Summer is almost here, which means a quick break for #HESM folks, right? Well, maybe a quick mental break, but many of us have summer orientation, summer classes, and planning for the fall semester, not to mention the ongoing and ever-changing COVID communications as the vaccine keeps rolling out across the globe. If you work in Higher Ed, I sincerely hope you get a chance to relax and decompress—at least for a few days. The #HigherEd social media community is full of amazing people doing great work every year, but especially in 2020 and so far, 2021, too.
First off, we hope everyone at Ole Miss is safe and staying healthy, but we’d like to know how COVID has affected the university’s in-person classes, athletics, and student activities?
Webb Lewis: It affected us in the same ways we saw it take on Higher Ed across the country. Classes switched to online and then as the fall came around we were able to offer in-person elements for a large portion of courses and expanded that even more in the spring. This coming fall we will be wide open. Athletics dealt with capacity issues this past fall and into spring but were able to finish out baseball season with a full stadium of fans. While all aspects were impacted by COVID, I think the student activities took the biggest hit. Our units on campus did an amazing job providing different opportunities throughout the year both virtual and socially distanced but those freshman students were not able to get as plugged into campus as they normally would have been. That is why this coming year is going to be amazing. We essentially have our incoming freshman class that will be out getting involved and our sophomore class doing the same thing because they missed so much the year before. I can’t wait to have them all back. They really do bring this campus to life.
Social Media Ambassadors & Ole Miss
Could you tell me more about Social Media Ambassador Program at Ole Miss?
Webb Lewis: Working with our Social Media Ambassadors is my favorite thing about my job. When I took over social media a few years back we had two student workers who helped with content writing for the channels. We will now enter the fall with 30 SMAs. We have them stationed all over campus. Some will work out of our shop helping create content for the main accounts, while others are embedded with admissions, the band, health center, study abroad, the schools, etc.
This group brings much more than simply being content creators. These students are our boots on the ground. They help us with language, timing and trends. They also keep me from showing my age on platforms like TikTok (first platform that has made me feel incredibly old). Our accounts have grown astronomically over the past few years and it is 100 percent because of the hard work these students have put into our channels.
How do you select students to become ambassadors and is it for the entire academic year?
Webb Lewis: At the end of the semester we open the SMA application and promote it on our channels with hopes to have the coming semester all set so when the time comes we can hit the ground running. It is a semester-long position, but more times than not, the students like to stay for as many semesters as they can. Originally, we only accepted applications from students in our journalism or integrated marketing communications programs. That actually has become more flexible over time as we have found that content creators come from all disciplines.
Are student ambassadors paid or rewarded? What are the expectations?
Webb Lewis: The position is unpaid but the students are given the opportunity to earn a three hour, 300 level elective credit for completing a semester as an SMA. In order to do that, they must commit to 10-12 hours a week. The scheduling is flexible and rarely the same from week to week because they may be asked to attend an event that takes place outside of working hours.
Would you say that the student ambassador program has been successful? How do you measure success?
Webb Lewis: It has been very successful. Measuring that success can come in a few different ways for us. We can lean into the metrics, although most of which would be considered vanity metrics. For me, I like to talk to the students on campus about our accounts. I am able to get in front of most of our freshman classes each fall to speak to them about the do’s and don’ts of social media. I always use some of that time to see how they feel about our accounts. I also depend on our SMAs to be brutally honest when they come in each semester to give me a good understanding of how our accounts are being received on campus. It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows but more times than not, if there is an issue, it is the SMAs that help identify it and then also rectify it.
Other than ambassadors, do you have student interns per college, or is it all centralized under university marketing and communications?
Webb Lewis: So as I mentioned earlier, we are now beginning to place SMAs at other departments and schools across campus. We open up general applications, my team interviews candidates and then decides where they will be the best fit. We then take them through some workshops to better prepare them for the external position. After they are in place, we continue to have weekly check-ins with the student to make sure they have all the resources they need to be successful. We also want to make sure that they are learning in the position, not just blindly creating content.
How do you see the ambassador program staying effective? Do you need to make changes, stay on top of trends, or offer incentives?
Webb Lewis: The students will always keep us on top of trends. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been woken up late at night by our SMA text thread by my students telling me something like “Webb, you’ve got to post this picture now with this caption. It will blow up!” Sometimes, I have to say no, but more times than not, I trust the team and I’ve yet to be disappointed.
As for changes, up to this point, we have not hired skill specific SMAs such as designers, videographers or photographers. I see this as a path we may begin to move towards in the future. The need for these types of content on social will always be paramount and having a team that can help in this space would be huge for us moving forward.
About Webb Lewis:
Webb Lewis has been working in higher education for 11 years and currently serves as the Assistant Director, Marketing & Brand Strategy/Social Media for the University of Mississippi. In addition to developing and curating the social media content calendar, Webb also is responsible for carrying out the university’s strategy across all social channels, monitoring engagement and acting as the liaison between his shop and social media coordinators across campus. He also teaches social media marketing class for the school of journalism at Ole Miss.
Webb holds a Bachelor’s in Multi-Disciplinary Studies and a Master’s in Higher Education as well as a Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications, all from the University of Mississippi.