by Meg Nugent Dwyer
Tweets and retweets. Updates, likes and comments. #Hashtags and check-ins.
There’s only one way to understand the language of social media: Lean in, hold
on tight and don’t be afraid to be social.
At Saint Martin’s University, students aren’t the only ones who know the
difference between a tweet and a retweet, a reply and a like, or the various
nuances of hashtags.
These days, Saint Martin's president and members of the administration are
navigating their own Twitter accounts, as are faculty and staff members who are
recognizing the trend that students are much less likely to communicate via
standard emails than they are via tweets, Facebook and other forms of social
"A tweet is a very simple thing but you can
reach large numbers of people that are normally not imaginable
for a small university like ours," Hendricks says.
"I wanted to start using Twitter because our students don't always check the
University webpage and they don't check their email, so, how are we supposed to
be in contact with them?" says Nicole Phillips, executive assistant to the dean
of the University's School of Business.
"But even though I knew I needed to learn how to use Twitter, I was a little
afraid of it," she confesses. "That's why I'm glad the Social
Squad is here."
As envisioned by Saint Martin's Web Manager Carl Lew, the Social Squad is a
band of savvy students the Office of Marketing and Communications started
employing in 2011 to help strengthen the University’s presence and brand on
social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Foursquare. In
recent months, the Social Squad has been reaching out to the Saint Martin's
community in efforts to educate it about the how-tos of social media. The
students' goal is to encourage professors, staff members and administrators to
become more comfortable with social media so they will use it themselves to
interact with the student body.
"The Social Squad is cutting-edge among smaller universities that are getting
involved with social media. The fact that most cabinet members at Saint Martin's
have their own Twitter accounts says a lot about the willingness to experiment
with media and communication, both from the top down and the bottom up," says
Chadd Bennett, director of research and publications for the Independent
Colleges of Washington, an association of 10 private, non-profit colleges in the
state. "Some of our member institutions that are dipping their toes in social
media are asking to be connected to Saint Martin’s so they can get advice on how
to use social media."
The Social Squad has been providing a picture of Saint Martin's to
prospective students by using their own voices as current students, a
perspective the University is unable to provide through its more traditional
marketing materials, says Lew, who oversees the squad of 12 students, which has
included tweeters, bloggers and, more recently, videographers.
"It goes to presenting a more genuine view of what it's like to be a student
here because it's from the student perspective," Lew says. "The Squad provides
an alternate way of looking at SMU and it also provides more of that authentic
conversation, another form of engagement between current students, as well as
According to Matthew Hankins, a sophomore and squad member, "When you are
checking out a school as a potential student, you want to see what other
students who are already enrolled there are saying about it, and that's what we
"There's a whole generation of students, say aged 15-25, who don't embrace
email because they haven't been in a work setting yet where they have had to use
email, and receiving anything through snail mail is before their time," says
Alex Hendricks, a junior and the unofficial "Boss of the Social Squad,"
according to the handwritten sign perched on a desk on the Old Main office he
shares with his fellow squad members and Lew. "Social media is the preferred
medium for prospective students right now, and communicating with them in their
preferred medium can give Saint Martin's an edge."
Besides, Hendricks adds, "If we're not on social media, it's a mark against
us. If a prospective student tries to find Saint Martin's via social media and
we're not on Twitter and we have no Facebook or Instagram account, that student
will think, 'Social media is the main way I communicate, so why doesn't this
school have any social media?'"
The squad members have come a long way since their initial efforts to tweet
and blog about their personal experiences as students at Saint Martin's. Last
fall, for example, they were able to significantly enhance Saint Martin's
profile by generating tweets that reached more than 192,000 Twitter accounts
following the squad's ongoing social media coverage of the University's 2012
Plus, social media is very cost efficient. "It costs nothing," says Social
Squad member Stephen Mahnken, a sophomore, "and people using social media are
constantly checking it for updates. As long as Saint Martin's is on social
media, people are going to be seeing what's happening at the University."
Lew is especially proud of the squad's successful strategy to fill more seats
at a Saints winter basketball game. Within a few hours of a request from
Athletics for help in finding ways to encourage more students to attend the
game, squad members seized on the idea of organizing a "Harlem Shake" event for
halftime entertainment. They generated excitement through tweets and Facebook
messages that invited students to take part in Saint Martin's official version
of the Internet meme.
"Just a few emails were sent and no fliers were posted anywhere; it was all
communicated through Twitter and Facebook about when students should show up,"
Lew recalls. "The students arrived, ready to go, in costumes they made on their
own, and the stands were full at halftime — it was one of the best attended
basketball games we've had in a while."
To maintain this momentum, the Social Squad has been taking steps to ensure
the entire Saint Martin's community understands not only the importance of
social media as a marketing tool but as a communication tool they can
incorporate into their daily routine.
"We realized we can't have a strong social media presence externally if
there's not a strong social media presence internally," says Lew.
To that end, Hendricks and Mahnken have been demystifying the likes of
Twitter and Facebook through a series of workshops the Social Squad has hosted
on the Lacey campus. So far, they have conducted workshops with University
President Roy F. Heynderickx, Ph.D., and cabinet members, as well as with some
faculty and staff members. Mahnken has also made presentations about Twitter and
other forms of social media to his business communications class.
The president says Twitter is a medium he can easily embrace. "I believe in
brevity, and Twitter works with my particular style because you are limited to
140 characters," says Heynderickx. "If you can't say what you want to say in 140
characters, it's really not worth saying."
Hendricks likes to start his workshops by helping attendees set up their own
Twitter or Facebook accounts. "For a lot of people," he says, "that's the
biggest hurdle to get over because it signifies taking that first big step to
getting to know social media."
Next, he teaches the basics — how to tweet, how to like a person’s Facebook
status, how to retweet, reply or post an image.
The Social Squad has established office hours two days a week for people to
stop by with questions or concerns they may have about various types of social
media. Squad members are also known to conduct workshops "on the fly" for
learners who feel they need the help.
"We want to foster the idea that the whole school can come and ask us about
social media, not only for professional use, but for personal use, as well," Lew
In addition, the Social Squad is in the final stages of producing its "Social
Media Starter Packet," a tutorial for the Saint Martin’s community that provides
step-by-step with Hankins' help guidance on social media use, as well as a
glossary of social media terms.
"During the workshops, there is always so much information coming at people.
It can be overwhelming. With the packet, they don't have to worry about
forgetting what they have learned because it's all written down for them to
refer back to," says squad member Brooke Sanchez, a sophomore.
"The packet is designed to lower the stress and fear associated with learning
The squad hopes the starter packet will help dispel another misconception
about social media, Sanchez says. "People think social media is a bit trivial or
they think of it as the newest craze that won't stick around. Well, it's been
around for several years already and it’s getting bigger all the time. That's
why it makes sense to learn how to use it."