Student Community Building on Forums
It’s no secret that online spaces provide students with opportunities to connect to others and build community, but do you know how often that’s happening on your campus’s Reddit page? A quick peek at your page will often reveal questions, comments, and potential concerns—all right on a public page that anyone can see. Higher ed communicators are community builders, and understanding what happens on forums could help your campus grow a stronger real-world and digital community.
What are students saying on forums?
On forums, current students rely on others to answer questions, offer advice, or vent. Students sometimes feel more comfortable contacting online communities for help (and anonymously), where they know they can find individuals willing to support them.
Some common conversation themes from current students include:
- Academic support, including advice on taking classes or preparing for exams.
- Professional support. Students turn to one another for help with career development.
- Growing their connections to others by identifying new friends and cultivating new relationships, including through clubs or organizations.
- Questions about what’s happening on campus, from programs to new buildings, or even what happened to the Sriracha in the dining hall.
When students ask others for thoughts on what’s happening on campus, they're curious about their communities. Their questions and comments help you understand what they care about and worry about.
Forums also allow multiple audiences to come together under a similar flag (i.e., a campus) and support each other—it’s not just current students helping each other. For prospective or admitted students, asking questions and receiving positive responses indicates the level of community support available from their peers and alumni. This perceived support could be a critical variable when deciding where to attend. Alumni sometimes offer support, respond to questions, and provide thoughts on their experience navigating the institution or how their education supported their career development.
Although forums are largely anonymous, there are built-in systems to help the broader community know who they’re taking advice from. Active forum members who engage positively online are rewarded with upvotes and karma, indicating they’re supportive online community members. Bad-faith actors with negative responses are voted down or even have their responses removed by established forum moderators.
Why do forum conversations matter?
What individuals say on forums is available for anyone to see. That means that your campus’s brand is on public display for anyone to read about or engage with directly, regardless of whether or not they attend your campus. A sneak peek at our most recent industry research of campus conversations shows how forum volume tends to follow the size of your campus. On average, the larger your campus, the more conversation you’ll likely find about it on forums, especially for non-athletic conversations.
Not all who frequent a forum space may always engage, but they may read what others say. Remember that your campus’s brand is primarily based on what others say. Perceptive higher education communicators may take the opportunity to see how individuals talk about their campus.
What can higher ed professionals do?
Common questions or concerns may point to a gap in available information across different areas of your campus. Are there multiple students sharing that there isn’t much to do on the weekends and that making new friends is hard? Maybe your campus’s programming areas can collaborate on free weekend programming for students wanting to connect more with their peers. Are admitted graduate students sharing that they haven’t received financial aid packets from a specific program or department? Maybe financial aid should reconsider how and when it shares information with students.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Are there common questions about your campus happening?
- Do individuals frequently share similar comments or concerns?
- Who's asking questions? Who's responding?
- What do others consider the “best” part about your campus? The “worst” part?
What can higher ed leaders do?
As campuses continue to identify and highlight their brand differentiators, a big question for higher ed leaders is, “Does my staff have the right support and resources allocated to review forum conversations and take action?” Decision-makers are important in providing resources and support for their teams to have the space and capacity to lean in and listen more. Encourage your team to work with current students through ambassador programs and student workers to help review and respond to questions or concerns they find on forums, but only if there is ample support in these efforts for both students and professionals.
If you haven’t looked at your campus’s Reddit page lately, this might be the time to start.
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