KOKOMO, Ind. — Sherry Rahl knew she needed social media to reach young people to let them know about services offered the not-for-profit agency she leads in Kokomo.
She had a Facebook page and Twitter account, but no time to run it, and no budget to pay someone to help.
Rahl, executive director of Project Access, which provides access to health care for uninsured people in Howard County, reached out to Indiana University Kokomo, utilizing the skills of students in the communication arts program. Students created a social media plan for her one semester, and then implemented it the second.
“I’m amazed with the success we’ve had on social media,” she said. “They are the age of our target audience, so they know what is critical to get on that screen. They know the language to use.”
She estimates the work completed by students would have cost her $2,000 to $3,000 if she had to hire a social media manager, or would have been added to her own job load.
“I can’t even begin to explain the cost savings and value to Project Access,” she said. “This is time and effort I can put towards our mission.”
Seniors Devon Burton, Crawfordsville; Todd Clark, Tipton; and recent graduate Kaitlin Gebby, Indianapolis, posted and shared content Rahl and her staff created, and developed contests to draw more likes on Facebook and followers on Twitter.
Burton noted that Project Access only had four Twitter followers when they started it, and they added 10 within a few hours of their first contest starting. Building a following was harder than they expected, he added.
“The main thing we learned about social media campaigns is that its not really free,” he said. “You have to go ahead and do the contests, and spend the money on prizes. You’re not going to get anywhere just posting content, unless there is something in it for people when they read.”
They also learned that a $5 Facebook boost is an effective way to reach their audience, because messages can be targeted to specific demographics.
“Facebook is easy if you have a budget,” Clark said.
He also was surprised by how difficult it can be to get a campaign off the ground. The students all are active on social media, and thought because it’s easy to use their personal pages, the Project Access accounts would be just as simple.
“You really have to find your target audience, and you have to think like them to get their attention,” he said. “You have to post what they want to see, and you have to figure out the best time of day to post. It’s a whole different world.”
They wanted to use testimonials, and have people post questions on the page, but found that because they are talking about health care, it was hard to find people to share their experiences.
“We had to figure out how to reach out without people feeling like they are exposed,” Devon said. “We also set up private messaging, so people could ask questions without everyone reading them.”
Rahl said within hours of having private messaging available, a man contacted her through it with an urgent dental problem. She was able to meet with him within 24 hours, and get him an appointment with a dentist offering donated care.
She noted that while people may be on their parents’ insurance until they are 26, college-aged students will be faced with selecting their own coverage in the near future, either through employers after graduation, or through the marketplace. She wants them to know that Project Access offers free guidance to them as they navigate that process, and said using their peers to spread that message through social media has given the outreach she needs.
“They put it all together, and they made it happen,” she said.
Gebby said she gained practical experience, with hands-on work she can list on her résumé as she begins her career.
“I was able to apply what I was learning in class, rather than just reading about it and seeing examples,” she said. “It was nice to take what we learned in our class and try it out in a real-world setting, where it makes a difference. We see that what we’ve learned really works.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.