May 10, 2012Vol. 42, Issue 6

Social Media Success: A Student’s Perspective

Chelsea BeightsA team in Public Affairs and Publications including University Editor Casey Huff and Administrative Support Coordinator Kate Post manages the University’s official social media presence. But the person usually sending the blog posts, Facebook status updates, and tweets is senior Chelsea Beights, the department’s photography and social media intern.

When asked why the blog made the must-read list, along with universities such as CalTech, Cornell, and Yale, Beights points to the depth of the stories told there. “I work with our contributing authors to analyze whatever they are talking about a little deeper so that it hits many philosophical, emotional, academic, thoughtful levels.”

Contributors have included Beights herself, sharing a personal observation of falling in love with Chico over and over again; an anthropology student discussing her experience creating a documentary; and President Zingg, sharing his favorite places to eat in town.

But Beights’s favorite entry is “From Iraq to Chico,” by senior Michael Fitzpatrick. “When I read that entry [about learning to love great literature through serving as a soldier in Iraq], I get sucked into it,” she says. “And it is amazing to see how a student like Michael Fitzpatrick can recognize and articulate how hard the university works to provide a great education and a great experience for its students in numerous facets.”

When Beights joined the department in June 2011, the University was in its second year of an effort to expand its social media presence. CSU, Chico’s Facebook page had 400 followers, and the blog had eight posts. Those numbers are now nearly 4,000 and more than 40, respectively, and are growing fast. Beights attributes the increase partly to consistency and careful timing. “If we don’t provide our audience with new content, we’ll lose them,” she says, adding that overwhelming the audience with too much content will also lose readers. “I post regularly about what is happening on campus, answer questions that readers post on our pages—basically be as helpful as I can and remove any perceived communication barrier.”

Beights helped develop and execute a plan to boost interest in the University’s social media sites—coordinating with Admissions, Summer O, and University Housing to distribute flyers and hang posters. She also connected with other departments that have an established social media presence, such as the School of the Arts, the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserves, and the Wildcat Store, creating reciprocal relationships and gaining followers.

Facebook image of Kendall hall and Chico State sealThis job—and a stint at The Orion—has been the perfect complement to Beight’s academic experience in an online editing certificate program and as an art studio major, she says. “Developing projects and strategies, a business approach to social media, positive branding—it was all beyond my scope when I applied. Now I have hands-on experience in all of those areas. I’ve also been incorporated into the creative development process, which has given me the chance to see my photographs in print and online.”

The message and tone of the University’s social media postings are deliberately personal and informal, as befits the medium. The relaxed communication invites people to participate in the story, to share their personal experiences, thoughts, and opinions through “likes” and comments. “A conversational tone allows the University to talk directly to or with our audience instead of at them, as tends to be the case with traditional institutional messaging,” says Post. “Chelsea, as a student, lends an authentic voice that draws in students and young alums.

“The goal is for our followers to feel like they are reading a posting from one of their friends. However, we must also maintain the authority and integrity of the University. Learning to balance these competing tones is an area in which Chelsea has excelled.”

Beights’s perception of the University has changed through her experience as the social media intern. Before, she thought of Chico State as an impersonal institution collecting tuition and awarding degrees. “Getting into this job and seeing the efforts from pretty much everyone on campus—that they are really striving to do things for the students and for the community—” she says, “has made me step back and look at the bigger picture, to see that there is a bigger picture in the goals that CSU, Chico is striving toward and the values it is instilling.

“Service, for example, is something that our campus encourages. Before [working in Public Affairs and Publications], I knew only about programs like CAVE. I didn’t understand the scope of the campuswide push to take action in so many ways.”

This scope is exactly what the University is hoping to share with a wider audience through its social media presence and its blog. Public Affairs and Publications will continue to work hard to tell the ongoing story of Chico State, through online and social media and more traditional print publications, but Beights will be moving on from her internship: She graduates this month and hopes to begin a career in communications and media as soon as possible. [Updated, June 5: Chelsea is now working for the design and social media team at Build.com.] ■

—Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications

Public Affairs and Publications has developed a Social Media Guide to help campus departments with the basics. If you are interested in learning more about how Public Affairs and Publications can help you with your social media and digital communications, please contact Casey Huff, chuff@csuchico.edu, x4139.