#Winning on social: #Cashtag conversation

Michigan State University

Social experiment: Facebook Photo contest


The idea: To show the positive side of financial aid, Michigan State held a contest that asked students to share a photo of an experience that would not have been possible had they not received aid. Ten students won $500 each.

Result: “We put it out there and had 200 photos within six hours,” says Chandra Owen, training coordinator in the office of financial aid. “There was a lot of study abroad, and one of a girl who had younger siblings and they’re holding hands. The caption said, ‘I’m able to be a positive role model for my younger sisters.’ ” The inspiring stories caught the attention of the entire school community and were even shared with donors.

Florida Gulf Coast University

Social experiment: Live Twitter chat


The idea: Financial aid administrators hosted “Social Media Office Hours” on Twitter, using the hashtag #AskFGCUFinAid.

Result: “We were surprised at the success and how engaged our students became with our office, with approximately 50 interactions per session,” says Jorge Lopez, the university’s director of financial aid and scholarships. Campaigns such as the live chats have helped build a following that powers other initiatives— including getting over 1,200 students to register for an Iontuition account to schedule tuition payments.

SUNY Cobleskill

Social experiment: YouTube channel: Financial Aid Unplugged

The idea: Louise Biron, director of financial aid, taught herself (with the help of her son, a student at the university) to use animation software to develop and promote 21 original YouTube videos in the past year. A video parody of “Uptown Funk”—that tells students “Don’t Default on Your Loans”—received media coverage and accolades from NASFAA. “We had students on campus volunteer to be in it, and had a lot of fun with that one.”

Result: The videos have been viewed almost 20,000 times (not bad for a school with an enrollment of 2,400). Biron hopes her initial success will earn her additional funding and resources.

University of Missouri

Social experiment: #FreeMoneyFriday on Twitter


The idea: When the financial aid office moved out of its building for a remodel, administrators didn’t have a place to post scholarships, so they did it online. “We quickly found that our social media reach was far greater than what we had with the traditional bulletin board in the hall,” says Nicholas Prewett, director of financial aid.

Result: After the first Friday, when Prewitt says they picked up 100 new Twitter followers, each week has brought more. “We’ve had staff go to financial aid nights and hear students or counselors say, ‘Hey, you do that #FreeMoneyFriday—we love to follow those,’ ” says Prewitt. “Once we know we have them following us, then we know that they can get our other messages.”


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