Kimberly Stern (right) takes time for a selfie with a fan during the first home football game at Canvas Stadium in 2017. Also pictured is Jen Smith (left), now with CSU System. Photo: CSU Photography
Life during the time of coronavirus means more people are staying at home and are online for longer periods of time, every day. Verizon noted an increase in web traffic of 22%, and an increase in virtual private network usage of 25%, during the middle of March.
Kimberly Stern, director of social and digital media for Colorado State University, shares her thoughts about the “new normal,” what apps she is currently using, and what to watch for in the weeks to come.
Q: Given the current pandemic and call for public distancing, more people are connecting online in ways that they hadn’t before. What tools or programs do you like to use to stay connected at work and also on the personal side of life?
Stern: I’ve appreciated that CSU has adopted Microsoft Teams. Having that information technology infrastructure has helped me transition easily from working in-person to working remotely. From a professional standpoint, it’s been helpful, just like how we’re conducting this interview right now via Teams.
From a personal standpoint, I’ve been using FaceTime much more. I’ve found myself actually picking up the phone and talking with family, friends and colleagues. It’s been a pleasant change of pace. I’m also trying out an app called Marco Polo, where you can send video messages to friends over the Internet. You can send video messages which are stored on the cloud so they’re not taking up room on your devices.
Q: How has the realm of social media changed over the last few weeks, and what, if any, new trends or behaviors are you observing?
Stern: People are seeking out more information because there’s so much uncertainty. They are looking online for answers because there are so many questions. We’ve seen up to 30% increase in reach and impressions of the information that we’re posting from CSU, and that’s particularly true for the university’s Instagram stories. That platform is a spot where students go for information from the University, including major announcements like moving classes online and the university going virtual.
Video: Ashley Manweiler/CSU
Q: How have your team’s priorities shifted in recent weeks?
Stern: As a team, we direct our content strategy in a way in which we lead with empathy, provide critical information, and foster a sense of community. These principles have always been at the heart of what we do.
Now, more than ever, we are providing a place for people to connect and to receive information from CSU in a timely manner. We are focused on providing critical updates from the university, resources and encouragement for our community to keep teaching and keep learning, and sharing stories from and about the Ram family.
Social media is also still a spot where people can vent their frustrations because there is a lot going on. We will provide feedback and ask questions. That’s what social media is all about.
Q: What’s your rule of thumb for managing work and your use of online platforms?
Stern: Working remotely doesn’t mean working 24/7. It’s important to give yourself permission to take breaks, go outside and take a walk.
For me, at the end of my work day, I put my phone down so that I can focus on my kids and my family. Because if I’m always on my phone or glued to my computer, I’m missing out on being with them.
Q: What new content should we watch for from Team Social in the months to come?
Stern: Anything is possible. I’ve enjoyed seeing musical performances, workouts, painting and art demonstrations online and can certainly see opportunities to showcase the ingenuity and brilliance of the CSU community via a digital experience. Social media will always be a place for people to connect with the university during a time when we can’t connect in person.
We’re alone… together. At its core, social media is all about creating meaningful human connections delivered in a digital context. Social distancing does not mean social isolation.
Q: What trends or content ideas have you seen so far from other universities and colleges?
Stern: I have to give a shoutout to the Higher Education Social Media (HESM) community, which includes social media managers from institutions around the world. These are my “peeps” because everyone is in the same boat.
We are all communicating big changes that are coming to campuses, and the significant impacts on students, staff and faculty. My team is leaning into the HESM community to get ideas and inspiration, and for best practices for communicating during this unprecedented time.
The University of Nebraska Lincoln has started a virtual high five among its fans. Other universities are sharing photos of campus and encouraging their fans to use those photos as Zoom background for their desktop or mobile devices. The photos serve as little reminders of campus, since we can’t be there in real life. And that’s what social does exceptionally well.