Throughout the pandemic, we’ve witnessed the growing importance of digital communities for universities and their role in fostering connection, especially when campus communities cannot convene in person. While most Higher Ed digital student communities leverage disparate tools such as Facebook Groups and GroupMe, this can both cause reputational risk to the university–as controversial content often is often prioritized in the feed–and they limit effective target messaging to micro-communities within the university. Most importantly, when student connectivity is trapped in 3rd party social networks, Admissions and Student Affairs professionals have a limited view and understanding of what prospective and enrolled students want. Not only are they creating issues for university administration, but using these third parties also limits intuitive discovery options for the resources universities offer to prospective families and existing students.
Raftr’s community-building campus platform equips your admin team with the student insights and the tools to help build a strong sense of belonging. Moving this data in-house has proven to improve student outcomes, including yield and retention.
An internal digital community can be a lifesaver to lift campus community morale. To help provide Admissions and Student Affairs leadership with insights on how to make the most of our their community-building campus platform, we asked university students to weigh in on what they find most important in their digital community technology:
1. “I’m able to contact other students that I can potentially meet and become friends with for the upcoming school year.”
One major downside to not conducting in-person classes and on-campus activities is the lack of social interaction. Think about it, since the pandemic began, students have had to adapt as campus closures flipped back and forth from in-person back to online. It is an obstacle forming friendships, especially for new or transfer students. A university community platform allows students a dedicated space to introduce themselves to others and garner connectivity.
2. “It allows me to communicate with those at my residential college easily through messaging.”
What if you live on campus this semester and lack chances to connect with your neighbors? With a Res Life digital community, help university residents interact with other students living on campus, their building, and floor. Give them the tools to make virtual introductions, discover and add events to their calendar, and bond with others in the community.
3. “The ability to have a central place to communicate with people that I likely would not have spoken to in person.”
Through digital connectivity, students broaden their social opportunities to network and interact with a wide range of students with whom they might not have crossed paths on campus. Subgroup chats and designated pages provide even more possibilities to meet people around the campus community.
4. “It provides easy accessibility to events that are occurring. I am also able to easily browse for clubs and organizations.”
A digital community showcases all the events and activities you have going on campus-wide in an easily accessible and visibly engaging format. Students can filter topics and export upcoming events to their calendars to make it a much more streamlined process to locate and track events that they want to attend in the future. The community also empowers student involvement by inviting clubs and organizations to form dedicated group pages to promote to new and current students looking to participate and help them find student-organized clubs that they want to contact and join.
5. “I like that it makes my school feel more open and community-focused. It helps me connect to like-minded people in my school.”
With a dynamic community platform for higher ed students, you can give students opportunities to meet other students outside of the classroom. Whether students are gamers on Twitch or have a passion for photography with portfolios on Instagram, students can find other peers who have similar interests and hobbies. The online aspect makes it easier to search for those individuals who want to talk shop.
6. “I like how quick upper year students are to respond to first year students seeking help and guidance.”
The first year of college is already a life-changing transition that comes with an abundance of new changes. With the added obstacle of the pandemic, how can you help first-year students develop a sense of belonging at this time? Utilize your campus influencers, the experts, aka your upperclassmen students. Through channels and complementary student resource guides offer sources of peer mentorship support interconnecting all student members to strengthen campus solidarity.
7. “I like that it gives all students a chance to connect before the year starts. It’s nice because organizing chats on other platforms isn’t possible for everyone!”
Instead of balancing multiple external social platforms or enduring the reputational risk of a social media platform to connect your campus, opt for a secure, authenticated digital community platform. This setup guarantees that only campus members can access this exclusive community through single sign-on with your university email address or special sign-up code.
8. “Being able to connect with all students in your year all in a convenient and accessible way. I have made many new friends since joining and it has helped me network with my school.”
Students within the same class year have a lot of shared experiences, from first-year students who are beginning their university career during the pandemic while graduating students are completing their college career during this unprecedented time. The digital community maintains subcommunities of students by graduating year and gives them the hub to socialize with one another at their leisure.
Helpful University Resources & Crowdsourcing
9. “It is a great way to have quick access to lots of people in emergency situations or situations that concern the whole campus.”
Maintaining constant access to campuswide announcements and up-to-date information is essential in a university environment. Custom notification features such as pinned announcements on the Home page, emails, and push notifications for mobile app users, provide a variety of offerings to distribute high-priority messages across your community when needed most.
10. “It allows for easy communication between peers and leaders as well as providing useful information from other students asking questions and getting helpful answers.”
In addition to student connection, a digital community platform for higher ed provides a central outlet for staff and leaders to communicate with students. In situations where students have questions for leadership or Student Affairs and faculty want to distribute information, a digital community enables omni-channel communication to support outreach for both scenarios.
11. “The chat feature is a great way to have questions answered and gain information that isn’t found online.”
Students appreciate and in some cases demanding real-time support, and although your website is an incredible source of essential information, it can be limited to supporting in-depth answers. Offering chat capabilities equip students with the tools to gain a deeper understanding and take advantage of the multitude of student resources available to them.
Faculty & Staff Support
12. “I like that I can communicate to all of my coworkers through the same app or method of communication.”
A digital community for higher ed goes beyond classroom connection. It even supports staff collaboration and productivity. Dedicated channels, private group messages, and direct messages securely designate an online space for staff to connect and work as a team no matter the location.