The marketing tactics C&U operators are using now

Lisa White, Associate Editor

college students walking

When it comes to using social media to garner feedback or market dining options to students, staying ahead of the latest trends is all but essential. In a recent poll conducted by The Creative Group, 400 U.S. executives were asked which trends they expect to have the greatest effect on their advertising and marketing efforts next year. Not surprisingly, answers like videos and influencer marketing ranked high on the list. FoodService Director took a page from those findings and asked C&U dining teams which marketing approaches are capturing students’ attention this year, and what their focus will be in 2018. 

Keep videos snappy


Videos continue to be a big hit on social media this year, and keeping them short and sweet will be a focus in the next. “People like that five-second kind of update,” says Jim Meinecke, residential dining coordinator at Penn State Food Services. Behind-the-scene videos have been very popular with students at the State College, Pa., school, he says, as have short recipe videos similar to Buzzfeed’s Tasty videos.

Robert Flynn, a new media coordinator who runs social media for Boston University’s dining program, also praises Tasty-style videos, and suggests that video content on social be under a minute. Flynn has seen success using video to promote menu items and events, such as BU’s annual lobster night, which he hyped up with a video showing how to break down a lobster on Facebook. The video, which clocked in at 60 seconds, garnered 5,300 views and over 70 shares. By comparison, the second-most popular video on the dining team's Facebook page netted only 456 views.

Take a big-picture approach

instagram engagement

Though students are keeping an eye on social media, they’re not always commenting or sharing, which can make measuring ROI on those channels a challenge. As such, Rob Staggenborg, a marketing manager with Bon Appetit at Washington University in St. Louis, says his team measures social media video ROI based on a combination of views, likes and shares. Staggenborg says he’s seen “impressive engagement” with Instagram as well, especially with the platform’s story feature, and says it will be a big part of the dining team’s social media plan this year.

Flynn notes a similar lack of commenting at Boston University. Knowing which platforms students actually spend time on is one way he helps maximize engagement, adding that if students aren’t using a certain channel, he doesn’t bother using it, either. 

Let students do the ‘talking’

students talking

Meinecke works with a campus group that lets students studying public relations apply to run the dining team’s social media marketing. The students meet with Meinecke weekly and pitch marketing ideas, create press releases, run events and manage social media accounts. And since the content creators are within the target audience as well, they have a strong pulse on what sorts of posts will resonate.

Flynn drives home the importance of user-generated content, making sure to retweet, tag and share posts by students. He's met with campus influencers, from student groups to popular YouTubers who attend BU, to share ideas and pick their brains. “It’s very important in marketing for dining that you reach out to students, you talk to them, you get ideas from them and you feed off of each other,” Flynn says. 

Give engagement a nudge

phone giveaway

Meinecke and his team use giveaways to drive interaction, employing a popular #MealPassMonday hashtag to give away meal cards to students who both follow the account on Twitter and share the post. These tweets get significantly more retweets and likes than other posts from the dining department’s Twitter account, and giveaways on Instagram have led to an increase in followers as well. 

Go the extra mile

twitter coffee

Listening to students and responding with what Flynn calls the small stuff goes a long way. Recently a student tweeted a photo on her way to class and expressed her disappointment that her coffee from dining services was full of grounds. Flynn responded and met the student at her classroom with a fresh cup. Speed is essential when engaging with students, he says, as is monitoring accounts as much as possible, and not just during typical office hours. “If you’re doing social media nine to five, you’re doing it wrong,” he says. 

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