Michigan State University and creating community in this ‘new normal’

Welcome to the Social Spotlight, where we dive deep into what we love about a brand’s approach to a specific social campaign. From strategy through execution and results, we’ll examine what makes the best brands on social tick — and leave you with some key takeaways to consider for your own brand’s social strategy.


One of the indelible experiences of college is the sense of community–often the first community you get to choose for yourself. Shared experiences and memories from this formative time extend deep into adulthood and seem to shape the way we view the world for the rest of our lives. For instance, I still can’t drink tequila. But that’s a story for a different time.

Creating that sense of community comes naturally when you’re living, playing and learning together on campus. But what about now, when students and faculty are dispersed, e-learning is the primary shared experience and so much of college life has been rendered obsolete? Now that students, staff and faculty are scattered across the globe, Michigan State University is leaning on the social strategy it’s created to keep those who have left campus–its alumni–connected to the mission, experience and community of MSU.

What you can learn

1. Highlight the wide impact your community is having during the current global situation.

One bright spot in the closing of university campuses has been the dispersal of thousands of like-minded, passionate individuals to communities far and wide. The values they shared on campus now extend to their local communities, and those stories can keep your campus community united from afar. Since the closing of campus in March, MSU has relied on user-generated content (UGC) to share the stories of its now-geographically dispersed students and alumni. Among the most engaging is content that shares the stories of Michigan State Spartans as they work on the frontlines of the pandemic, raise money for underserved groups and generally care for the communities around them.

2. Draw attention to your institution’s contributions to the global understanding of the crisis.

Universities are hotbeds of research and advancement, and yours is likely no exception. The world’s smartest science and health minds are focused on diagnosing, fighting and protecting the population from COVID-19, and sharing the stories of how your institution is contributing to our shared knowledge base will inspire pride, hope and connectedness among your university community.

3. Share university resources that are available off campus.

Like many organizations and businesses, institutions of higher ed have spent the first several weeks of the pandemic reacting to the constraints of shelter-in-place and developing new resources to support its communities from a distance. Often those resources are available to everyone in the university community, but also to a wider community served by your institution. Making all communities aware of the resources available should be a priority in your social planning. To wit: using Sprout’s COVID-19 Featured Listening Topic, we found that the most engaged content for the overall higher ed industry is links (a 135% increase over Q4 2019), showing that there’s a need for relevant content from trusted institutions.

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