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At the onset of the pandemic, as Zoom and other remote tools saw business explode in unprecedented ways, so too did the chance to engage with students digitally. During this time, campus social media managers have relied on their strengths of reaching students where they are, delivering information in timely, easy-to-consume ways and making students feel heard by responding to concerns directly and publicly. But here’s the thing about results: when we and our supervisors see great achievements, it can be tempting to believe they are attainable, if not easily replicable.

Two years ago, social media use skyrocketed, with students reporting usage jumping from two hours per day to three or more. They were an audience that was bored at home and missing their on-campus experience and connections.

But now, it seems the time has come for that long-awaited, disbelief-imbued return to normal on most campuses. And the role of communicators, including social media managers, is back to that pre-2020 capacity. While crises and unfortunate news have been and will always be a part of the job, the magnitude will be much lessened, and the balance between those and the opportunities for those “fun” posts on campus life will normalize.

In a typical academic year, students know exactly when they will be on and off campus, and communicators can adjust plans accordingly and have a reasonable expectation for dips and peaks in engagement. As students leave and return from spring break over the next few weeks, they will be cautiously optimistic about remaining on campus. They will be less isolated and less likely to turn to social spaces with previous vigor. Keeping that in mind, it’s important to develop projections for engagement that are reasonable, attainable, but, as always, still ambitious.

Students reported being happy to return to campus in fall 2021, so it’s key to remember that above all else, many students are glad to be back on campus if they feel safe. That joy may continue to be tempered by lingering pandemic concerns and pangs of sadness over lost experiences, but it’s sound advice to treat the rest of the semester as a celebratory time. The most visual platforms—Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok—are perfect for this strategy. Instagram Reels and Snapchat Stories can and should be upbeat and give students a reason to check in for cheery content. Consistently add photos to Instagram Highlights that feature students using the areas of campus they have likely missed the most over the past two years—dorms, student centers and even dining halls. Give users a reason to return to Highlights by routinely reminding them via Stories that content is regularly refreshed. The “Add Yours” Instagram sticker is one of the easiest and best ways to invite the entire campus body into participating in a conversation.

As students gather in groups both large and small, revisit your social media ambassadors and verify they still want to provide content for the institution. If it’s time to refresh your pool, making sure your diversity of content creators accurately reflects the wide spectrum of campus culture. Sharing photos of athletic events may be a surefire way to get likes and comments from boosters, students and alumni, but don’t forget those small but dedicated groups that support smaller pockets of campus activities. Numbers may be smaller on posts that address these audiences, but those populations feeling heard will build loyalty that lends itself to immeasurable dedication.

Throughout the past two years, just as students and higher education leaders became used to a particular protocol or way of learning or delivering learning, something popped up to disrupt that comfort and made flexibility a requirement for coping, much less thriving. It has been the role of communicators to relay that difficult information to audiences who understandably grew more weary with each transition but were still hungry to know. Likely, engagement rates will not return to the numbers seen at the onset of the pandemic, and perhaps not even to the levels before, when expectations were clear. But understanding where students are now and continuing to communicate to them through sound strategy that their thoughts and feelings are valued at the institution can keep them at a sustainable level.

Kylie Kinnaman is engagement strategist at TVP Communications, a national public relations agency focused on higher education.

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