist name was reserved on Twitter and Facebook before it was clear exactly to what use the College would put these services.
The official College accounts joined an already active Marist community, which took to the social networks, particularly Twitter, early and enthusiastically. A widely adopted theme on Twitter is “Follow Friday,” in which people recommend weekly other Twitter accounts worth following. Marist put its own spin on things early on when avid Twitterer Michael Sterchak ’07 (@MichaelSterchak) started the #MaristMonday hashtag, with which students, alumni, and others make a habit of Tweeting something special about the College, generating thousands of positive messages.
The official Marist social media accounts reside in Admission and are managed in concert with the Office of Public Affairs. As a result, there is a strong emphasis on external audiences. Inevitably, individual clubs, sports teams, and campus offices have taken to Twitter and Facebook to get their own messages out to their respective audiences.
While in keeping with the freewheeling nature of social media, the result was a sometimes muddled and confusing conglomeration of official, semi-official, and unofficial communications going out under the Marist name. To address the problem, the campus-wide Marketing Communication Group recently conducted an inventory of all social media accounts associated with the College and developed a new, unified brand to tie them all together.
The result is a detail of the “M” from the Marist College seal. The idea, according to Director of Social Media and Online Initiatives Brian Apfel ’05/’11MS, is to create a unifying brand for academic schools, departments, and programs in much the same way that the Red Fox serves to identify Marist athletics.
“Many of the world’s great colleges and universities use a seal or crest to identify themselves,” Apfel says. “Marist belongs in this company, and the mark we’ve adopted is a modern take on a historic Marist symbol.”
The Next Best Thing to Being There
With thousands of members of the Marist community regularly sharing Marist-centered messages, photos, and videos with their vast networks, there now exists a legion of enthusiastic ambassadors helping to create and sustain interest in Marist simply by doing what comes naturally on social media.
But it’s fair to ask, to what end? In addition to serving as a practical source of information and a means of generating interest in the College and keeping alumni engaged with their alma mater, there is increasing evidence that prospective students and their families feel that the information they get through social media, in addition to the College’s Web site and other traditional communications, gives them all they need to know to make a decision on where to attend.
“As we have grown our geographic diversity, we see more and more students making the decision to enroll in Marist without ever doing a formal tour and information session,” says Apfel. “Over the last several years we have seen a growing number of deposited students visit campus for the first time during Orientation or even Freshman Move-In.”
Many of these students report becoming interested in Marist online. That’s the power of social media.
Greg Cannon is Marist’s chief public affairs officer.
Marist Social Media by the Numbers
Facebook – More than 11,000 likes
Twitter – More than 5,700 followers
YouTube – More than 101,000 video views
Fox Tales Blog – More than 84,000 views
Pinterest – More than 540 pins
Flickr – More than 1,300 photos
LinkedIn – More than 5,200 members
Marist.edu/socialmedia – More than 500 view per month