Tag Archives: student blogs

Anatomy of a (very) successful student blog post

krissypostA funny thing happened recently when one of student blogs unexpectedly exploded and became our most popular ever … by a very large margin. When that happens, it’s worth taking stock of some reasons.

University in Australia vs. College in the States by Krissy O’Farrell, a student visiting from Down Under, was well-written and engaging, but many of our students craft well-written and engaging posts. But it became our first student blog entry to net more than 1,000 visits in a single day (1,009, to be exact) and brought record traffic to the blog overall.

Most visits (884) came from Facebook, where we posted it mid-morning on a Monday. The Facebook post had a fairly modest 117 likes and 15 shares — but also many more comments than usual, many from alumni, some from others who studied abroad. But looking at the other end was more impressive in that this post was shared to Facebook via WordPress 191 times.

(Aside: We don’t post every student blog entry on Facebook; it’s more a “best of” or “greatest hits” in that if a blog entry shows up on our Facebook page, audiences are guaranteed a good read. I know some colleges and organizations hook up feeds that vomit every news item, sports story and/or blog entry onto Facebook, but this serves nobody. It discounts the value of every post in the eyes of your reader … and to Facebook. Many posts with few clicks mean your page’s Facebook EdgeRank drops, meaning less people will see your individual posts. By autofeeding, you don’t benefit your content or your reader, you merely create a new corollary to Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s Spiral of Silence. But I digress …)

Krissy’s posts have done well before. Her debut article, which we also put on Facebook, intriguingly titled From 104 degrees, to 3.2 degrees in a day (chronicling her journey from Australian summer to Oswego winter) did not receive that much traffic in one day but ultimately has been shared more via WordPress (217 times on Facebook). So we know her blogs catch attention.

But what about this specific blog entry may show us what can work more regularly? A few things I’ve noticed:

  • A strong headline. In a world of linkbait headlines that devalue this importance of this, a strong headline that gets your attention by letting you know what’s coming and making you interested really helps. Both the aforementioned headlines by Krissy get your attention and pique your interest for what’s to follow. Which in this case is …
  • An intriguing central question. How do universities in Australia compare with colleges in America? If that doesn’t interest you, well, you’re just not a curious person. It certainly made a lot of our Facebook fans want to click … and that so many shared it from the end of the article shows they read the whole thing and thought it worth sharing with others.
  • A unique point of view. The primary target market for our blogs are prospective students. To future freshmen, wherever they come from, college is a strange and fascinating new world. An exchange student from Australia is less different from them than one might expect, plus she brings an interesting angle to any current students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents reading the blog. Krissy was also our first blogger recruited from Tumblr; my associate Kelli Ariel saw her photos and posts there and thought Krissy would bring great storytelling and a compelling point of view to our student blogs. Needless to say, she was correct.
  • An inviting image. I’ll be honest: A good image for Facebook posts matters more than it probably should. An outstanding blog post with a middling image or no image won’t get read as much as if it had a good image. And an image of food? Win! As Susan Weinschenk noted in her excellent book Neuro Web Design, our old brain asks three very primitive questions when encountering images, even on the web: Can I eat it? Can I have sex with it? Can it kill me? It’s blunt, but it’s science … and explains why food imagery suffuses the web so effectively.

Side note: Ignore the all-time stats here, because Jetpack is a recent installation that reset these stats.

I’m not saying to consider this a be-all end-all in terms of what works in student blogs. Many factors decide whether a blog or specific post gets readership or not. What I am saying is that there are some factors that may make some posts more likely to succeed. And when our students are telling great stories, they deserve many appreciative readers.

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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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networking and student bloggers.

I’m happy to say that our student bloggers are off to a flying start this year. I can barely keep up with them! But also of note to those in higher education is how the contributors came together. The old-fashioned way. Networking.


This year’s group includes:

Sherrifa Bailey, a senior public justice and psychology major, McNair Scholar and all-around uber-involved person
Christopher Cook, a sophomore English major, writer and devourer of pop culture
Steven DiMarzo, a junior human development major, director of student affairs for Student Association and admissions intern
Tiffany Duquette, a secondary education and French major studying in Paris, and member of the Laker women’s ice hockey team
Tess Kaczorowski, a senior theatre major and dramaturg for the student honors production Blood Relations
Leah Matthews, a senior elementary education major and co-captain of the women’s swimming and diving team
Katherine Raymond, a junior journalism major, environmental writer for The Oswegonian, secretary of Students for Global Change
Jose Terrero, a senior journalism and creative writing major, active fraternity member, writer, admissions tour guide
Meghan Upson, a junior business administration major active with alumni relations and the business dean’s council
Lizz Wetherby, a junior public relations major, Laker Leader orientation guide and my intern

Most of them I met at various times and identified as potential bloggers. I interviewed Sherrifa for a story and knew she’d be great. I know Tiffany from being a faculty mentor for the women’s ice hockey team. I saw Katherine give a presentation about her group’s activities and read her work in the campus paper. Worked with Meghan on a couple of projects related to her PR internships. Steven asked me about blogging after hearing me present at a student leadership conference. Lizz came to me as an intern because one of her best friends interned here after taking a class from me.

Others were recommended via canvassing my campus contacts. Tess came through a request to the box-office manager for someone who could address the performing arts. I contacted our swimming coach, a blogger himself, who recommended Leah. After a meeting of our social-media team, admissions recommended Jose (who I’d met before in his efforts to start an entertainment publication). As for Chris … he just wandered into our Web developer’s office as a freshman looking for a work-study job and we quickly learned he was a good writer.

So, for the most part, we obtained our bloggers through good old-fashioned networking … and, moreover, from having a genuine interest in getting to know our students. Like most colleges, we don’t pre-approve blog postings — just pre-approve the students who do them — so we need to know we can trust them with the Internet version of a live mic. Plus, recruiting good and interesting people more often than not leads to good and interesting blogs.


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facebook and colleges: from outhouse to penthouse?

I was invited to talk last week to all of our admissions counselors about our college’s presence in social media. When I noted this on Twitter (I’m a dork), one of my followers asked if I would discuss searching and screening applying students via their Facebook profiles.

Obviously: Not. (Who has that kind of staffing, let alone mindset?) But it reminded me how the narrative, the relationship between colleges and Facebook has changed so quickly. When I first heard about The Facebook a few years ago, it was in the context of colleges wanting to block Facebook usage because of underage students disclosing their drinking habits, pics of groups conducting hazing, concerns about stalking, etc. Conclusion: Facebook bad!

But during a Web roundtable at a SUNYCUAD conference a couple years ago, I encountered a feeling that colleges wanted to find ways to work productively on/with Facebook. Of course my friend Rachel Reuben at New Paltz was already ahead of the curve, but the attitudes of many college communicators, myself included, started to evolve to Facebook as an opportunity — not a crisis.

The tipping point for colleges’ relationships with Facebook probably came with the introduction of Fans pages in November 2007 [date corrected, merci to Karine Joly], providing for official presences in the Web’s most active social-media community. We were among the institutions who explored Fans pages early and — lo and behold — not only did people come out of the woodwork to become fans of SUNY Oswego but they started asking questions, sharing memories and making connections. Now the question isn’t Should we be on Facebook? but What more can we do with Facebook?

Historians and sociologists could chronicle the length of time it takes for movements or ideas to go from outhouse to penthouse in terms of acceptability. In the world of Web 2.0, the cycle grows ever shorter. Student blogs, considered a novelty seemingly yesterday, are now reportedly used by more than half the colleges in the U.S. YouTube, once considered a place to be embarrassed, not promoted, has become a hot property with colleges everywhere creating their own channels.

At the end of my presentation to admissions counselors, I received a nice round of applause. During the break, some counselors also said thanks and even good job! All that seemed inconceivable a couple years ago, but it’s great how people see the advantages of social media as a legitimate channel of communication. Doesn’t it make you wonder what idea that today colleges find improbable will soon win widespread acceptance?

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a learning curve, for us all.

I’m still learning a lot of things in this social media game, like anyone else, including figuring out how to manage nine student bloggers. The project started out exceedingly well, but deep into spring I was concerned because only two were updating regularly. I’d asked my intern to serve as conversation manager, giving them encouragement and suggesting possible topics, but even that wasn’t working. So finally last Friday, I sent them all a gentle yet direct email:

Not to be a pain (why does every email that starts that way seem to be the opposite?), but wanted to touch base about the blogs. We’re still seeing nearly 100 visits to the blogging suite per day and I’m hoping those visitors will have some fresh content. This is a HUGE time for prospective students accepted by Oswego and other colleges making their final decisions, and we believe many of them are going to the blogs to learn more about life at Oswego.

As you’ve heard before, we’re not looking for ‘War and Peace’ here, but a paragraph or two or a few on what you’re doing lately. Cool stuff, or even just studying. Classes you’re enjoying. Feelings about spring (knock on wood). If you have plans this summer. Or what you’re looking into doing after graduation. Or just personal tidbits about plays, movies, concerts or anything else — so people know a little bit more about who goes to Oswego. … If you have any questions or any other concerns, please let me know. Many thanks!

Within a couple hours, one updated. Then another. And another. By Tuesday, seven of them had fresh updates (including one who blogged just before the email). The eighth had been a good blogger but now has a full-time internship atop his already-busy schedule. The ninth one is, well, a lesson on how some things don’t work out no matter what you try. Seven of nine is a great average in just about any sport, so I’ll take it.

It’s possible that the bloggers wondered (rightfully) whether I still found the project important, since I hadn’t talked to most of them about it in months. For a professional communicator, sometimes I forget how to communicate. But they all also have individual concerns as well. Two bloggers sometimes held back because they wanted to create the perfect blog entry; I had to let them know it’s OK to just do their best. Another had a computer die and didn’t want to bug me yet again for the login address. They all have many things going on their lives, and I was too lax in reinforcing how important this is to the college and prospective students. These students are always teaching me something.


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