Tag Archives: alyssa explains it all

Facebook Live and incoming student Q&A: a promising idea

On Sunday night, we might have seen the future of Facebook Live in higher education, and it was awesome.

Alyssa Levenberg, known best for her Alyssa Explains It All video blogging series offering advice to incoming students, posted a question to our Class of 2020 + Transfers page: If she did a Facebook Live Q&A, would they participate?

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The answer via likes was a resounding yes, so at 8 p.m. Alyssa went live on her Alyssa Explains It All Facebook page and fielded questions for two hours. The post reads 138 comments, not all of which were questions, but the interest and questions were especially active early and pretty steady throughout the broadcast.

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 1.14.36 PMThe number of viewers at any given time may not look impressive — it hovered in the upper teens and 20s most of the night — but remained fairly consistent and this is about quality of over quantity. Sure, a Facebook Live video of a watermelon with rubber bands can get millions of views, but how much does it impact anybody’s lives? With Alyssa’s webcast, incoming students received words of comfort and encouragement in addition to getting their questions answered. That’s a bigger impact than mere numbers show.

The short throw in terms of promotion and using a relatively new delivery method not yet in wide use may have kept the numbers down a bit, but Alyssa said Monday she was pleased overall.

“I think it went really well!” Alyssa said. “When people first came, they asked a lot of questions, but then it started to die down to only a few people asking. But they seemed to really like me answering them honestly and live for them.” This personal touch from somebody who was in their shoes certainly represents a real value-added for incoming students.

For the rare things Alyssa did not know fluently, a couple of current students (and this blogger) joined the channel to lend expertise or insight when needed, which wasn’t very often. It’s worth noting, I aimed to take a fairly hands-off approach as this was an “unofficial” activity Alyssa just thought of, proposed and ran with.

For future planning for our college and other institutions, a current student (or recent yet dedicated grad in Alyssa’s case) or student team doing a Facebook Live Q&A has a lot of potential. It could work well in different parts of the cycle; during college choice, discussions would more likely involve fit and what a college has to offer, while after students have committed it more moves toward specific questions and concerns (mostly about living on campus, for this session).

Since empowering student ambassadors and storytellers is a big interest, Alyssa’s Facebook Live provided proof this could work. The challenge is finding a student as engaging and knowledgeable as Alyssa — something we think about all the time now that she’s graduated and will one day yield her active ambassador role — but it’s definitely worth considering. Go in with an open mind and don’t necessarily expect it to “go viral” but with an understanding it can genuinely help and satisfy concerns of incoming students. That alone is a worthy goal.

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Confab Higher Ed and the rise of student storytelling

2014-11-14 13.22.02 The recent Confab Higher Ed, the largest gathering on web content strategy in North America, provided an abundance of awesome people and information, but perhaps most notable is how it placed an unprecedented spotlight on the use of student storytelling in social media.

In addition to our SUNY Oswego session co-presented with our star student blogger Alyssa Levenberg, “Student Stories and Content Strategy: ‘Alyssa Explains It All’ to Prospective Students,” Meg Bernier of St. Lawrence University discussed “User-Generated Content: Empowering Students to Tell Stories” on the excellent student-run @herewegosaints Instagram account and Oberlin College’s Ma’ayan Plaut and Ben Jones showcasedstudent storytelling in “A Tale of Two Projects: Relationship-Building Through Legacy Content.”

It’s a long way from around a decade ago when I first started researching student blogging because of the success my social media mentor Rachel Reuben was having with it at New Paltz. The idea met with plenty of skepticism, doubt and even discouragement. Asking other colleges who had student bloggers led to one of my enduring principles of empowerment: We don’t approve blog posts, we approve bloggers.

It took years, but when we cleared the last technical hurdle when our then-new web developer Richard Buck set us up on WordPress, we finally debuted the blogs — to amazing traffic and feedback — in fall 2008. I was proud of all the initial bloggers, with the journal of Erin Scala, a legally blind student with a keen sense of humor, downright inspirational. Not everything went perfectly, but it represented a work in progress that surmounted the skepticism and drew many positive reviews from our most important audience — incoming students. Screen shot 2014-11-14 at 8.39.23 AM Students kept the project moving forward but we hit a new level after an unassuming tweet from Twitter user @lysslyss15 to the @sunyoswego account in fall 2012, saying she made videos and asking if we needed help. Alyssa didn’t even really expect us to respond, but when I looked up her videos, I immediately realized she had the “it” factor that would resonate with students. We met and our discussion turned into “Alyssa Explains It All,” a series of talking-to-the-camera video blogs offering advice to incoming or new students.

The inaugural installment on time management debuted in September 2012, and Alyssa later became an intern and full-scale ambassador whose responsibilities included making videos answering questions received from incoming students via social media.

In the years since, this project has been mentioned regularly at national and international conferences, but this was the first time Alyssa presented at a conference of this magnitude. Alyssa was a rockstar at Confab Higher Ed, her videos very well received and people stopping her to ask questions throughout the conference. You can watch the video of our presentation or see the slides below.

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Meg’s great presentation on the student-run Instagram account at St. Lawrence also included a very nice detail: Her initial proposal to do it was rejected. She kept believing, went back and analyzed what students were already posting and presented it again to finally earn approval. The result has been not only fabulous content but an inspiration to other colleges taking the lead, including the #lakertakeover we do from time to time on the @sunyoswego Instagram account.
Ben and Ma’ayan have built the Oberlin Stories Project — a sort of student blogging on steroids resulting in hundreds of student voices sharing their tales of why they love Oberlin — as well as ongoing regular student blogs. My favorite is a podcast series by student musicians Hannah and Davis that turns the spotlight on other talented conservatory students. That’s how you empower current students to show your music program can hit the right notes for prospective students.
Beyond those presentations, we drew inspiration from Boston University’s Dean Kenn Elmore who presented the amazing keynote “New Major: American Cool.” Many of us web folks consider ourselves nerds, but Kenn showed that by taking risks with a sense of dignity, patience, intelligence and a sense of control, cool things can happen. Empowering student stories involves yielding some of that sense of control to allow them to shine — and Confab Higher Ed celebrated the awesome results.
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I don’t have enough words to say how amazing all the presentations were at Confab Higher Ed, but I thank everybody who made it possible and participated. And here’s hoping that by showcasing the rise of student storytelling, colleges and universities everywhere will allow student voices to show how cool pursuing an education can be.

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Potential students have questions. Provide answers. Get creative.

A previous blog entry lamented the lame state of FAQ pages and other stale/outmoded non-helpful attempts to help future students. How do we get past that? We listen, we look for creative solutions and we work with our talented current students.

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Our most notable effort is the Alyssa Answers Your Questions Q&As with student video blogger Alyssa Levenberg, part of her popular Alyssa Explains It All video blog series. The past two years, she has asked accepted students in our closed Class of 2017 and Class of 2018 Facebook groups to post questions she can answer in video form. The curious students — many of whom are still deciding between Oswego and other schools — have provided plenty of questions and this year (for the second time), Alyssa had so much that she developed a Part One and Part Two to accommodate all the answers.

These are not from-the-guidebook answers and this kind of project could worry any administrators who covet complete control of all communication channels. And while Alyssa gets questions on subjects students wouldn’t ask administrators in the first place, she handles them positively and constructively. She is an ambassador for Oswego (she’s interning with me this year) but I don’t stage manage her work … because, frankly, her video blogs wouldn’t be as successful if she didn’t have this kind of creative freedom. I may come back and say, “hey, maybe you can elaborate on this point for another video,” and sometimes we talk out potential video ideas, but once we sign off on a concept, she runs with it.

And if you’re considering Oswego, of course you would take Alyssa more seriously as a source than some old dude like me. Current students, I like to say, are what prospective students want to be because they can’t wait to get into college and live that life.

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“What’s the best dorm to live in?” We heard this countless times, in various forms, in the Class of 2017 group but there is no one answer, because it depends on what you want and what you value. How to communicate this? Again, we decided to get creative and tap our talented students.

The resulting “Why live in ___________?” video series was a team effort. Alex, an awesome contact in Residence Life and Housing (whom we invited to be part of the 2017 group) saw the value and worked with colleagues to find students to “sell” why their hall was a great place to live. My graduate assistant videographer at the time, Kevin Graham, spent a lot of time on interviews and editing, and did a phenomenal job on the finished product.

While not everybody will sit through 13 videos, having the playlist on YouTube — and shared on social media and embedded on our site — means viewers can browse. Others may find individual videos via the power of YouTube (and its parent company, Google) for searches … it’s no coincidence we phrased the title as a question. But it works better than some administrator talking or impersonal virtual tour embedded in an app you have to download because it’s widely accessible and has current students pitching their homes.

We don’t use video for everything. Last year, when we would see multiple questions in our Facebook groups on a particular club or aspect of campus, our interns would blog on that subject and we’d post up the link. In short, we let our audience interest drive some of our creative process. If we value our potential students, we should keep them in mind as we create content. And if current students can serve as virtual ambassadors, entertainingly explaining what college is like, they can connect even better.

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Alyssa Explains It All, or on being social and open to ideas

Our student blogs have really stepped up in content concepts this year, evolving past “this is what I did last week” and into more purposeful and useful directions. Since I believe in sharing, I’ll post more info here on the various projects, but wanted to start with how a random tweet turned into an outstanding freshman video blog.

On Sept. 1, this tweet to @sunyoswego caught our attention:

A freshman willing to make videos on the college experience? Were we dreaming? After checking Alyssa’s video channel, we realized she had talent, panache and essentially everything you’d want in a video blogger.

After a meeting, we decided on a theme, Alyssa Explains It All, often on the transition to college, an area where she is eminently qualified. Each webisode focuses on a topic, conveying it with humor and honesty, and it appeals to new students as well as those looking at colleges. She does all the work herself. The shows so far:


Episode 1: Time Management


Episode 2: Making Decisions

I’m very happy with how she’s developing the shows, and she has been asking users for topics to explore and explain. But the series also shows one more example of the importance of being in and listening to social media channels. And the importance of remaining open to new ideas and fresh talent. Because who knows … your next great content contributor could be just one tweet away!

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