Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September: Ideas for Creating a Social Media Strategy

Social media is undoubtedly important for financial education programs.

Why should financial education programs use social media? At the UNL Student Money Management Center we use social media for 4 main reasons:
  1. To disseminate financial education in a format that is extremely relevant to today's college student.
  2. To build our brand - our image around campus. Branding activities have been shown to increase our one-on-one session participation, the number of event/workshop requests we receive, and the number of partnerships we have with other University programs and organizations.
  3. To create brand ambassadors - students who promote our services and share our financial education posts across their own social media channels.
  4. To promote our own events, and also to promote the events put on by other University groups. These simple promotions help us build stronger campus relationships that result in more opportunities for us to reach students through partnering on events and other financial education activities.
This summer when we started forming our current social media strategy, we asked ourselves these questions:

Who exactly is our audience, or do we have more than one audience?
We determined we have 5 audiences on Facebook: our students, the parents of our students, faculty & staff members, other financial educators from various organizations, and financial professionals in the local community.

What image do we want to convey?
We knew we wanted to support our current brand, which we determined can appeal to all 5 audiences.

Do we need to create our own content?

There are hundreds of great financial education resources out there, but we have never had luck with social media users taking the time to click on links to access those resources. Thus, we determined we did need to create our own financial education images - pictures that will grab attention, quickly disseminate tidbits of financial education, and that users will want to share on their own social media channels.

We knew we needed to come up with entertaining formats for our financial education tidbits. Boring copy writing is a waste of time. Thus, we developed several social media campaign ideas, including Money Black Holes and Money Secrets.

What third-party resources will we use? 

We decided to supplement our own content with content from, LearnVest, Dave Ramsey, and other entertaining personal finance websites.

When should we post? 

Through market research we determined it would be okay to post once or twice every day without running the risk of becoming "annoying" and losing fans.

Who should be responsible for our social media channels?  
Developing and executing social media campaigns takes a lot of time and patience. Thus, all SMMC representatives take part in social media tasks.

So far our Fall 2013 social media campaign is very successful. One of our posts was shared on the main University social media channels, which resulted in over 6,000.

We will continue to execute our social media campaign throughout the semester and see what results we achieve, as well as determine how we can improve our social media strategy for next semester.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

August: The Importance of Branding

Branding is important, especially for college financial education programs. A brand, or an organization’s image, helps students recognize that a financial education program and the program representatives are knowledgeable and understanding. The University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL) Student Money Management Center (SMMC) has found success with building a program brand that includes the aforementioned elements, as well relevance, fun, and approachability.

Market research helped determine that UNL students perceived financial education as not relevant to their lives and boring, and financial educators as unapproachable. Thus, the SMMC focused on building a powerful brand that would position the program as relevant, fun, and approachable. Other motives for building a brand were increasing credibility among the University and state-wide community in order to gain more program partnerships and media exposures to order to support UNL recruitment efforts.

The UNL SMMC focused heavily on branding activities from January 2012 to December 2012. Branding activities included resource development and event development. Print resource development focused on making financial education topics relevant to the target audience, such as a resource titled “The Biggest Money Rip-offs.” Resources were also created to tie into campus-wide events that connected to students’ values, such as a resource focused on “being green.” Electronic resources also helped change the target audience’s perception of financial education by showcasing financial education resources in different formats, such as pins on Pinterest. Social media campaigns focused on building up the “approachable” quality of the brand and increasing the number of brand ambassadors.

Financial education events helped position the program as relevant and fun. To avoid “boring” events, all events included competitive games, money personality quizzes, and piggy bank decorating. Event sponsorships were also an important part of brand development and helped change students’ perceptions of financial education. For example, a partnership with the UNL Health Center’s Stress Free Zone helped students realize that they could relieve stress through money management. Additionally, educational activities were offered in high-traffic areas. These activities were focused on helping busy students quickly get financial tips. Students completed short activities, such as “Financial Horror Stories,” and were then entered into prize drawings.

These tactics were proven to position the program as relevant, fun, and approachable. Due to successful branding efforts, there was a 24% increase in the number of students who took advantage of program services, including one-on-one counseling sessions and workshops, compared to the prior year. Students who completed surveys after participating in program services described the SMMC as: approachable, friendly, understanding, fun, practical, knowledgeable, and helpful. Additionally, according to a random survey of program participants, 84% indicated they used program services because they viewed SMMC services as “relevant.”
The program formed partnerships with an additional 32 University organizations. These organizations partnered on offering financial education workshops and resources for UNL students. According to a random survey of program partners, 100% of the partners decided to work with the SMMC due to their perception that SMMC representatives had expertise delivering financial education to college students in formats and language that college students prefer. Partners who completed surveys described the SMMC as:  knowledgeable, creative, fun, entertaining, and practical.
Additionally, national publicity exposures were estimated to be over 1 million and were recognized by University officials.

Branding is important, especially for college financial education programs. College financial educators need to take the time to determine how they want college students to perceive their program. If educators can uncover the reasons behind negative perceptions, they can craft a branding strategy that will help change their image and help them build a program that students will feel comfortable utilizing. Successful branding efforts can have significant positive effects on program usage, program partnerships, and publicity opportunities.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

July: Integrating Financial Education with Civic Engagement

In January 2013, the UNL Student Money Management Center (SMMC) received a call from Kyle Winchell, the Director of the Women's Shelter at the People's City Mission, a local homeless shelter. Kyle, a former UNL student, had once visited with a Peer Money Coach at the UNL SMMC, a visit he says changed his perspective on money management. He was looking for someone to teach personal finance classes to his residents to help them change their own relationships with money.

For five Wednesdays in the spring semester, volunteers from the Student Money Management Center taught residents at the mission how to manage their finances. Erin Wirth, director of the SMMC, said while the People’s City Mission residents aren’t the center’s usual demographic, the class taught both her and the residents life lessons.

“They have made financial mistakes in the past, and they didn’t have help,” she said.

Kara Cruickshank, a senior child, youth and family studies major, helped with the class. She said the people who take the class are vocal about what they need and about what they already know.

Cruickshank said she’s seen that many people at the mission are there for reasons they couldn’t control — identity theft, embezzlement and medical emergencies.

“They’re really trying to remedy those situations and do their best, for not only themselves, but their families too,” she said.

Cruickshank, who has volunteered for as long as she can remember through various organizations, said the semester project has opened her eyes to other people’s situations.

“There’s a lot of times it’s hard to relate to an experience because you’ve never had it,” she said. “But now you have a face opening your eyes to a different experience.”

Media Publication: Daily Nebraskan