The new normal is digital. Thanks to the global pandemic and the need to keep our distance, many industries have embraced digital communication and virtual events. But for any organisation or company, going digital under the pressure of a pandemic takes time and work. And there’s a learning process involved as well.
The same goes for universities and other educational institutions, who’ve had to pivot to remote learning and find ways to keep their tight-knit student communities happy while they languished far from campus.
One of those universities is Champlain College. As their beautiful Vermont campus remained empty through the 2020 lockdowns, they more and more started to use digital tools to implement distance classes, virtual events and social media to stay in touch with students.
And when classes slowly began to return to in-person settings in autumn, Champlain College smartly didn’t shove their hard-earned digital setup aside. Instead, they kept improving their methods and continued to use social media, social walls and virtual events to offer students more ways to connect with the College.
Champlain College has also been using Walls.io social walls since the start of the pandemic, so we really wanted to know more about their process and how social media and social walls help them run the day-to-day on- and off-campus. So we had a chat with Kaylee Sullivan (you might remember her from our virtual event about virtual events), the Community & Content Marketing Manager at Champlain College.
Community & Content Marketing Manager, Champlain College
When our college shifted to fully-remote learning at the start of the pandemic, it quickly became clear that social media would become a major way for us to communicate and connect with our students, who were spread across the country and world. Perhaps most importantly, Champlain’s social media channels served as a way for students to remain connected to the community, campus, and home they were missing so much. Since then, social media has grown into a built-in part of our institution’s communication plan, and we have received more social media buy-in from various stakeholders across campus.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our community members (students, parents, alumni, staff, faculty, community members) had plenty of questions about how the College was handling the pandemic, what the new protocols would be, and everything in between. We wanted our social channels to maintain the usual pretty campus photos and student shout-outs but also serve as a place where people could come for answers. So, we ramped up our social media communications strategy. Any COVID-19 email that went out was also posted on the COVID-19 section of our news blog. This allowed us to share/link to communications in full on our social channels and present the info in digestible FAQs on Insta story.
When our students returned to campus in Fall 2020 for a mix of in-person and virtual classes, the biggest challenge was getting them to socialize outside of their residence hall rooms. With COVID-19 on the rise in the rest of the country and strict safety protocols in place, fear and anxiety were high. Social media was the most-used avenue to spread info about in-person and virtual events happening around campus.
We also launched a highly successful COVID-19 safety social media campaign, coined #LetUsCare—a play on our school’s motto: Let Us Dare. Here are a few things it entailed:
- “Be a Champ” slogan: Wear a mask, Stay 6 feet apart, wash your hands, wash your mask
- We encouraged students and community members to share photos with a quote about why they wear a mask.
- Infographics about various COVID-19 safety topics
- A video outlining what the fall semester would look like with safety protocols in place and a welcome back video for students featuring faculty and staff
- Helpful quarantine tips from our mental health experts
- Posting campus life photos showing the “new” masked normal, including move-in day, first day of school, class outside, etc.
When it comes to social media, one of our goals is to create a sense of community among our students, families, alumni, employees, prospective students and families, and neighbors, no matter where they are in the world. Social walls help us bring together people and different perspectives into one aggregated place. Students get to show what they’re up to, parents get to stay in touch, alumni get reminded of their experiences here, and prospective students get to picture themselves here.
It was important for us to keep the #ChampGrad wall active year-round so that we can continue this campaign for our August, December, and May graduates each year. The wall is also front and center on the homepage of our commencement website, and we found it was nice for graduates and their families to go back and refer to the wall leading up to and after graduation.
We plan to use our second wall for a few different social campaigns, including our #Champ2025 campaign for our incoming Class of 2025. During Orientation, we will have the wall running on our digital signage across campus and encourage students to share their orientation and move-in photos. We’ll also be inviting departments and offices across campus to post using the #Champ2025 hashtag to welcome our new students to the Champlain community.
When orientation is not in session, we will use the second wall for our #ChampVisit campaign, in which we encourage prospective students and their families to take photos during their tours and other visits to campus (open houses, etc.). During our big in-person visit events, we’ll display this wall on a few of our campus digital screens as well. We have a truly beautiful, Instagram-worthy campus here in Burlington, Vermont.
Our #ChampGrad social wall is shown on the homepage of our commencement website and is showcased during the ceremony itself, mostly during our pre-show live-stream. We publish an article letting people know how to get their photos and well wishes featured, and share it on socials and in emails leading up to commencement day.
We begin our #ChampGrad social campaign about a month or so before graduation each year, so people are aware of our hashtag. By posting things to social media during this timeframe, we are simultaneously spreading awareness about the campaign, feeding content to the social wall, celebrating our seniors, and generating hype around this extremely exciting milestone and accomplishment for our students.
We also showcase our social walls on digital signage across campus, depending on the time of year and when we are pushing a certain campaign.
What have you learned and improved throughout the past year or so with regard to virtual events?
When it comes to virtual events, we’ve learned that it is important to engage people before, during, and after the event. How do you pull people in? How do you get them to stay? How do you get them to remain connected with you even after they log off?
Whether virtual and hybrid events are here to stay is a question we are still exploring. For the time being, we are continuing to offer both virtual and in-person admissions events. We know not everyone is comfortable traveling yet, and we still want people to get to know Champlain and be able to decide if we are the right college for them.
We will continue to encourage people to visit campus in person because that’s really how you fall in love with Champlain; the people, the campus, our beautiful college town, and the community we pride ourselves on. But thankfully, we have learned crucial lessons over the past year and a half about how to bring all of these aspects to life virtually, and we will continue to do so via social media and our news blog.
As for commencement, we have always live-streamed our in-person ceremony for friends and families who weren’t able to attend in person. Two takeaways we’ll bring into next year’s (hopefully fully in-person ceremony) is that we will direct people to watch the live-stream on our website — a more reliable source than Facebook live-stream, which we’ve directed people to in the past. We will also continue to encourage people to share photos and well wishes prior to, during, and after commencement to be featured on our #ChampGrad social wall so everyone can take part in the celebrations, whether they’re here on campus or at home.
Our takeaways from the Champlain College interview
Champlain College has been intensifying their social media presence and using social walls throughout the pandemic. And you can tell that, with practice and time, universities can get more and more out of these social tools and turn them into valuable parts of the overall communication strategy.
Package information in a variety of content types
Quite clearly, social media has become a significant part of Champlain’s communication strategy around COVID-19. They specifically use Instagram posts and stories to keep everyone updated and remind people to wear masks, keep their distance, etc.
It’s also a fantastic idea to include students and collect UGC, which Champlain can then reshare on their channels.
While leaning heavily on Instagram in their communication, Champlain College created an impressive variety of content types, from videos to infographics, and then shared those instead of just using photos. This is an important factor. Different people prefer different types of content. By providing a wide range of content rather than relying on just one type, you can make information accessible for as many people as possible.
Normalise the new normal & virtual events
As the country slowly started opening up again, Champlain still kept virtual events running for those who didn’t yet feel comfortable travelling. Providing ample information via virtual events and keeping prospective students supplied with visual content on Instagram makes it easier for future students to decide whether they would enjoy studying at Champlain.
Champlain consciously decided to show the new normal on campus, which helps give people an idea of what student life there will look like. Plus, it further encourages and normalises safe behaviour.
The university uses humour and clever wordplay in their communication efforts, such as the “Let Us Care” play on the school motto “Let Us Dare”. We also really like the “be a champ” slogan and use of the school mascot, which is a beaver, in much of the visual content both on social media and on-campus.
Two walls are better than one
A graduation social wall will get lots of use throughout the academic year at most universities as various cohorts graduate in different months. Champlain also discovered that leaving it up after graduation and leaving it embedded on the website offered graduates and their families a way to look back at and also share the experience by simply sharing the link to the wall.
By adding a second wall, Champlain can keep the graduation wall running long-term for all their graduates and use the second one for whatever other events come up during the year.
Most recently, the wall was set up for the incoming class of 2025. Champlain encouraged students and parents to use the #Champ2025 hashtag to get featured on the wall, which was also embedded on the website.
They will also be promoting the hashtag on signage on campus during Orientation this August, ensuring that everyone knows about it and can share their experiences. It’s also an excellent way for new students to get to know their classmates, especially when social distancing rules are still making it harder for people to meet and make friends.
Once new student orientation is over, the wall switches to the #ChampVisit campaign, targeting prospective students and their families. The wall is displayed on digital signage screens around campus, which ensures visitors will be aware of it and the hashtag and can start posting to it right away.
Having two walls running simultaneously is a fantastic way for a university to run multiple social campaigns throughout the academic year. Whether your permanent wall is a graduation wall, such as at Champlain College, or a more general social wall for your university, you’ll always have the second one available for whatever activities or events are coming up. It’ll definitely not go unused!
And you don’t have to stop at two either. Did you know you can create up to five social walls with our Premium plans? Two or five — the price stays the same, so go to town and give your student community many ways to connect and stay up-to-date.
Give it a go. You don’t need a credit card for the trial!