On Post

Social Media During a Time of Social Distancing

With cadets away from post for an extended period of time, and visits by both alumni and prospective cadets not happening as well, various organizations across post are using one of the newest but most effective tools at their disposal – social media – to reach their audiences.

Over the past several years, websites and smartphone apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube have come to play a key role not only in entertaining their followers but educating them as well. For many organizations on post, social media is vital during this period of social distancing.

The main social media accounts for the Institute became the primary venues to get the most up-to-date information as the plans for the spring semester and beyond were shifting rapidly. These accounts also featured special messages of advice and positivity from faculty, staff and fellow cadets, as well as newly created tools for distance learning, and videos of special annual events like rank announcements and awards ceremonies.

Other VMI social media accounts with more targeted audiences kept their feeds active, as this was sometimes the only engagement available.

“I would say I’ve gotten busier since the pandemic hit,” said Micalyn Miller, creative content manager for the VMI Alumni Agencies. “I have more stories that I really want to share.”

Miller has been using traditional social media, plus the career management social platform LinkedIn, to let members of the VMI community know about alumni who are making a difference as the global pandemic rages on.

“I want to highlight those alumni and the alumni working in tandem to help their communities,” said Miller. “We’d like to see even more of these submissions. These are the kinds of stories we always like to see, not just during a pandemic.”

During the crisis, Miller and her co-workers at the Alumni Agencies have adopted a hopeful tone to their messaging, stressing the cohesive nature of the VMI community and the strong bonds among the VMI family.

For athletics, social media isn’t just a nicety – it’s vital to recruiting a generation that grew up with smartphones. “Social media is indispensable these days,” said Scott Wachenheim, head football coach. “That’s how we reach potential players. You have to meet them where they’re at.”

Most years, though, potential Keydet football players can come to post in the spring, perhaps attend the spring scrimmage, and meet members of the coaching staff. This year, with the post closed to visitors, Wachenheim and his assistant coaches knew they’d have to think outside the box.

To that end, members of the coaching staff worked under Wachenheim’s direction to create short videos showing many aspects of life on post, from the barracks to Crozet Hall to the weight room where football players work out. There’s even a video showing Main Street in downtown Lexington.

“We couldn’t get them to post, so we had to bring post to them,” said Wachenheim.

So far, the reception has been warm and positive. Other schools, Wachenheim noted, are also using videos for recruitment, but those schools’ longer, professionally produced videos aren’t holding teenagers’ attention like VMI’s have been.

“Kids don’t want to watch a two-minute professional video,” Wachenheim commented. “The simplistic, short approach has worked well.”

The VMI baseball team is also using social media extensively this spring. Like Wachenheim, head coach Jonathan Hadra ’04 is using videos to sell prospective players on the Institute.

Recently, Hadra said, he found a promising recruit via Twitter – a high school senior who hadn’t yet committed to playing college ball. He was willing to consider VMI but had never been to post. So Hadra, with the support of his assistant coaches, put together a video tour.

“We put together a virtual tour of [post],” said Hadra. “I kind of walked him through it.”

It was a lot of effort for one recruit – but as of early May, the player was expected to sign his letter of intent to attend VMI within days. And once the video was completed, Hadra sent it out to a wide group of potential players.

“We sent it out to all of our top recruits because they can’t visit post right now,” said Hadra.

At the Center for Leadership and Ethics, engagement with the wider VMI community is the goal of social media use. Staff have been promoting the CLE’s new podcast, The VMI Leader Journey, but they’re also on the verge of starting a new campaign with the hashtag #VMIMotivation, in which staff members will share what’s keeping them motivated during this time of disrupted lives and social distancing, with an invitation for followers to share what’s working for them.

At the admissions office, staff have been working closely with the communications and marketing team to share important deadlines and information in relation to becoming a VMI cadet. They’ve also signed up to attend online college fairs, since no one knows when in-person fairs will resume. Interviews have also gone online, with high school students interviewing via Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Cadets have had more down time than they normally would in their daily schedule, so the S5 cadets, who normally assist with open houses and other public events on post, are interacting directly with students interested in attending VMI. They’re communicating through phone calls and through InsideVMI – the platform that allows interested students and their parents to receive customized information about life at VMI. These interactions have really been beneficial to the cadets, who can share their individual VMI stories, and to the interested students, who are able to speak openly and candidly to someone who is living the experience.

  • Mary Price VMI Communications & Marketing