Social Wall Engagement Is Growing at Champlain College

“The More We Use the Wall, Year After Year, the More It Becomes a Staple of Our Ceremony.”

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Four graduates wearing their gowns and cap and face masks are giving the camera a thumbs up.

Talking to customers about their social wall use is always interesting for me. But it usually provides just a snapshot, a small glimpse into their marketing strategy or insight into one single event. This is why I’m all the more excited when I get to catch up with customers we’ve interviewed in the past.

It’s, of course, always nice to see people use our product long-term. But what’s really exciting is to see how usage changes over time; what people learn after years of using social walls and how they modify and adapt their campaigns and strategies for more engagement.

Social walls at Champlain College are here to stay 

One of those customers is Champlain College in Vermont (USA). Technically, this is the third time we’re talking to Kaylee Sullivan. Kaylee is the Community Content & Communications Manager at Champlain College, and we first talked to her in 2020 when she was a guest on our panel about virtual events. Then I interviewed her last year about how Champlain College was navigating virtual and hybrid university events with the help of social walls.

And because things are ever-changing when there’s a global pandemic going on, the way people are doing events is also constantly changing. Which is how I ended up reaching out to Kaylee once again to learn what’s new and how things are going at Champlain. This isn’t really a sequel, so you don’t have to have read the previous interview linked above, but if you want to, you definitely can and then come back to this. 😉

Kaylee Sullivan

Kaylee Sullivan

Community Content & Communications Manager, Champlain College

When we talked last year, you were already using social walls for virtual events and on campus. How have things changed since the last time we talked?

Our main use for the social wall right now is for Commencement, which happens every May. This year, we held the event in person again after having had virtual and hybrid ceremonies for a couple of years.

We did live-stream the event so people tuning in from home could watch, but this year was very much an in-person experience. So the social wall was back — and big — on the screens and looking great. And we got some really great engagement.

How did you apply your learnings from past virtual events?

We were able to take a lot of the things we learned from the virtual events and use them in the in-person ceremony. When we went virtual, Commencement had to become more of a show, right? There wasn’t any in-person interaction or anything like that. So it was more like watching a movie.

But now that we are back in person, we can use many of the video elements we had used in virtual events; content that we can show on the big screens to incorporate more student and faculty voices in our ceremony. For example, we featured professors saying farewell to students with cute little messages. 

It sounds like by having to go virtual for two years, you figured out ways to make it more interactive and engaging for in-person events as well.

We feature more people in our community so that students are able to recognize someone on stage who had a positive, personal impact on them. Now they see their peers up on the screen, talking about their Champlain experience, what they’re gonna miss about the college, and what they’re excited to do in the future; their professors wishing them good luck, telling them they’ll miss them, sharing their favorite memories.

Where did you display the social wall?

Our Commencement ceremony is hosted at our fairgrounds, a town over from our college. We have these five huge screens at the front of the stage. It looks really nice. And three of them showed the social wall. So the social wall was up on those screens prior to the event, running through as parents and families were sitting there waiting for their students to walk out.

A photo shot from the back of the Commencement ceremony, showing students in gowns walking down the aisle towards the stage while families look on. At the front, on the stage, 5 screens are up, three of which are showing the social wall.
Champlain College 2022 Commencement (source: Champlain College)

The wall is also embedded on the homepage of our Commencement website. It’s where people go to find information or watch the ceremony live, and the social wall is featured front and center.

You added Direct Posts for your Commencement wall this year. Why do you love that feature?

The QR code was amazing and really upped our engagement. Social media is hard for some people, especially our older generations. So with that QR code — which can be difficult for some people too, but if a family member is sitting next to them, they can help them — they just have to scan it and upload a photo of the student who’s graduating.

Do you feel like you got more content this way from people who may not have a social media account from which to share photos?

Yes, absolutely. In the past, we have had an article on our Commencement website that explained the different ways you could get featured on the wall. We were inviting people to email us their photos if they didn’t have social media accounts, which we would then upload as Native Posts. But on the day of the event, that created a lot of havoc trying to coordinate that. So this time, we did not give email as an option and just said: “Use this QR code to upload content directly to the wall. You don’t need a social media account to do so.”

The QR code really helped us not have to manually upload Native Posts. For example, we run a series where parents can submit photos of the students when they were kids, first-day-of-school photos, and things like that. And those go to my colleague who works in a different department at our college. So, normally, I would have to take all that content and upload it through Native Posts. But now, my colleague can use the QR code and upload the content themselves. That workflow is just so much easier.

How did you promote the wall and the Direct Posts feature?

We had the QR code on our printed program that everyone was handed when they walked into the room and used the QR code in social media posts to encourage people to participate.

Instagram post by Champlain College prominently featuring the #ChampGrad hashtag in the photo. The caption explains the various ways people can post to the social wall, including a paragraph for those who don’t have private social media accounts, explaining how they can use the QR code to post directly to the wall.
Source: Instagram

We started showing the wall on the Commencement website about three or four weeks before the event and drove traffic there. We were also doing a lot of social promotion leading up to Commencement, asking people to already share their photos with the hashtag #ChampGrad so that they could be featured on the wall.

Your wall is on manual moderation. How much work goes into that?

We had a staff member who was at home during Commencement, and they were watching the live-stream and approving the posts so that the people on the ground did not have to do that.

In retrospect, do you think it was necessary to be on manual moderation?

From a brand standpoint, yes. Just having that manual moderation is important. Because the screens are huge, and if something did end up there that we didn’t want up there, better we saw it before it happened.

Do you have any favorite posts that were shared this year that knocked it out of the park for you?

My favorite user-generated series of posts was from a graduating senior, DJ Miller, who was also my social media intern. They did a great job using their personal Instagram to share #ChampGrad photos and achievements related to the end of the semester that flowed through to the social wall. A great opportunity to showcase friends and people at Champlain who had a positive impact on them.

Instagram post by user dejatmiller thanking some people for hosting senior week. The photo (one of a few in a carousel) shows a group of people posing for the camera in a bowling hall.
Source: Instagram

How has the adoption of social walls at Champlain College changed over the years?

The more we use the wall, year after year, the more it becomes a staple of our ceremony. I feel people may be a little wary of social walls at first. “What does that even mean? Why do we need it? How are we going to use it?” And now it’s something that people look forward to incorporating in our ceremony, which I think is awesome.

So I just want to continue to show how much engagement we’re getting and all the fun ways it can involve parents, families, and students. And it really gets people excited to see themselves up on the screen.

I think more people are now likely to use the hashtag because we’ve been using it outwardly and consistently for about three or four years. So I feel like the more we put it in front of people’s faces, the more they recognize it and use it.

Have you noticed that it works better for Commencement than other things?

We did try it for orientation for a couple of years. I think the reason it works better for Commencement is that it’s a population of people who have been within the college environment for four years and have a lot of photos to share related to that. They can share photos from their first year and other memories.

In contrast, first-years and their parents are sharing things on social media related to moving into college and having that experience. They’re not quite tuned in yet to what our hashtags are, how to tag us, and why it even makes sense to tag us in things. So I think by the time people become seniors, they understand more of why a social wall is an exciting thing to have.

We include the hashtag in all of the Commencement emails that go out, encouraging them to use the hashtag. We also do a few different social media campaigns leading up to Commencement. For example, we do a first year/last year series where we post a comparison photo of the student from their last year and their first year, which is quite hilarious. That content helps feed the social wall but is also generally great content on our social channels.

Instagram post by Champlain College from the Last Year/First Year series. The photo from the carousel shows a student (DJ Miller) with curly hair and a plaid shirt holding up the university plaque. The photo is labelled as “Last Year”. The caption shows a quote by DJ about how they’ve grown during their time at Champlain.
Source: Instagram

This year, because we were doing so much in person again, we took advantage of a lot of the opportunities that were happening on campus — things related to the past year, Commencement, and end-of-school type stuff — to gather content that we could then either use on social media, which would filter through to the wall, or just upload to the wall directly.

So, for example, we have a graduation fair, and we set up a photo booth so students could take photos, and we could, too. We then had photos of dozens of students we could feature on the wall.

Instagram post by Champlain College from the lead-up to Commencement. The photo shows three students posing in front of a golden glittery curtain. They’re holding up props and grinning at the camera. The copy is promoting the Commencement ceremony.
Source: Instagram

Do you have any plans to reuse user-generated content you collect?

We definitely repost user-generated content to our social media channels, for example, when we’re tagged in something. If someone tags us in a beautiful campus photo or sunset photo — we are living right on a lake — then we will often reach out to them via social media and be like: “Hey, do you mind sharing these photos with us? We’d love to use them in marketing materials.”

Instagram post by Champlain College titled ‘Burlington’s “it” photo’. The photo shows a deep-red-and-orange sunset with purple clouds over the lake. The photo is credited to Alex Christian, a Filmmaking major, class of '25.
Source: Instagram

And then those photos are sometimes used in printed materials. We use them on our news blog and website, probably more often than in printed materials. But yes, we use them as much as we can. Or if we see a student talking on social media about a certain experience that they had, and they’ve got some great quotes, I reach out to them and ask: “Can we use these quotes in the future? Or can we interview you, because you seem like you have some awesome experiences to share?”

Instagram post part of Champlain College’s alumni series. The video still shows a smiling student and reads “Meet Nyjah”.
Source: Instagram

If there’s anything you could wish for regarding social walls and UGC, what would that be?

I guess just more of it. I wish we could collect more and get more people tagging us in things and using our hashtags. Some students just want to have their own personal social media posts and not involve the college in them. And that’s okay.

So I think it’s more a case of building our brand, making those hashtags known, and letting people know when to use them and why. People might not necessarily understand that if they use a hashtag, their post could be used in marketing materials; that it could get their artwork and their nice photos even more traction.

Our takeaways

I mentioned right at the beginning that I love follow-up showcases because we can learn so much from looking at what customers have learned over the years of using social walls in their specific field or industry. Using a social wall over a longer period of time, allows you to test what works and optimise your workflows.

Learning over time

One thing Champlain College worked out over time was that social walls and hashtags work really well for some events but not so much for others. For example, a social wall has turned out to be a better fit for graduation events than welcome events, and for a good reason.

Students who have been at a university for four years are already involved with the university’s events and promotions, while incoming students don’t have that kind of exposure yet. Yes, you can send stuff out with the welcome packets, and many universities do just that, successfully. But graduating students are much easier to reach and target for hashtag use.

Furthermore, people also need time to get used to a social wall and hashtags. That doesn’t happen overnight, but after a year or two, adoption of even social walls gets a lot better.

If you only try using a social wall for one event, and it doesn’t work, so you ditch it again, you’re not really giving it a chance to work. Maybe you need to change how you display or promote the wall. Or maybe you need to try it for a different event, where it’ll fit better. Or, maybe, you just need to give your community time to adjust.

Work smarter, not harder, with Direct Posts

Champlain also discovered that our recently released Direct Posts feature could make things easier for the team. Where previously they had to upload photos they received via email as Native Posts, they could now simply share the QR code and show people how to upload their posts directly to the wall without going through any social media networks first.

This feature makes social walls far more inclusive, as people who may not be on social media or not comfortable sharing on social media can also participate. It is also a very good idea to explain how it works on Instagram or the website like Champlain College did.

With Direct Posts, colleagues in other departments can also directly upload content they have collected at events, rather than having to send them to the marketing team, who would then upload them as Native Posts. It cuts down on time and processes for everyone involved.

Speaking of events, collecting visual content by planning little campaigns and events in advance of Commencement was a really smart way to make sure there was already content that could be uploaded to the wall before the event. It prevents a glaringly empty social wall when an event starts and makes it easier for people to start posting.

Time is your friend

Overall, remember that time works wonders. People get used to social walls; they start to expect them, even. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not seeing quite the success and engagement you were hoping for in your first year. Stick with it. Figure out what you need to modify. Do you need to promote more or add Direct Posts to make it easier for people to contribute? What can you do to establish a hashtag in your community beyond specific events? Trust, adjust, and engagement will come.

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Source featured image: Champlain College