Financial Aid in a Hashtag World, 2:30 - 3:30 pm

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

Students do nearly everything online these days, so it’s a no-brainer that they expect to be able to communicate with offices on campus – including the financial aid office – via social media. In this Tuesday session, a panel of financial aid professionals shared their experiences connecting with students and parents on social media, and how financial aid offices can expand and improve their social media practices to engage with and better inform students.

During the session, presenters shared a number of statistics that might come as a surprise to financial aid professionals, including:

  • More than half of high school seniors are using Facebook to research colleges;
  • 96 percent of 18-29 year olds expect their college to be on Facebook, 80 percent expect it to be on Twitter, and 55 percent expect to find an Instagram account;
  • 11 percent of social media users expect a response to a direct complaint within minutes, while 40 percent expect one within hours, and more than 50 percent expect a response within 24 hours;
  • Still, a significant amount of users – nearly one quarter – do not expect a response at all.

Chadra Owen of Michigan State University (MSU) explained how the financial aid office utilizes several different social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, and others – to engage with students and parents. Through Facebook, the office shares events and reminders, embeds instructional videos, and shares articles. For context, 87 percent of adults between 18 and 29 use Facebook, according to the Pew Research Center. Similarly, the office shares events and reminders on Twitter, but the interaction with students is more conversational than on Facebook, which is more strictly informational, Owen said.

MSU has also developed an instant answer service, Ask Sparty, which could be compared to Yahoo! Answers, but for financial aid. Students are able to type in their questions – such as how much tuition costs, or how to apply for financial aid – and find answers immediately.

Sylvia Martinez and Nicole Callahan shared their experience using social media at Colorado State University’s financial aid office. The financial aid office operates a main Facebook page geared toward students, and a separate page for parents and families, in addition to a Twitter account. Much like MSU, Colorado State University uses Facebook to share events and reminders with students and parents, and uses Twitter to engage more directly.

Liz Gross, social media and market research strategist for Great Lakes, shared different strategies for engaging with students and responding to concerns and complaints. Great Lakes maintains an online reputation management system, which monitors thousands of different websites for mentions of the company. Since January 2013, the system has picked up more than 14,000 mentions, Gross said, about 10 percent of which were negative. The system also allows Great Lakes to produce weekly summaries that can be sent to key stakeholders. Gross said Great Lakes also fosters engagement with students by starting conversations early, answering all questions, concerns, and inquiries, and proactively responding to mentions that don’t directly tag Great Lakes.


Publication Date: 7/12/2016

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