At Verge Pipe Media we have the good fortune of being located next to a prominent southeastern university. We've recently welcomed a new crop of upperclassmen students for Imagineership Training, preparing them to lend their voices to our blog and social channels. They have chosen to sacrifice their final summer as a college students for the sake of adventure, hard work and opportunity.
Throughout the year, thousands of other collegiate millennials will tromp through our back yard, and, immediately after finals wrap, they scatter. From May to August we live in a ghost town. If there is anything we've learned about working with college students during the summer (especially those about to graduate) it is that competing with the pool and/or drink specials is a tough task. As soon students surrender their last scantron, they eagerly forget the stress of papers, textbooks, and everything that stands between them and graduation.
We also have the good fortune of having a few clients in the world of Higher Education, and we watch a similar story unfold - during the summer, traffic slows, calendars become less rigid, events become a slow drip, and a deep hibernation sets in until August rolls around.
While stillness of empty halls can be nice, everything lacks a special energy that we all wish for come July.
A few weeks ago, I discussed the importance of creating a culture of connectivity and the value of engaging students through a lifelong, mutually beneficial relationship. However, staying involved with school during summer is often the last thing on students’ minds, so how can you keep the relationship growing after the dorms empty out?
You're right. Students (and faculty!) need time to recharge. We all need a break from typical routine. But since staying engaged often resembles a real relationship, interaction shouldn't always be business professional.
So, why not do something atypical?
Show them that you actually care about them as individuals, not just as students or (worse) a tuition check, and demonstrate the value of staying connected after they leave…and maybe, just maybe, they will keep in touch after walking across that stage.
You must engage students over the long summer months or suffer the summer slide syndrome as students slide away from the habit of staying connected with their alma mater.
Summers during those pivotal four years offer the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to embrace different jobs, locations and activities to discover one’s true calling. Notice I didn't mention anything about the classroom, studying or (gasp) reading.
As a semi-recent grad, I've put together a few tips for staying connected during arguably the most influential times of the college career.
In any relationship, people want to know you're thinking about them when they aren’t around. Ask them to share the plans with college community. Where will they be? What will they be doing? The excitement you generate will become inspiration for those who haven't made any plans.
Whether it’s creating a new Twitter hashtag for the student's summer adventures or "What to do in Alabama Summer Heat" Pinterest board, celebrate your students on social media. Incentivise them to interact with you online — this might mean featuring a daily Instagram photo on your Facebook page from a student you follow, linking to a student’s blog, or offering a gift for the best 140-character photo caption on Twitter.
Tip: Make sure all interaction happens in public so friends and family will like, share, and comment, earning you added exposure.
Host an event
Just because classes are over doesn’t mean learning stops. It's just a different mindset, a different type of learning. Your faculty and staff are seasoned professionals and have a lot to offer now that their schedule has cleared a bit. Invite them to teach student workshops in their field of expertise, be it resume writing, using LinkedIn for the job hunt, or a cooking class. These events give you more intimate interaction with the remaining few students and they will remember you for it.
Can’t compete with the pool? Throw a party to help students network with faculty and alums - they might find their next intern or employee.
Tip: Students always appreciate free food and the opportunity to see friendly faces.
Be a connector
Tap that extensive alumni and faculty networks to help students connect with opportunities that might interest them and could expose them to a skill, job experience or internship that's transformative.
Create and promote groups for summer activities to help keep students connected even when they're not around.
Tip: LinkedIn is a great place to foster the alumni-industry-student relationships. Start a group and/or discussion and keep the conversation going.
Keep a blog
Ask students to submit photos, trip updates, or summaries about what they are doing during the summer. Get them on Skype for an interview, and make them feel important. Many are traveling around the globe, and that makes for some interesting content - especially when pictures are involved. Write student profiles and document their journeys. When you promote on social media channels, make sure to tag students, their friends, and, if they are interning, their company to broaden your reach.
Tip: Kickstart your responses by incentivising submissions. Example: Enter students into a raffle for a gift when they participate.
Even in the slow summer months, a constantly updated blog is the easiest way for students to stay in touch while they're on the road. Additionally, alumni will feel the pang of nostalgia as they instantly reconnect with their college summers. - that should have development officers drooling. Admissions, there's a place for you too. Incoming freshmen will become inspired to pursue greater possibilities during the next four years.
In whatever you do to keep the conversation going, here are the keys: Stay fun. Stay real. And stay helpful.
Students will appreciate the authenticity, and (hint, hint) it's a great way to keep content machine churning during the great lull.
Author: Micah Whitehead is the Social Architect and Creative Director at Verge Pipe Media. Verge Pipe Media assists public institutions, enterprises and the non-profit sector with Imaginative Inbound Marketing strategies + campaigns. We also have a development team chock full of Marvelous Mobile Migrators, poised to help transition our clients into a mobile + social world with custom software, iOS and Android mobile apps.